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Iran enriched uranium at 83.7%, close to weapons grade: UN watchdog

The news is alarming for Israel, but Iran denied other recent reports that asserted they enriched uranium close to the 90% threshold for a nuclear weapon.
Iran nuclear

Iran enriched uranium close to the grade required to develop nuclear weapons, two news outlets reported on Tuesday. 

The Associated Press reported that the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) found particles of uranium that were enriched at 83.7% at the Fordo nuclear site. The AP cited a report from the United Nations nuclear watchdog, due to be released this week. 

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the IAEA found traces of uranium enriched to 84% at Fordo during a January inspection. However, most of the uranium at the site is being enriched at 60%, according to the outlet.

The IAEA did not immediately respond to Al-Monitor’s request for comment. 

Why it matters: Uranium must be enriched at a rate of 90% to develop a nuclear weapon. The Iranian nuclear deal limited Iran’s enrichment to just 3.67%. However, the Islamic Republic stopped complying with the deal after the Trump administration pulled out in 2018. Iran said in November that it reached 60% enrichment at Fordo. 

The Iranian government did not immediately comment on Tuesday’s reports. Bloomberg reported last week that Iran reached 84% enrichment, citing diplomatic sources. Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi rejected that report, saying Iran has “never” enriched above 60%, according to state media. 

The news is worrisome for Iran’s foes in the region. Israeli military intelligence chief Aharon Haliva warned in November that Iran could soon attempt to enrich uranium at 90%. 

What’s next: US defense chief Lloyd Austin is due to visit the Middle East this weekend, Al-Monitor’s Jared Szuba reported on Tuesday. 

The IAEA director general, Rafael Grossi, will visit Washington on March 14 to discuss the Ukraine conflict with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

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