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Iran begins enriching uranium to 20 per cent; US, Europe condemn the move

Tehran said the steps were aimed at developing fuel for a research reactor

IRAN-NUCLEAR/DEAL An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria | Reuters

Iran has begun the process of enriching uranium, an act that could hinder the revival of talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran intended to enrich uranium to 20 per cent, which could allow it to develop a nuclear weapon.           

Tehran said the steps were aimed at developing fuel for a research reactor. This drew criticism from American and European leaders. The US called it an “unfortunate step backwards.”

There have been escalating tensions between the US and Iran ever since the then US President Donald Trump exited the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) in 2018. Current US President Joe Biden, however, has said that he is open to reviving the nuclear deal. Tehran has been negotiating with the European signees of the nuclear deal regarding the revival of the JCPOA.  The talks, which were held in Vienna, began in April and were adjourned on June 20. But, no date for future talks was set.

"Today, Iran informed the Agency that UO2 enriched up to 20 per cent U-235 would be shipped to the R&D laboratory at the Fuel Fabrication Plant in Esfahan, where it would be converted to UF4 and then to uranium metal-enriched to 20 per cent U-235, before using it to manufacture the fuel," an IAEA statement said.

Britain, France and Germany said on Tuesday expressed "grave concern" about Iran's decision, which violates stipulations of the JCPOA. If the JCPOA was to be revived, it would require Iran to refrain from enriching uranium to nuclear weapons level and in return, the US would lift trade sanctions it imposed on Iran after Trump exited the deal. European signatories too would need to lift the sanctions it imposed on Iran.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told Reuters that Washington was not setting a deadline for the talks but noted: "that as time proceeds Iran's nuclear advances will have a bearing on our view of returning to the JCPOA."

"Iran has no credible civilian need for uranium metal R&D and production, which are a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon," the three countries said in a joint statement issued by the British Foreign Office, BBC reported.

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