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Iran calls 60% enrichment an answer to 'evilness'

China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-15 10:21

Hassan Rouhani speaks during a cabinet meeting in Teheran on April 7, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates-Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday called Teheran's decision to enrich uranium up to 60 percent after saboteurs attacked a key nuclear site as "an answer to your evilness".

The incident occurred amid ongoing talks in Vienna to salvage a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers. Israel, which has not commented on the attack, is suspected of carrying out last weekend's assault at the Natanz nuclear facility, part of an escalating shadow war between the two countries.

Natanz, in Iran's central Isfahan Province, hosts the country's main uranium enrichment facility. Iran has one operating nuclear power plant in Bushehr, which it opened with Russia's help in 2011. Teheran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

The escalation in enrichment could see further retaliation as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed never to allow Teheran to obtain a nuclear weapon. His country has twice preemptively bombed Middle East nations to stop their atomic programs.

Speaking to his cabinet, an impassioned Rouhani said damaged first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz would be replaced by advanced IR-6 centrifuges that enrich uranium much faster.

"You wanted to make our hands empty during the talks but our hands are full," Rouhani said.

He added: "60-percent enrichment is an answer to your evilness.... We cut off both of your hands, one with IR-6 centrifuges and another one with 60 percent."

Iran announced on Tuesday it would enrich uranium to its highest level ever in response to the attack at Natanz. That also includes adding another 1,000"more-advanced" centrifuges there as well.

Officials initially said the enrichment would begin on Wednesday. However, an early Wednesday morning tweet from Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibadadi, suggested it might come later.

Iran struck the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China. The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, saw Iran dramatically limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of IAEA inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The small stockpile of less-enriched uranium blocked Iran from having enough material to build a nuclear bomb if it chose to do so.

An annual US intelligence report released on Tuesday maintained the assessment that "Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that we judge would be necessary to produce a nuclear device".

The talks in Vienna are aimed at reviving the US role in that agreement, which then-US president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, and lifting the sanctions he imposed.

Rouhani in his comments on Wednesday insisted Iran still seeks a negotiated settlement in Vienna over its program. "The US should return to the same conditions of 2015 when we signed the nuclear deal," Rouhani said.

Iran previously had said it could use uranium enriched up to 60 percent for nuclear-powered ships. The IAEA has confirmed Iran informed it of its plans to enrich up to 60 percent.

Agencies - Xinhua

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