Biden Criticizes Iran’s Uranium Enrichment But Says Talks Go On

President Joe Biden criticized Iran’s decision to further enrich uranium but signaled that the move won’t prevent indirect talks in Vienna aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear accord from proceeding.

“We do not support and do not think it’s at all helpful that Iran is saying it is going to move to enrich at 60% -- it is contrary to the agreement,” Biden said Friday at a news conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

“We are, though, nonetheless pleased that Iran has continued to agree to engage in discussions, indirect discussions, with us and with our partners on how we move forward and what is needed for us to move back into” the nuclear deal, Biden added.

Biden Criticizes Iran’s Uranium Enrichment But Says Talks Go On

Iran this week said it had enriched uranium close to levels needed to make a weapon, adding to obstacles facing diplomats as they try to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal that curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The first 60%-enriched uranium was obtained at 12:40 a.m. local time on Friday, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

The move is Iran’s response to an attack on Sunday on its biggest enrichment facility at Natanz that it blamed on Israel, the latest in a series of claims by the regional foes that’s roiling the Persian Gulf. It moves Tehran’s enrichment significantly closer to the 90% concentration of uranium-235 isotopes used in nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and that the material will be used for medical treatments.

Earlier on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tehran’s moves “calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard to the nuclear talks and underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance” with the 2015 accord.

Iran’s nuclear agency chief Ali Akbar Salehi said about 9 grams of the material was being produced per hour at the Natanz nuclear site, though the amount could drop to 5 or 6 grams as the facility simultaneously produces uranium enriched to 20%.

Iranian first began enriching uranium -- at lower levels -- after then-President Donald Trump quit the nuclear accord in 2018 and began ramping up tough sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Iran says the U.S. should return to compliance with the deal by eliminating those restrictions. The U.S. wants Iran to take the first step.

The latest attack on the Natanz facility affected only part of the complex and didn’t halt enrichment, Salehi said, adding that the main power unit at the facility would be restored later Friday.

Diplomats from Iran, the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France and Germany gathered in Vienna again on Friday as they attempt to orchestrate the lifting of U.S. sanctions and steps Iran can take to wind back its nuclear activities.

Psaki said “we expected these talks to be difficult, to be long,” but “we still feel they are a step forward.”

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