Iran plans 20% uranium enrichment


Dubai, January 2

Iran on Saturday said it had planned to enrich uranium up to 20 per cent at its underground Fordo nuclear facility as soon as possible, pushing its programme a technical step away from weapons-grade levels as it increases pressure on the West over the tattered atomic deal.

The move comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US in the waning days of the administration of President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal in 2018.

That set in motion an escalating series of incidents capped by a US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad a year ago, an anniversary coming on Sunday that has American officials now worried about possible retaliation by Iran.

Iran’s decision to begin enriching to 20 per cent a decade ago nearly brought an Israeli strike targeting its nuclear facilities, tensions that only abated with the 2015 atomic deal. A resumption of 20 per cent enrichment could see that brinksmanship return.

Even Ali Akbar Salehi, the US-educated head of the civilian Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, offered a military analogy to describe his agency’s readiness to take the next step. “We are like soldiers and our fingers are on the triggers,” Salehi told Iranian state television.

“The commander should command and we shoot. We are ready for this and will produce (20 per cent enriched uranium) as soon as possible.”

Iran’s decision comes after its parliament passed a bill, later approved by a constitutional watchdog, aimed at hiking enrichment to pressure Europe into providing sanctions relief. It also serves as pressure ahead of the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he is willing to re-enter the nuclear deal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged Iran had informed its inspectors of the decision by a letter after news leaked overnight Friday. — AP



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