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Iran to increase uranium enrichment amid U.S. talks to return to nuclear deal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani inspects nuclear technologies in Tehran, Iran, on April 9, 2019. File Photo by Iranian Presidency Office/EPA-EFE
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani inspects nuclear technologies in Tehran, Iran, on April 9, 2019. File Photo by Iranian Presidency Office/EPA-EFE

April 13 (UPI) -- The Iranian government told the top international nuclear watchdog on Tuesday that it plans to increase enrichment of uranium, further violating terms of the 2015 nuclear deal that the United States is in the process of rejoining.

Tehran Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of plans to increase uranium enrichment to a concentration of 60%, beginning Wednesday, state-run Press TV reported.

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The nuclear deal signed six years ago by Iran, the United States, Britain, Russia, China, Germany, France and the European Union allows Tehran to enrich uranium up to a 3.67% concentration of uranium-235 and keep a small stockpile of enriched uranium for nuclear power reactors.

While a concentration of 60% is far above the JCPOA limit, it's still well short of the 90% needed to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

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Araqchi said the government also plans to replace centrifuges damaged in an attack on Sunday at its Natanz nuclear facility and install hundreds more. Iran has blamed Israel for the attack.

Iran's stated plans come amid negotiations between Tehran and Washington about a U.S. return to the Obama-era nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The indirect talks started last week.

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Former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and imposed economic sanctions. Iran has demanded that all sanctions be removed before it comes back into compliance. The Biden administration, meanwhile, wants Tehran to return to compliance before rejoining the deal.

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Under the agreement, Iran agreed to international nuclear inspections and time-limited restrictions on its nuclear program. In exchange, economic sanctions would be lifted by the United States, United Nations and other countries that signed onto the deal.

The Biden administration has said it wants to lengthen and strengthen the original agreement.

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