Talks to salvage Iran deal advance, IAEA confirms 60% uranium enrichment

Netanyahu is set to convene the diplomatic-security cabinet on Sunday for the first time in two months.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reviews Iran's new nuclear achievements during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021. (photo credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reviews Iran's new nuclear achievements during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021.
(photo credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Talks to salvage the Iranian nuclear deal have advanced Tehran reported Saturday, as the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran was enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is opposed to the Iran deal and has vowed to prevent Tehran from producing nuclear weapons, is set to convene the diplomatic-security cabinet on Sunday for the first time in two months.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit gave his approval for such a meeting, even though he had ruled last week that the diplomatic-security cabinet could not meet until a new justice minister was appointed.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Saturday that Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at its above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz.
“The Agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6, enriched up to 60% U-235, by feeding UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235 simultaneously into two cascades of IR-4 centrifuges and IR-6 centrifuges at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the IAEA said in a statement. UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment. It's a big step towards weapons-grade uranium from the 20% it had previously achieved.
US President Biden on Friday spoke against Iran’s decision to increase uranium enrichment.
“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%,” Biden said.
Asked if Iran’s move was a sign that Tehran is not serious about returning to the nuclear deal, Biden replied: “The discussions are underway. I think it’s premature to make a judgment as to what the outcome will be. But we are still talking.”
Still Tehran’s chief negotiator Abbas Araqchi spoke positively Saturday stating that while serious disagreements remained, “a new understanding appears to be emerging” in the talks held at the end of last week in Vienna to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran deal.
Araqchi explained that the Iranian delegation had submitted proposed texts on nuclear issues and the lifting of US sanctions, and that work on a common text “at least in areas where there are common views” could begin.
Iran has breached many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities in response to America’s 2018 withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions against Tehran under President Donald Trump. Iran is particularly adamant that the US must lift these crippling sanctions.
China’s envoy to the talks earlier said that all participants – China, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Iran – had agreed to accelerate work on issues including which sanctions the United States would lift.
“All parties have agreed to further pick up their pace in subsequent days by engaging [in] more extensive, substantive work on sanctions-lifting, as well as other relevant issues,” Wang Qun told reporters.
Biden in Washington said the talks were moving forward, during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday.
“We are… 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 said.
The Vienna talks were chaired by the European Union and did not involve direct negotiations between Iranian and US officials. EU officials carried out shuttle diplomacy with a US delegation based at another hotel across the road.
Negotiators are working on steps that both sides must take on sanctions and nuclear activities, to return to full compliance, but the talks have been further complicated by an explosion at Iran’s main uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Tehran has blamed on Israel. There has been no formal comment from the Jewish state on the explosion.
The Biden administration has asked Israel to stop commenting on Iran, N12 reported Friday evening.
According to the report, the administration feels “uneasy” regarding reports linking Israel to the Natanz explosion, referring to recent Israeli chatter regarding the attack as “dangerous” and “embarrassing.”
Iran said that the Natanz explosion did not prevent uranium production at the plant and announced that it would now enrich uranium to 60% fissile purity. 
An EU official told reporters: “We have this [Iranian] decision to go for 60% enrichment. Obviously this is not making the negotiation easier.” The official called what happened at Natanz “deliberate sabotage.”
Iran had in recent months already raised enrichment to 20% purity. The JCPOA, which reined in Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for the lifting of sanctions, had capped the level of purity at 3.67%. Iran denies seeking a nuclear weapon.
“We are producing about nine grams of 60%-enriched uranium an hour,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told state television.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.