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Biden says Iranian decision to increase uranium enrichment to 60 percent ‘not helpful’

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on March 10, 2021, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. President Joe Biden has called Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 60 percent purity unhelpful but said the United States is “pleased” that Iran is still participating in indirect talks with Washington aimed at getting both countries back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

“We do not support and do not think it’s at all helpful that Iran is saying it’s going to move to enrich to 60 percent,” Biden told reporters at the White House during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

“We are, though, nonetheless pleased that Iran has continued to agree to engage in discussions — indirect discussions — with us and with our partners on how we move forward and what is needed to allow us to move back into the [nuclear deal]…without us making concessions that we are just not willing to make,” Biden added.

Asked if Iran’s move was a sign that Tehran is not serious about returning to the nuclear deal, Biden said: “The discussions are under way. I think it’s premature to make a judgment as to what the outcome will be. But we are still talking.”

Iran announced earlier that it had begun enriching uranium to 60 percent, higher than it has ever done before and a step closer to the 90 percent that is weapons grade.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said on state television that the centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear site were now producing 9 grams at 60 percent purity an hour, adding: “Any enrichment level that we desire is in our reach at the moment and we can do it at any time we want.”

Iran announced on April 13 that it planned to start enriching uranium at up to 60 percent purity in reaction to an alleged attack on the Natanz nuclear site two days earlier that they have blamed on Israel.

Tehran has repeatedly denied it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear ambitions are purely for civilian purposes.

Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran committed to keep enrichment to 3.67 percent. Recently it has been enriching up to 20 percent, saying the deal was no longer enforceable.

Iran and global powers have been meeting in Vienna to try to rescue the nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from in 2018.

The talks will carry on for several more days before breaking so that Iranian and U.S. officials can return home for consultations, a European Union official said on April 16.

Iran’s decision to go up to 60 percent enrichment “is not making the negotiation easier,” the EU official told reporters, calling an explosion that occurred at the Natanz site “deliberate sabotage.”

Few details have emerged about the April 11 attack.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement, but multiple Israeli media outlets quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying that the country’s Mossad spy service carried out a successful sabotage operation at the Natanz site.

Israel plans to hold a meeting of its top security officials on April 18 over the Iranian announcement on enrichment.