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Iran says it will enrich uranium to 60 percent purity after Natanz attack

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Iran has informed the United Nations' atomic watchdog of its intentions.
Image: FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran
A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, 155 miles south of the Iranian capital Tehran.Raheb Homavandi / Reuters

Iran will start enriching uranium at 60 percent purity — higher than ever before — following the attack on its Natanz nuclear facility, the country's deputy foreign minister said Tuesday.

Abbas Araghchi said on the state-run Press TV that Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' atomic watchdog, of its intentions. The watchdog told NBC News that Tehran had informed the agency of its plans.

The decision to hike the level of enrichment will be seen as a further reduction in compliance by Iran with the restrictions on its nuclear program agreed to in its 2015 deal with world powers.

Iran had been enriching uranium up to 20 percent. Under the nuclear deal, it agreed to only enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent.

On Monday, Iran blamed Israel for a weekend sabotage attack at Natanz that damaged centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium there, and warned that it would take revenge for the assault. Details remain scarce about the weekend attack.

Iran has consistently said that it does not seek a nuclear weapon and that doing so would be contrary to Islamic teaching.

Araghchi's announcement comes amid ongoing negotiations over the deal that aim to bring the United States back into the pact, after former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018.

President Joe Biden has said he is open to returning to the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and that bound Iran to restrictions on its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and international sanctions.

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But the two sides have so far disagreed over how to revive the pact. Indirect talks between Iran and the United States started in Vienna last week.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned in the wake of the Natanz attack that the nuclear facility would be reconstructed with more advanced machines.

“The Zionists wanted to take revenge against the Iranian people for their success on the path of lifting sanctions,” Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying. “But we do not allow (it) and we will take revenge for this action against the Zionists.”

A former U.S. intelligence official told NBC News that the attack set back the Iranian nuclear program significantly, but should be viewed as part of a pattern of actions, including other explosions and assassinations of nuclear scientists, that collectively have done serious damage.

“Someone has the capability to reach out and put the finger of God on someone’s forehead without hurting civilians,” the former official said. “The Iranians are thinking, ‘Can we get away with anything secret that these guys aren’t going to blow up and kill?’ They can find your most secret people, places and toys and touch them, and do it surgically in a way that doesn’t hurt civilians and doesn’t leave fingerprints.”