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EU frets, Iran plans 60% uranium enrichment after nuke site attack

Brussels wants diplomacy to save 2015 deal

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The European Union said Brussels is extremely worried by Iran’s deputy foreign minister announcement that the regime in Tehran will start enriching uranium at 60% purity.

“Iran’s announcement of its intention to begin enriching uranium to 60 percent is extremely worrisome from a nuclear non-proliferation perspective and against the spirit of the ongoing talks in Vienna, Peter Stano, lead EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told New Europe on April 14. “There is no credible or plausible civilian justification for such a decision,” he added.

“We continue to believe that diplomacy and a return to full JCPOA implementation is the only peaceful way forward to address concerns related to Iran’s nuclear program,” Stano said, referring to the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Stano reminded that the EU as the Coordinator is in touch with all JCPOA participants and separately with the US on the way forward. “Talks are expected to continue this week in Vienna. We urge Iran to reconsider its decision to enrich to 60 percent and continue its engagement within the Joint Commission framework,” he said.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister announcement on April 13 follows the attack on the regime’s Natanz nuclear facility on April 11, which Tehran called an act of sabotage, blaming Israel.

Stano said the Natanz incident will not derail fresh diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which was abandoned by the US under the Trump Administration in 2018.

“We are following with concern reports regarding the incident that took place during the weekend in the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, which could have been an act of sabotage. This incident should be clarified thoroughly,” the lead EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said.

“As the discussions to bring the JCPOA back to its full implementation are ongoing in Vienna, any attempt to undermine them has to be fully rejected. All questions relating to Iran’s nuclear programme need to be resolved via diplomatic means to which there is no alternative,” Stano said.

Meanwhile, at a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on April 14 called Tehran’s announcement of Iran’s to begin enriching uranium at 60% purity provocative. We take very seriously its provocative announcement of an intent to begin enriching uranium at 60 percent,” he said, adding that the announcement raised questions about the seriousness of Tehran over the nuclear talks in Vienna. “I have to tell you the step calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard the nuclear talks, just as it underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA,” Blinken said.

Iran’s plans to enrich uranium to 60% is a big step closer to the 90% that is weapons-grade from the 20% maximum it has reached so far. But Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) Senior Fellow Behnam Ben Taleblu told New Europe on April 14 that there’s always great temptation to see any source of escalation by Iran in its nuclear program as response to foreign pressure trying to stop the program. “This has the causal arrows all wrong,” he argued. “To be clear, Iran’s threat to enrich to 60% is historic, and did not emerge out of a vacuum. Iran has been threatening to breach the 20% enrichment marker for almost a decade now,” Taleblu argued.

“This is certainly not Iran’s first roadshow when it comes to extortion, seeking leverage, and trying to divide alliances,” he said, noting that in the first year of maximum pressure, they worked to divide the trans-Atlantic community on Iran policy. “Now, they are trying to divide the US-Israel relationship by grossly transgressing JCPOA enrichment caps and thereby threatening talks,” the FDD expert argued.

Taleblu called for patience until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) offers an impartial assessment as to what happened to Natanz’s output and capabilities, and how quickly Iran may be proceeding with 60%. “As a reminder uranium purity need not correspond with the degree of centrifuge capability. Older machines can accomplish this too,” he explained.

Regarding indirect talks in Vienna, which are expected to reconvene on April 15, Taleblu said the prospects of getting a “deal” dependent greatly on the parameters. “If sights are lowered by the US, as they now appear to be, then it could be possible for Washington to offer sufficient sanctions relief to stem Iranian nuclear escalation and get a framework for eventual JCPOA compliance,” Taleblu said. “Is it wise to offer this relief and dispense with leverage at a critical time, however, is an altogether different matter, to which I say no, not at all,” he argued, adding expect Tehran to use its 60% enrichment threat as a gambit for more upfront relief.

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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