The Dallas Morning News
Iran ups enriching uranium to 60%
In attempt to influence talks, production nears weapons-grade levels
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran began enriching uranium Friday to its highest-ever purity that edges Tehran close to weaponsgrade levels, attempting to pressure negotiators in Vienna amid talks on restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on its main enrichment site.
A top official said only a few grams an hour of uranium gas would be enriched up to 60% purity — triple the level it once did but at a quantity far lower than what the Islamic Republic could produce. Iran also is enriching at an above-ground facility at its Natanz nuclear site already visited by international inspectors, not deep within its underground halls hardened to withstand airstrikes.
The narrow scope of the new enrichment provides Iran with a way to quickly deescalate if it choses, experts say, but time is narrowing. An Iranian presidential election looms on the horizon as Tehran already is threatening to limit international inspections. Israel, suspected of carrying out last week’s sabotage at Natanz, could act again.
Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, Iran’s parliament speaker, announced the higher enrichment on Twitter.
“The young and God-believing Iranian scientists managed to achieve a 60% enriched uranium product,” Qalibaf said. “I congratulate the brave nation of Islamic Iran on this success. The Iranian nation’s willpower is miraculous and can defuse any conspiracy.”
The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the country’s civilian nuclear arm, later acknowledged the move to 60%. Ali Akbar Salehi told Iranian state television the centrifuges produce 9 grams an hour, but that would drop to 5 grams an hour in the coming days.
It wasn’t clear why the first announcement came from Qalibaf, a hard-line former leader in the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard already named as a potential presidential candidate in Iran’s upcoming June election.