President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday the decision to boost uranium enrichment to 60% was a response to suspected Israeli “nuclear terrorism”, days after an attack on the Natanz nuclear facility in central Iran.
“Enabling IR-6 (centrifuges) at Natanz today, or bringing enrichment to 60%: This is the response to your malice,” Rouhani said in televised remarks.
“What you did was nuclear terrorism. What we do is legal,” he said, referring to an act of sabotage early on Sunday that knocked out electricity at Iran’s main nuclear facility.
“Of course, the security and intelligence officials must give the final reports, but apparently, it is the crime of the Zionists, and if the Zionists act against our nation, we will respond,” Rouhani said, according to Reuters.
Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, tweeted that enrichment to higher purity was starting and that “we expect to accumulate the product next week” from centrifuges at Natanz.
The announcement of stepped-up enrichment, made on Tuesday, came amid talks in Vienna aimed at salvaging the troubled 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that former US president Donald Trump abandoned three years ago, AFP reported.
Under the nuclear deal, Iran had committed to keep enrichment to 3.67%, though it had stepped this up to 20%in January in response to US withdrawal from the deal.
Rouhani has said Iran has no intention to obtain or develop nuclear weapons.
The IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, said on Tuesday it had been informed of Iran’s decision.
Iran has said it requires the more highly enriched uranium for medical purposes.
Gharibabadi said in his tweet that the new material “will improve significantly both the quality and quantity of radiopharmaceutical products”.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said in Vienna on Tuesday that Iran will install 1,000 new centrifuges at the facility in addition to the 5,060 centrifuges already there, some of which may have been damaged.
“The Natanz incident has strengthened our determination for progress in both the nuclear field and negotiations. Contrary to what some may think, our hands are now much fuller in negotiations,” he told Press TV.
Israel, which did not claim responsibility for the Natanz explosion, has often vowed to do its utmost to harm Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel is opposed to US President Joe Biden’s willingness to return to the nuclear agreement between Iran and the UN Security Council’s permanent members plus Germany.
The accord, agreed when Biden was vice president to Barack Obama, promised Tehran relief from sanctions in return for agreeing to limits on its nuclear program.
The White House said on Tuesday it remains committed to nuclear negotiations in Vienna after Iran’s statement that it will ramp up uranium enrichment.
“We are certainly concerned about these provocative announcements,” Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters.
“We believe that the diplomatic path is the only path forward here and that having a discussion, even indirect, is the best way to come to a resolution.”
France said on Tuesday it was coordinating a response with world powers, including the United States, over Iran’s announcement about enriching uranium at 60%.
The French presidency said the Iranian move was a “serious” development and needed coordination with the remaining parties to a 2015 nuclear deal, and the US.
Last week, Iran and the global powers held what they described as “constructive” talks to salvage the 2015 accord.
The talks will resume Thursday in Vienna to discuss the sanctions Washington might lift and the nuclear curbs Tehran might observe.
“They [Israel] want our hands to be empty in the negotiations, but we will be in the negotiations with a stronger hand,” Rouhani said.
In his comments on Wednesday, Rouhani insisted that Iran still seeks a negotiated settlement, AP wrote.
”The US should return to the same conditions of 2015 when we signed the nuclear deal,” he said.
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said in a tweet on Wednesday that sanctions, the assassination of nuclear scientists, and the destruction at Natanz centrifuge assembly center “all demonstrate the frustration of the enemies,” and that the willpower of Iranian scientists has “turned all such unwise acts into desperation.”
The organization also emphasized that the Natanz nuclear site will continue to work at full blast in spite of the recent attack.