Iran plans 20 per cent uranium enrichment ‘as soon as possible’

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) — Iran said yesterday it plans to enrich uranium up to 20 per cent at its underground Fordo nuclear facility “as soon as possible”, pushing its programme a technical step away from weapons-grade levels as it increases pressure on the West over the tattered atomic deal.

The move comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States (US) in the waning days of the administration of US President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal in 2018.

That set in motion an escalating series of incidents capped by a US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad a year ago, an anniversary today that has American officials now worried about possible retaliation by Iran.

Even US-educated Head of the Civilian Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Even Ali Akbar Salehi, offered a military analogy to describe his agency’s readiness to take the next step.

“We are like soldiers and our fingers are on the triggers,” Salehi told Iranian state television.

A satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows Iran’s Fordo nuclear site. PHOTO: AP

“The commander should command and we shoot. We are ready for this and will produce (20 per cent enriched uranium) as soon as possible.”

Iran’s decision comes after its parliament passed a bill, later approved by a constitutional watchdog, aimed at hiking enrichment to pressure Europe into providing sanctions relief.

It also serves as pressure ahead of the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he is willing to re-enter the nuclear deal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) acknowledged Iran had informed its inspectors of the decision by a letter after news leaked overnight on Friday.

“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 (AEO) of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium… up to 20 per cent at the Fordo Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the IAEA said in a statement.