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Iran now enriching uranium to 63% purity — UN watchdog

Amid talks on renewing nuke deal, IAEA said to conclude Tehran exceeding 60% enrichment cap it announced, bringing it even closer to weapons-grade level

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Iran. (IRIB via AP)
In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Iran. (IRIB via AP)

Iran has enriched uranium to 63-percent purity, higher than the 60% it has announced, which is already way beyond the 3.67% allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal, a report said Tuesday, citing a document by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“According to Iran, fluctuations of the enrichment levels… were experienced,” the UN nuclear watchdog said in a confidential report, according to the Reuters news agency.

“The agency’s analysis of the ES [environmental samples] taken on 22 April 2021 shows an enrichment level of up to 63% U-235, which is consistent with the fluctuations of the enrichment levels [described by Iran],” the document said.

That is a short technical step away from the weapons-grade 90%. Iran insists it doesn’t plan to build a nuclear bomb, even as its leaders routinely threaten to annihilate Israel and flatten its cities.

The development comes as world powers have been holding high-level talks aimed at bringing the United States back into the nuclear deal with Iran, with both sides signaling a willingness to work out the major stumbling blocks. The talks began in Austria in early April, and a fourth round was held last Friday.

The White House said Friday that sanctions on Iran would only be lifted if the country comes back into compliance with the nuclear agreement. There were no further details given on the potential conditions that would need to be met for the easing of sanctions.

Spokesperson Jen Psaki said that progress had been made in the Vienna talks between world powers and Iran, and that it was a good sign that the discussions were continuing.

Police officers stay in front of the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ in Vienna, Austria, April 9, 2021, where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

The US pulled out of the landmark deal in 2018 after then-president Donald Trump said the pact needed to be renegotiated. The deal had promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, and the Trump administration reimposed heavy sanctions on the Islamic Republic in an unsuccessful attempt to bring Tehran into new talks.

Iran reacted by steadily increasing its violations of the deal by enriching uranium to a greater purity than permitted, stockpiling more enriched uranium than allowed and using more advanced centrifuges, among other moves aimed at pressing the powers remaining in the deal — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — for economic relief.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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