Iran on January 4 said it had started the process to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity, well beyond the threshold set by its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, sparking international concern. The move at its underground Fordow facility was confirmed by UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency, It was the most important suspension yet of Iranian commitments under the landmark deal, a process it started in 2019 in response to US President Donald Trump’s dramatic withdrawal from the accord the previous year.
“The process for producing 20 percent enriched uranium has started at Shahid Alimohammadi enrichment complex [Fordow],” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said in comments quoted by the state broadcaster. President Hassan Rouhani had ordered the enrichment “in recent days” and “the gas injection process started as of hours ago”, he said. Foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted that “we resumed 20% enrichment as legislated by our parliament”, adding that the IAEA had been “duly notified”.
He stressed that Tehran took the step “after years of non-compliance” by other parties and that “our measures are fully reversible upon full compliance by all”, The step comes less than three weeks before the end of the presidency of Trump, who has sought to economically punish and diplomatically isolate Iran with a “maximum pressure” campaign, including tough sanctions. The outgoing administration deplored Iran’s plan to step up uranium enrichment.
A US State Department spokesperson said: “Iran enriching uranium to 20 per cent at Fordow is a clear attempt to increase its campaign of nuclear extortion, an attempt that will continue to fail.” The Iranian government has signalled a readiness to engage with President-elect Joe Biden, who has expressed willingness to return to diplomacy with Tehran and takes office on January 20.
Iran began feeding uranium already enriched up to 4.1 per cent U-235 into six centrifuge cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment up to 20 per cent”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted angrily and charged it proved Iran is seeking to build an atomic bomb a claim the Islamic republic has always denied.
Netanyahu said in a statement: “Iran’s decision to continue violating its commitments, to raise the enrichment level and advance the industrial ability to enrich uranium underground, cannot be explained in any way except as the continued realisation of its intention to develop a military nuclear programme. “Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons.” The EU said Iran’s enrichment programme would be a “considerable departure” from the deal.
Russia’s envoy to the IAEA said Moscow is “not enthusiastic” about Tehran’s move but emphasized that “there is nothing to overdramatize”.
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