Iran will begin enriching uranium at 60 percent purity — dangerously close to weapons-grade enrichment — following the alleged Israeli attack on its Natanz nuclear facility, the regime’s deputy foreign minister said Tuesday.
Abbas Araghchi, who also serves as Tehran’s nuclear negotiator, told state-affiliated media that Iran has informed the UN’s nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency, that it was hiking enrichment from 20% to 60% as a response to the cyberattack over the weekend, which cut power to the plant and reportedly set back the country’s nuclear program by nine months.
Sixty percent enrichment leaves a short technical step for centrifuges to obtain weapons-grade 90 percent enrichment or higher.
The UN watchdog did not comment on Iran’s intentions.
The 2015 nuclear deal allows for enriched uranium up to 3.67 percent.
A former U.S. intelligence official told NBC News that the recent Natanz attack, together with others attributed to Israel, such as the July 2020 explosion at the same plant, as well as the assassination of the country’s nuclear weapons mastermind, are part of a pattern aimed at sabotaging the nuclear program.
“Someone has the capability to reach out and put the finger of God on someone’s forehead without hurting civilians,” the former official said. “The Iranians are thinking, ‘Can we get away with anything secret that these guys aren’t going to blow up and kill?’ They can find your most secret people, places and toys and touch them, and do it surgically in a way that doesn’t hurt civilians and doesn’t leave fingerprints.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the sabotage would only strengthen Tehran’s position in renegotiating the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal with world powers.
“If [Israel] thought that they can stop Iran from following up on lifting sanctions from the Iranian people, then they made a very bad gamble,” Zarif said.
“What they did in Natanz, they thought it would reduce Iran’s leverage,” he said, referencing ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the US back into the deal.
“On the contrary, it will strengthen our position,” he said. “It makes it possible for Iran to legally, legitimately do what it needs in order to compensate for this terrorist stupidity, use any capacity it has at Natanz.”
“The United States should know that neither sanctions nor sabotage will give them the means to negotiate, and that they will only make the situation more difficult for them,” Zarif said.
A day earlier, Zarif said Israel was behind the cyberattack and vowed his country would “take revenge on the Zionists.”
Zarif vowed Iran would install even more sophisticated centrifuges following the attack. “I assure you that in near future, the Natanz site will move forward with more advanced centrifuges.”