Blinken terms Iran’s uranium enrichment move ‘provocative’

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack

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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called Iran’s announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent purity “provocative,” saying the step raised questions about the seriousness of Tehran over the nuclear talks in Vienna.

Iran has said it will enrich uranium to 60 percent — a big step closer to the 90 percent that is weapons-grade from the 20 percent maximum it has reached so far — in response to what it says was an act of sabotage by Israel against its key nuclear facility.

“We take very seriously its provocative announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent,” Blinken told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, referring to Iran.

The European countries party to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal also told Tehran that the step was contrary to efforts to revive the accord.

“I have to tell you the step calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard the nuclear talks, just as it underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA,” Blinken said, referring to the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The nuclear deal has unraveled as Iran has breached its limits on uranium enrichment in a graduated response to US withdrawal from the agreement in 2018 and Washington’s reinstatement of harsh economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Wednesday Iran has “almost completed preparations” for 60 percent uranium enrichment.

Last week, Iran and fellow signatories held what they described as “constructive” talks to restore the deal ditched by the former Trump administration.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that indirect talks in Vienna would reconvene on Thursday.

“Our understanding is they (the Iranians) plan to attend tomorrow. We are also very open-eyed about how this will be a long process. It is happening through indirect negotiations but we still feel that it is a step forward,” she added.

Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday dismissed initial offers at talks in Vienna to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal as “not worth looking at.”

The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in the Islamic Republic, came after a day that saw Iran’s president similarly ratchet up pressure over the accord. European powers meanwhile warned Tehran its actions were “particularly regrettable” and “dangerous.”

 

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