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Iran reaches 20% uranium enrichment

The increase in enrichment levels complicates the Biden administration's efforts to get Iran to return to compliance before reentering the Iran nuclear deal.
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Iran has increased its uranium enrichment levels to 20%, complicating the Biden administration’s efforts to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The speaker of the Iranian parliament, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, said the country has produced 17 kilograms (37 pounds) of 20% enriched uranium. He made the announcement upon visiting the Fordow nuclear facility, the state-run Tasnim News Agency reported Thursday.

This level of enrichment violates the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran signed the agreement with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China in 2015. The deal removed international sanctions on Iran in exchange for compliance on its nuclear program.

Many countries, including United States, Israel and Gulf states, fear Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon. One of the stipulations of the JCPOA is that Iran does not enrich beyond 3.67%. Nuclear weapons can be produced with uranium enriched at 90%.

Traditionally 3.67% was the concentration needed to run nuclear power reactors without having to stop for refueling. At 20% purity, centrifuges can be arranged in a way to reach weapons-level concentrations very quickly.

The United States under President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Iran decided to ramp up enrichment in early January amid tensions with the Trump administration during its final days in office.

The uranium enrichment increase is complicating US President Joe Biden’s Iran policy. Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said this week that the United States will only return to the JCPOA if Iran is in compliance. The 20% enrichment is a violation of the deal’s terms.

Iran appears to not be budging. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Thursday that given that the United States had violated the JCPOA while Iran had abided by it, "who should take" the first step?

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