The Dallas Morning News

Iran ups enriching uranium to 60%

In attempt to influence talks, production nears weapons-grade levels

- By JON GAMBRELL

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.

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