What happened: Iran has announced that it will start to enrich uranium to up to 60 per cent purity.
- The enrichment, Iran’s highest level to date (it has not enriched higher than 20 per cent purity), will take place in Natanz, which was targeted in a suspected covert attack by Israel earlier this week.
- Iran is also installing a further 1,000 advanced centrifuges at the site, with enrichment capability 50 per cent higher than those already installed.
- In a suspected revenge attack yesterday, an Israeli owned commercial ship was targeted by Iran off the coast of UAE, near the Fujairah Port. The ship was attacked by a missile, but the damage was minimal and the ship continued its journey.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tehran yesterday and met with President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif. Speaking about the Natanz attack, Zarif said Israel had made a “very bad gamble … the Israelis thought their attack would weaken our ‘hand’ at the Vienna talks, but our position has only been strengthened. Iran has the right … to respond to this attack”.
- Zarif also called on the US to publish a list of all its sanctions against Iran and then to remove them before Iran returns to the JCPOA nuclear agreement. He warned that time was running out for the US and the European powers to bring Iran back to complying with the terms of the agreement.
- In Vienna Iran’s negotiator Abbas Araghchi said last night: “We believe this round of negotiations is the time for the US to present a list and I hope that I can go back to Tehran with the list of sanctions which should be lifted… otherwise, it would be a waste of time.”
- Also yesterday, the US and Israeli national security advisers met virtually for their second round of strategic talks on Iran.
Context: Israeli analysts have noted that uranium enrichment to 60 per cent takes Iran very close to weapons-grade fissile material.
- This is Iran’s most severe violation of the nuclear deal. It will leave Iran short of the 90 per cent enrichment necessary to produce a nuclear weapon, but closer to that threshold than ever before.
- The Iranian move increases the pressure on the US and the JCPOA participants in their talks in Vienna with Iran. According to analyst Ehud Yaari, on Channel 12 News, the Iranians are demanding four conditions for returning to the deal:
- Removal of all sanctions, even those not relating to the nuclear deal.
- That all the sanctions be removed at once and not in stages.
- That this be done within a short time frame.
- There are guarantees that the sanctions will not be reimposed.
- More details have emerged on the attack in Natanz. It is reported that explosives were embedded in a heavy table that was brought into the facility and placed 40-50 metres underground close to an electrical substation. Iranian sources assessing the attack claim several thousand centrifuges were damaged in the attack.
- During the first Israeli-US strategic dialogue the sides shared their intelligence picture on Iran. This time the talks focused on Iran’s regional activities.
- The US has also confirmed that it will proceed with $23 billion in weapons sales to the UAE agreed by the Trump administration. The deal includes advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment. The deal was originally agreed in the context of the peace agreement between Israel and the UAE.
Looking ahead: Iran warned that the strike on the Israeli ship was only the first part of their retaliations for the Natanz attack. Israel remains on alert and vigilant for further attacks, both on its borders and at sea.
- The indirect talks between US and Iran, with the mediation of the Joint Commision – the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – will be resumed tomorrow in Vienna.
- Israel and the US are expected to resume their strategic dialogue on Iran later this month after US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan invited his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, to visit Washington for follow-up consultations