'Iran's highly enriched uranium has no civilian justification'

UK, US, France and Germany condemn Iran for accelerating uranium enrichment

Joint statement from Western powers says developments ‘constitute a step in a bad direction on the part of Iran,’ which has denied acting outside of the regulations

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot/Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)
Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot/Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

PARIS — Western powers on Thursday condemned Iran for accelerating its production of highly enriched uranium, after a watchdog said it had upped its output following months of slowdown.

In a joint statement, Britain, France, Germany and the US said they “condemn this measure that further aggravates the continued escalation of the Iranian nuclear program,” adding that “Iran’s production of highly enriched uranium has no credible civilian justification.”

“We urge Iran to immediately reverse these steps and de-escalate its nuclear program,” the spokespersons for the countries said in a joint statement on Thursday.

“We remain committed to a diplomatic solution and reaffirm our determination that Iran must never develop a nuclear weapon,” they said

The statement came two days after the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report saying Iran “increased its production of highly enriched uranium, reversing a previous output reduction from mid-2023.”

Iran had increased its output of 60 percent enriched uranium to a rate of about nine kilograms (20 pounds) a month since the end of November, the UN watchdog said. That is up from about three kilograms a month since June, and a return to the nine kilograms a month it was producing during the first half of 2023.

In their statement on Thursday, the Western powers said that “these developments constitute a step in a bad direction on the part of Iran,” warning of “significant proliferation risks.”

“These decisions show the absence of will on the part of Iran to engage in a de-escalation in good faith and result in irresponsible behavior in the context of regional tensions,” the statement said.

File: Head of Iran’s atomic energy department Mohammad Eslami speaks during a news conference, in Tehran, Iran, December 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Responding to the IAEA report, Iran’s top nuclear official Mohammad Eslami claimed: “We have done nothing new and our activity is according to the regulations.”

Enrichment levels of around 90% are required for use in a nuclear weapon. Iran appeared to have slowed its enrichment as a gesture while informal talks for a restored nuclear agreement resumed with the United States.

But animosity between the two countries has intensified in recent months, with each accusing the other of exacerbating the war between Israel and Hamas, triggered on October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists from the Gaza Strip launched a murderous invasion into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, and taking some 240 hostages.

Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are believed to have helped Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in their unprecedented attack on Israel, with funding, arms, and training. On Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, daily exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah are raising fears of a spillover in the war.

Tehran also backs the Houthis in Yemen who have repeatedly attacked commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea since October 7, disrupting global trade and claiming to target Israel-linked ships in support of Gazans.

Iran suspended its compliance with limits on its nuclear activities set by a 2015 nuclear deal with major powers a year after then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the agreement in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions.

It has since built up its stocks of enriched uranium to 22 times the level permitted under the deal, according to a confidential IAEA report seen by AFP last month.

Iran has consistently denied any ambition to develop a nuclear weapons capability, insisting that its activities are entirely peaceful — a claim that Israel and much of the Western world have dismissed.

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