Iran said it had enriched uranium close to levels needed to make a weapon, adding to obstacles facing diplomats as they try to revive the 2015 nuclear pact that curbed the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The first 60%-enriched uranium was obtained at 12:40 a.m. local time on Friday, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
The move is Iran’s response to an attack on Sunday on its biggest enrichment facility at Natanz that it blamed on Israel. It moves Tehran’s enrichment significantly closer to the 90% concentration of uranium-235 isotopes used in nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and that the material will be used for medical treatments.
“We take seriously Iran’s provocative announcement of its intention to begin enriching uranium to 60%,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday. She said “the step both calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard to the nuclear talks and underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance” with the 2015 accord.
Iran’s nuclear agency chief Ali Akbar Salehi said around 9 grams of the material was being produced per hour at the Natanz nuclear site, though the amount could drop to 5 or 6 grams as the facility simultaneously produces uranium enriched to 20%.
The attack affected only one of the halls at Natanz and didn’t halt enrichment, Salehi said, adding that the main power unit at the facility would be restored later Friday.
Diplomats from Iran, the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France and Germany gathered in Vienna again on Friday as they attempt to orchestrate the lifting of U.S. sanctions and steps Iran can take to wind back its nuclear activities.
Psaki said “we expected these talks to be difficult, to be long,” but “we still feel they are a step forward.”
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