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US, EU members slam Iran's 'provocative' plan to enrich uranium to 60%

Iranian technicians work at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facilities (UCF), 420 kms south of Tehran, 03 February 2007. [AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI / Getty]
Iranian technicians work at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facilities (UCF), 420 kms south of Tehran, 03 February 2007. [AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI / Getty]

The United States and the European countries party to the Iran nuclear deal yesterday pushed back against Tehran's decision to enrich uranium at 60 per cent purity, with a top US diplomat calling the move "provocative" and questioning Iran's seriousness about talks, Reuters reported.

Iran has said it will enrich uranium to 60 per cent – a big step closer to the 90 per cent that is weapons-grade material – in response to what it says was an act of sabotage by Israel against its key nuclear facility last week.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tehran's intent raised questions about its seriousness over the talks in Vienna between Iran and the world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

"We take very seriously its provocative announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent," Blinken told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. "I have to tell you the step calls into question Iran's seriousness with regard the nuclear talks," he added.

The nuclear deal unravelled after former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in 2018 and reinstated "unprecedented" economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Report: Natanz incident sets Iran nuclear activity back several months

Last week, Iran and fellow signatories held what they described as "constructive" talks to restore the deal.

The explosion at Iran's uranium enrichment site came on Sunday ahead of a second week of talks. Israel, which supported Trump's hard line against Iran, has not formally commented on the incident at Iran's Natanz site, which appeared to be the latest twist in a long-running covert war.

Britain, France and Germany also said Tehran's new decision to enrich at 60 per cent, from the 20 per cent it has reached so far, and activate 1,000 advanced centrifuge machines at its Natanz plant was at odds with the talks. They said they rejected "all escalatory measures by any actor", in an apparent signal to Israel.

"Iran's announcements are particularly regrettable given they come at a time when all JCPoA participants and the United States have started substantive discussions, with the objective of finding a rapid diplomatic solution to revitalise and restore the JCPoA," the three countries said in a statement, referring to the 2015 deal.

"Iran's dangerous recent communication is contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith of these discussions," it said of the talks, which resume between Iran and global powers in Vienna today, aimed at salvaging the accord.

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