Iran said Tuesday that it would begin enriching uranium to a level of 60 percent purity, three times the current level and much closer to that needed to make a bomb, though American officials doubt the country has the ability to produce a weapon in the near future.
Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, did not give a reason for the shift, but it appeared to be retaliation for an Israeli attack on Iran’s primary nuclear fuel production plant as well as a move to strengthen Iran’s hand in nuclear talks in Vienna.
Mr. Araghchi said that Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of its decision in a letter on Tuesday.
Iran also attacked an Israeli-owned cargo ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, officials said, the latest clash in its maritime shadow war with Israel. The attack was another sign of increased tensions in the region but was reported to have caused little to no damage.
threat assessment report released on Tuesday.
The report said, however, that “if Tehran does not receive sanctions relief” — as Iran has demanded — “Iranian officials probably will consider options ranging from further enriching uranium up to 60 percent to designing and building a new” nuclear reactor that could, over the long term, produce bomb-grade material. That would take years.
The assessment would seem to give President Biden some breathing room as he enters negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring some form of the nuclear agreement.
the attack on Sunday at the nuclear fuel-production center at Natanz, where an explosion knocked the facility offline. He said that Iran would install an additional 1,000 centrifuges there to increase the plant’s capacity by 50 percent.
An Iranian official also provided a new estimate of the damage caused by the attack, saying that several thousand centrifuges were “completely destroyed.” That level of destruction takes out a large portion of Iran’s ability to enrich uranium.
But the full extent of the damage is unknown, and Iran presumably is vulnerable to continued attacks on its nuclear infrastructure. Until the electric power systems are rebuilt at Natanz, it would be impossible to make new centrifuges spin.
Iran is expected to replace the first-generation centrifuges damaged in the Israeli attack with more advanced, more efficient models.