TEHRAN: Iran’s Presi-dent Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday the decision to boost uranium enrichment to 60 per cent was a response to arch-foe Israel’s “nuclear terrorism” against its Natanz facility.
Tehran starting up advanced centrifuges and producing more highly refined uranium “is a response to your malice”, Rouhani said in a message aimed at the Jewish state.
“What you did was nuclear terrorism,” he said, referring to a blast early on Sunday that knocked out electricity at its main nuclear facility in central Iran. “What we do is legal.”
Tehran’s announcement of stepped-up enrichment has cast a shadow over talks in Vienna aimed at salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that then US president Donald Trump abandoned almost three years ago.
The European parties to the accord — Britain, France and Germany — on Wednesday expressed “grave concern” over Iran’s enrichment move while rejecting “all escalatory measures by any actor”.
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also expressed concern and called on Tehran to “avoid escalation”.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said its inspectors visited the Natanz enrichment plant on Wednesday.
“IAEA inspectors are continuing their verification and monitoring activities in Iran, and today have been at the Natanz enrichment site,” it said.
The Natanz attack unleashed a “dangerous spiral”, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.
Zarif warned US President Joe Biden the situation could only be contained by lifting sanctions Trump imposed on Iran from 2018.
“No alternative. Not much time,” he added.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement but public radio reports in the country said it was a sabotage operation by the Mossad spy agency, citing unnamed intelligence sources.
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, tweeted that preparatory steps to allow enrichment to higher purity had started and that “we expect to accumulate the product next week” from centrifuges at Natanz.
The step will bring Iran closer to the 90pc purity threshold for military use and shorten its potential “breakout time” to build an atomic bomb — a goal the Islamic republic denies it is seeking.
Israel has consistently vowed it will stop Iran from ever building an atomic bomb, an eventuality it regards as an existential threat. Iran has also never minced words when it comes to the Jewish state.
Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2021