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Iran Pres.: Enrichment Answer to Evil  04/14 06:07

   

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Iran's president on Wednesday called his 
country's decision to dramatically increase its uranium enrichment after 
saboteurs attacked a nuclear site "an answer to your evilness," saying Israel 
hoped to derail ongoing talks aimed at reviving Tehran's tattered nuclear deal 
with world powers.

   This weekend's sabotage at the Natanz nuclear facility appears to be part of 
an escalating shadow war between the two countries. Israeli authorities have 
not commented on the attack, but are widely suspected of having carried it out.

   Iran announced Tuesday it would increase uranium enrichment up to 60%, its 
highest level ever, in response to the attack. That could draw further 
retaliation as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed never to 
allow Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon. While Iran's move keeps enrichment 
below weapons-grade levels of 90%, it is a short step away.

   Speaking to his Cabinet, an impassioned President Hassan Rouhani said the 
first-generation IR-1 centrifuges that were damaged in the attack would be 
replaced by advanced IR-6 centrifuges that enrich uranium much faster.

   "You wanted to make our hands empty during the talks but our hands are 
full," Rouhani said.

   He was referring to ongoing talks in Vienna that are aimed at finding a way 
for the United States to re-enter Tehran's nuclear agreement and have Iran 
comply again with its limits. The accord prevented Iran from stockpiling enough 
high-enriched uranium to be able to pursue a nuclear weapon in exchange for the 
lifting of economic sanctions.

   Rouhani added: "60% enrichment is an answer to your evilness. ... We cut off 
both of your hands, one with IR-6 centrifuges and another one with 60%."

   Rouhani also accused Israel of being behind the Natanz attack.

   "Apparently this is a crime by the Zionists. If the Zionists take an action 
against our nation, we will respond," he said, without elaborating.

   In Jerusalem at a Memorial Day commemoration, Netanyahu appeared to 
reference Iran.

   "We must never remain apathetic to the threats of war and extermination of 
those who seek to eliminate us," he said.

   Officials initially said the enrichment would begin Wednesday. However, an 
early Wednesday morning tweet from Iran's envoy to the International Atomic 
Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibabadi, suggested it might come later.

   "Modification of the process just started and we expect to accumulate the 
product next week," Gharibabadi wrote.

   He later posted a letter addressed to IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi 
warning against "any adventurism by (the) Israeli regime" against Iranian 
nuclear sites.

   "The most-recent cowardly act of nuclear terrorism will only strengthen our 
determination to march forward and to replace all (damaged) centrifuges with 
even more advanced and sophisticated machines," Gharibabadi wrote. "Even the 
most insane criminals will finally -- and soon -- realize they must never 
threaten Iranians."

   Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, though the West and the IAEA 
say Tehran had an organized military nuclear program up until the end of 2003. 
An annual U.S. intelligence report released Tuesday maintained the American 
assessment that "Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear 
weapons-development activities that we judge would be necessary to produce a 
nuclear device."

   The talks in Vienna are aimed at reviving America's role in the agreement -- 
and lifting the sanctions that former President Donald Trump imposed after 
unilaterally withdrawing America from the accord in 2018. Rouhani in his 
comments Wednesday insisted Iran still seeks a negotiated settlement over its 
program.

   "The U.S. should return to the same conditions of 2015 when we signed the 
nuclear deal," Rouhani said.

   Iran previously had said it could use uranium enriched up to 60% for 
nuclear-powered ships. However, the Islamic Republic currently has no such 
ships in its navy. The IAEA has confirmed that Iran informed it of its plans to 
enrich up to 60%.

   Iran had been enriching up to 20% -- and even that was a short technical 
step to weapons-grade levels.

   The weekend attack at Natanz was initially described only as a blackout in 
the electrical grid feeding above-ground workshops and underground enrichment 
halls -- but later Iranian officials began calling it an attack.

   Alireza Zakani, the hard-line head of the Iranian parliament's research 
center, referred to "several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed" in a 
state TV interview. However, no other official has offered that figure and no 
images of the aftermath have been released.

 
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