(Photo credit: AFP)
Iran has for the first time started enriching uranium to 60 percent purity at the underground Fordow nuclear facility, reportedly as reprisal for a recent statement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“In a letter to the [IAEA], Iran has informed the agency that it has started enriching uranium to 60 percent purity at Fordow site using IR-6 advanced centrifuges,” the semi-official ISNA news agency reported on 22 November.
Last week, the 35-nation Board of Governors of the UN watchdog “ordered” Tehran to cooperate urgently with an investigation into uranium traces allegedly found at three undeclared nuclear sites back in 2019.
In their statement, officials decried “insufficient substantive cooperation by Iran” on the issue and demanded “credible explanations” and full cooperation from Tehran.
The document was drafted by the US, the UK, France, and Germany – four of the original signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iran’s response also comes in the wake of statements made by Germany and the US, proclaiming they are shifting their focus away from reviving the JCPOA to support “ordinary Iranians” against a state crackdown on protests.
“Right now, our focus is on supporting the Iranian people and putting pressure on the Iranian regime to stop suppressing the rights of its people,” a German foreign ministry spokesperson said on Monday.
Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran, said earlier this month that President Joe Biden would leave the door open to resume diplomacy with Iran “when and if” the time came, but for now the White House intends to continue a policy of “sanctions and pressure.”
While Iran’s announcement about enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity falls well below the 90 percent enrichment needed for weapons-grade material, it is a marked increase of the 20 percent enrichment limit established by the JCPOA.
Signed in 2015, the JCPOA placed strict limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for comprehensive sanctions relief. However, in 2018, the US unilaterally pulled out of the deal and established a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Tehran.