Middle East

Iran Tells U.N. Agency It Will Enrich Uranium Back To Pre-Nuclear Deal Level Of 20%

Iran says it intends to start enriching uranium to 20% at its Fordow nuclear facility, exceeding regulations set by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action known as the Iran nuclear deal, as first reported by Reuters. Iran has previously suggested this increase could be a possibility.

The nuclear deal includes regulations that Iran cannot enrich uranium past 3.67% and that it specifically cannot conduct any enrichment at Fordow, which is located beneath a mountain near the city of Qom.

Iran has already breached parts of the agreement since the Trump administration withdrew in 2018, including increasing enrichment of uranium to 4.5%. Bringing enrichment to 20% would be the highest the country has gone since the agreement was established in 2015. In order to manufacture a nuclear weapon, it must hit 90%.

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The development was made public by the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, which is the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog. In a statement Friday the organization said it was notified on New Year's Eve and was not given information on when the enrichment would occur.

The move is part of larger Iranian legislation passed in December which was done in response to the murder of Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran has accused Israel of the assassination.

"Iran has informed the Agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country's parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant," the agency said in a statement sent to NPR.

The law also vows to stop U.N. nuclear facility inspections if oil and banking sanctions on Iran are not removed by February.

"The Agency has inspectors present in Iran on a 24/7 basis and they have regular access to Fordow," the IAEA statement said.

"In line with standard safeguards practice, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi will promptly report any relevant developments to IAEA Member States, as he did today regarding Iran's letter," it added.

The unraveling of the Iran nuclear deal is expected to pose challenges for President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office this month. Biden has expressed interest in rejoining the agreement if Iran stops its current trajectory and follows the regulations.

During an interview in mid-December, Grossi expressed doubt that the incoming Biden administration would be able to repair the current Iran nuclear deal and would instead need a new set of terms.

"I cannot imagine that they are going simply to say, 'We are back to square one' because square one is no longer there," Grossi said.

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