Iran says it will enrich uranium to 60%, highest level ever

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FILE - This file photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. An Iranian nuclear negotiator says Tuesday, April 13, 2021, Tehran will begin enriching uranium to 60% purity after an attack on its Natanz nuclear facility, higher than the program ever has before. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

DUBAI – Iran will begin enriching uranium up to 60% purity after an attack on its Natanz nuclear facility, a negotiator said Tuesday, pushing its program to higher levels than ever before though still remaining short of weapons-grade.

The announcement marks a significant escalation after the sabotage that damaged centrifuges, suspected of having been carried out by Israel — and could inspire a further response from Israel amid a long-running shadow war between the nations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed never to allow Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon and his country has twice preemptively bombed Mideast nations to stop their atomic programs.

Already earlier in the day, Iran’s foreign minister had warned that the weekend assault at Natanz could hurt ongoing negotiations over its tattered atomic deal with world powers. Those talks are aimed at finding a way for the United States to re-enter the agreement, the goal of which is to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for relief on sanctions.

Nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi, in Vienna to begin informal talks Tuesday night, made a point to make his announcement in English.

“We believe this round of negotiations is the time for the U.S. to present a list and I hope that I can go back to Tehran with the list of sanctions which should be lifted,” Araghchi told Iranian state television's English-language arm Press TV. “Otherwise, it would be a waste of time.”

He said authorities would add another 1,000 “more-advanced” centrifuges to Natanz as well.

Iran had been enriching up to 20% — even that was a short technical step to weapons-grade levels of 90%.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. takes seriously Iran's “provocative announcement,“ saying it “calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard to the nuclear talks and underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance" with the deal.