DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Iran’s president on Wednesday called his country’s decision to drastically increase uranium enrichment after saboteurs attacked a nuclear facility “a response to your malice”, saying Israel hopes to derail the current talks aimed at reviving Tehran’s tattered nuclear weapons are dealing with world powers.
The sabotage this weekend at the Natanz nuclear facility appears to be part of an escalating shadow war between the two countries. Israeli authorities have not commented on the attack, but are suspected of carrying it out.
Iran announced on Tuesday that it would increase uranium enrichment to 60%, its highest level ever in response to the attack. This could lead to further retaliation, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed never to allow Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. Although Iran̵
Speaking to his cabinet, ardent President Hassan Rouhani said the first generation of IR-1 centrifuges that had been damaged in the attack would be replaced by modern IR-6 centrifuges, which enrich uranium much faster.
“You wanted to empty our hands during the talks, but our hands are full,” Rouhani said.
He was referring to ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at finding a way for the United States to re-enter Tehran’s nuclear deal and force Iran to comply with its restrictions again. The agreement prevented Iran from having enough uranium reserves to be able to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Rouhani added: “Enrichment with 60% is a response to your malice. … We cut off both of your hands, one with IR-6 centrifuges and the other with 60%. “
Rouhani also accused Israel of being behind the attack on Natanz.
“Obviously this is a crime by the Zionists. “If the Zionists take action against our nation, we will respond,” he said, without elaborating.
In Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s remembrance day seems to refer to Iran.
“We must never remain apathetic to the threats of war and the extermination of those who seek to eliminate us,” he said.
Officials initially said enrichment would begin on Wednesday. However, a message early Wednesday morning from Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Garibadadi, suggested it could come later.
“Modification of the process has just begun and we expect to accumulate the product next week,” Garibadadi wrote.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, although the West and the IAEA say Tehran had an organized military nuclear program by the end of 2003. An annual U.S. intelligence report released on Tuesday backed the US assessment that “Iran is currently does not undertake the key nuclear program of weapons development activities that we believe would be necessary for the production of a nuclear device. “
Negotiations in Vienna are aimed at reviving America’s role in the agreement – and lifting sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump following America’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement in 2018. Rouhani insisted in comments Wednesday that Iran is still seeking an agreement. by agreement on its program.
“The United States must return to the same conditions from 2015, when we signed the nuclear deal,” Rouhani said.
Earlier, Iran said it could use up to 60 percent enriched uranium for nuclear-powered ships. At present, however, the Islamic Republic does not have such ships in its fleet. The IAEA has confirmed that Iran has informed it of its plans to enrich up to 60%.
Iran was enriching up to 20% – and even that was a short technical step towards arms levels.
The weekend attack in Natanz was initially described only as an eclipse in the power grid supplying above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls, but later Iranian authorities began calling it an attack.
Alireza Zacani, the head of the Iranian parliament’s research center, cited “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in a state television interview. However, no other employee has suggested this figure and no images of the consequences have been published.
Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi of Tehran, Iran and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to the report.