Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday rejected initial offers in talks in Vienna to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal as “not worth considering”, attempting to pressure world powers after an attack on the country’s main nuclear enrichment site.
The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in the Islamic Republic, came after a day in which the Iranian president also increased pressure on the deal. The European powers have warned Tehran that its actions were “particularly regrettable” and “dangerous”.
The talks have already been destabilized by a weekend attack on Iran’s main nuclear enrichment site of Natanz, suspected of having been led by Israel. Tehran retaliated by announcing that it would enrich uranium by up to 60% – more than ever before, but still below military grade levels of 90%.
“The offers they make are generally arrogant and demeaning (and) not worth considering,” Khamenei, 81, said in a speech marking the first day of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Iran. .
He also criticized the United States and warned that time may pass.
“Talks should not turn into attrition talks,” Khamenei said. “They should not be in a way that the parties drag out and prolong talks. It hurts the country.”
Speaking to his cabinet, passionate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said first-generation IR-1 centrifuges damaged in Sunday’s attack would be replaced with advanced IR-6 centrifuges that enrich uranium much faster.
“You wanted to empty our hands during the talks, but our hands are full,” Rouhani said.
Rohani added, “The 60% enrichment is a response to your perversity. … We cut off both of your hands, one with IR-6 centrifuges and another with 60%.”
Rouhani also accused Israel of being behind Natanz’s attack and threatened to retaliate.
In Jerusalem, during a Memorial Day commemoration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to refer to Iran.
“We must never remain apathetic in the face of threats of war and extermination from those who seek to eliminate us,” he said. Israel did not claim responsibility for the attack, although it rarely does so in its ongoing shadow war against Tehran.
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The Vienna talks aim to find a way for the United States to enter Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and get Iran to respect its limits again. The deal, from which former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States in 2018, prevented Iran from storing enough highly enriched uranium to be able to use a nuclear weapon in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Late Wednesday, the European Union said formal negotiations would resume in Vienna on Thursday.
Rouhani in his comments on Wednesday insisted that Iran still hopes the Vienna talks will lead to a negotiated settlement on its program – and the lifting of punitive sanctions that go with it. Khamenei also said he believed in his negotiators, but kept the pressure on the West in his remarks Wednesday night.
“They have to do what we say first, and we make sure it’s done, then we will do what we have to do,” he said.
France, Germany and the UK, all parties to the nuclear deal, issued a joint statement just Wednesday expressing “grave concern” over Iran’s decision to increase enrichment. .
“This is a serious development since the production of highly enriched uranium is an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon,” the countries said. “Iran has no credible civilian need for enrichment at this level.”
China and Russia also participated in the agreement.
Saudi Arabia, a regional rival to Iran, also issued a statement, saying enrichment at this level “cannot be considered a program for peaceful purposes.” He called on Iran to “avoid escalation”.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, although the West and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Tehran had an organized military nuclear program until the end of 2003. An annual report of the US intelligence services released on Tuesday upheld the US assessment that “Iran is not currently undertaking the major nuclear weapons development activities that we deem necessary to produce a nuclear device.”
Iran had previously said it could use uranium enriched up to 60% for nuclear-powered ships. However, the Islamic Republic currently has no such vessel in its navy.
Iran was enriched by up to 20% – even this was a short technical step towards military grade levels. The deal limited Iran’s enrichment to 3.76%
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, posted online a letter to IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, warning against “any adventurism of the () Israeli regime” targeting the sites Iranian nuclear weapons.
“The most recent cowardly act of nuclear terrorism will only strengthen our resolve to move forward and replace all (damaged) centrifuges with even more advanced and sophisticated machines,” Gharibabadi wrote.
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IAEA inspectors visited Natanz on their first trip since the sabotage on Wednesday and found Iran was preparing an air zone for higher enrichment, the agency said.
Iran has “almost completed its preparations to start producing (uranium gas) enriched to 60%,” the IAEA said in a subsequent statement. “Iran informed the agency that the necessary piping was being finalized and that the supply of (uranium gas) enriched up to 5% to a cascade of IR-6 centrifuges would begin shortly thereafter.”
The weekend attack in Natanz was initially described only as a blackout in the power grid feeding aboveground workshops and underground enrichment halls – but later Iranian officials began to call it an attack. .
Alireza Zakani, head of the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand damaged and destroyed centrifuges” in an interview on public television. However, no other official has offered the figure and no pictures of the aftermath have been released.
Planet Labs Inc. satellite photographs of Natanz taken Wednesday and analyzed by the Associated Press showed no apparent damage above ground in the facility.
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