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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Iran warns it can enrich uranium to nuclear weapons grade

JEDDAH: Iran claimed on Wednesday that it had the ability to enrich fissile uranium to 90 percent purity  — the level required to build the core of a nuclear weapon.

“Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization can enrich uranium by 20 percent and 60 percent and if … our reactors need it, it can enrich uranium to 90 percent purity,” President Hassan Rouhani told a Cabinet meeting in Tehran.

The outgoing president, who leaves office next month, also blamed hard-liners in the ruling theocracy for the failure so far to negotiate a revived Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.

“They took away the opportunity to reach an agreement from this government. We deeply regret missing this opportunity,” Rouhani said. “We are very sorry that nearly six months of opportunity has been lost.”

The JCPOA collapsed in 2018 when the US pulled out and President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

Tehran responded by incrementally breaching its obligations under the terms of the deal, increasing its stocks of enriched uranium and levels of enrichment, which the agreement caps at 3.67 percent.

Indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington aimed at reviving the deal have been taking place in Vienna, where the sixth round of talks adjourned on June 20.

No resumption has yet been scheduled, and Iranian and Western officials have said significant gaps remain to be resolved.

Iranian officials said Ebrahim Raisi, the incoming president, planned to adopt “a harder line” in the talks, and the next round of talks might not take place until late September or early October.

Members of Iran’s nuclear team could be replaced with hard-line officials, but top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi would stay “at least for a while,” they said.

One official said Raisi planned to show “less flexibility and demand more concessions” from Washington, such as keeping a chain of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in place and insisting on the removal of US sanctions related to human rights and terrorism.

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