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Rouhani warns Iran could enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels

Outgoing Iranian president claims Tehran ‘can do anything in the peaceful path,’ criticizes ruling theocracy for not letting government seal agreement to restore 2015 nuclear deal

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s outgoing president on Wednesday warned his country could enrich uranium at weapons-grade levels of 90 percent if it chose, though it still wanted to save its tattered nuclear deal with world powers.

President Hassan Rouhani’s comments, carried by the state-run IRNA news agency, came as he also criticized Iran’s wider theocracy for not allowing his government to reach a deal soon to restore the 2015 atomic accord.

Rouhani’s powers have waned as the public soured on his government amid an economy suffering under US sanctions. But his remarks signal Iran could take a more belligerent approach with the West as hardline President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is due to take office next month.

Rouhani made the 90% remark in a cabinet meeting. It is rare for him to suggest Tehran could take that approach.

“Even if one day there is a need for 90% enrichment for a reactor, we do not have any problem and we are able,” Rouhani said, according to IRNA. “We can do anything in the peaceful path.”

The 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran gain relief from those crushing sanctions, limited Tehran’s program to enriching only up to 3.67% — enough to power a civilian nuclear reactor. It now enriches a small amount of uranium up to 60%, a short step from weapons-grade levels.

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)

Rouhani also complained that hardliners outside of his relatively moderate government had blocked its efforts to reach a deal in Vienna. For months, negotiators have been trying to find a way for Iran to return to the limits of the deal and for the US to rejoin the accord from which then-president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew.

A new round of Vienna negotiations has yet to be scheduled, and the West has expressed frustration at Tehran for seeming unwilling to seal the deal.

Rouhani said he hoped Raisi’s administration “will be able to finish the job.”

“There is no difference if the current or next administration will be successful, but we are very sorry that nearly six months of opportunity has been lost,” he said.

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