Iran Hikes Nuclear Enrichment, Stoking Tensions Before Talks

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Iran will ramp up its uranium enrichment levels close to weapons grade in retaliation for an attack on one of its leading atomic facilities, sending a jolt through big power talks on containing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work due to resume this week.

Tehran said it will for the first time begin producing highly enriched uranium — purified to 60% from current levels of 20% — from Wednesday in response to the sabotage of its Natanz nuclear site at the weekend, which it has blamed on Israel and called an act of “nuclear terrorism.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency has been informed of the move, state-run Press TV said, quoting Deputy Foreign Ministry Abbas Araghchi. He said 1,000 new centrifuges will be added to the damaged Natanz facility, adding that the purified material would be used for medical purposes. The IAEA didn’t respond to requests for comment.

But raising the level to 60% means Iran’s stockpile could quickly be further enriched to 90% of Uranium-235 isotopes, the threshold for weapons manufacture. Until now, Iran has stopped just short of producing 20% enriched material — a threshold considered to be low-enriched because of its use in power and research reactors — and denies it intends to produce atomic warheads.

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