Biden says Iran’s 60% uranium enrichment unhelpful for nuclear talks

US president condemned the country's highest-ever uranium enrichment level but doubled down on nuclear negotiations

US President Joe Biden and Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga take part in a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on April 16, 2021. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN
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President Joe Biden on Friday condemned Iran’s decision to begin enriching uranium at 60 per cent purity, its highest-ever level.

Speaking at a press conference from the White House alongside Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Mr Biden said the new uranium enrichment levels were unhelpful for the ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the Iran 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 per cent,” said Mr Biden, noting that it runs “contrary” to the nuclear deal.

Still, he indicated his pleasure that Iran has continued to participate in the indirect talks with the US through European interlocutors that are also party to the 2015 deal.

“We are, though, nonetheless pleased that Iran has continued to agree to engage in indirect discussion 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] so that we’re part of it again – that we never should have got out of it, in my view – without us making concessions that we’re just not willing to make,” said Mr Biden.

“It’s premature to make a judgment on what the outcome will be but we’re still talking.”

Iran’s move to enrich uranium at 60 per cent purity starting on Friday – well beyond the 3.67 per cent permissible under the deal – represents the latest in a trend of Tehran ratcheting up its breaches of the accord following former president Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the agreement.

Mr Biden has pledged to re-enter the nuclear deal and lift the crippling sanctions on Iran that Mr Trump reinstated and built upon, but only if Tehran returns to compliance with the accord.

The initial round of talks that began last week focused largely on which Trump-era sanctions the US would actually lift if Iran returns compliance.

Notably, Iran is only enriching a few grams of uranium at 60 per cent per hour, providing Tehran a quick off-ramp should it wish to de-escalate tension during the talks.

Tehran initially announced it would begin 60 per cent enrichment last weekend after an apparent cyberattack on its Natanz nuclear site.

After Iran accused Israel of carrying out the attack, the head of the Israel Defence Forces Aviv Kochavi stated that Israel’s “operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy".

The Natanz attack took place at the same time US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Israel for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In addition to replacing the centrifuges damaged in the Natanz incident, Iran has also vowed to install 1,000 additional advanced centrifuges at the site.