Iran has warned that it will start enriching uranium up to 60 percent purity, two days after an alleged sabotage attack on the country's main Natanz nuclear site that it blamed on archenemy Israel.
The warning came hours after Iran's top diplomat said the alleged attack on Natanz was a "very bad gamble" that would strengthen Tehran's hand in talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of its intention to "start 60 percent enrichment," the state-run IRNA news agency reported on April 13.
The IAEA's director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, later confirmed that "Iran had informed the agency that the country intends to start producing UF6 enriched up to 60 percent."
Press TV, state television's English-language arm, said the enrichment would begin as of April 14.
Enriching uranium to 60 percent would be the highest level achieved by Iran's nuclear program, although it still short of the 90 percent purity needed for military use.
Under the nuclear deal, Iran had committed to keep enrichment to 3.67 percent. Recently it has been enriching up to 20 percent, saying the deal was no longer enforceable.
The White House said it remained committed to talks with Iran despite Tehran's "provocative" statement that it will ramp up uranium enrichment.
"We are certainly concerned about these provocative announcements," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. "We believe that the diplomatic path is the only path forward here and that having a discussion, even indirect, is the best way to come to a resolution."
Tehran's announcement comes after Iranian officials said an April 11 explosion caused a power failure at Natanz that affected Iran's first generation of centrifuges, and vowed it would take "revenge" and ramp up its nuclear activities.
While not claiming the attack, Israel is widely believed to have carried out the still-unexplained assault, which came a day after new uranium-enrichment equipment was unveiled at the site south of Tehran.
It also occurred amid diplomatic efforts to revive the nuclear agreement, abandoned by the United States under former President Donald Trump, and which Israel fiercely opposes.
"Israel played a very bad gamble if it thought that the attack will weaken Iran's hand in the nuclear talks," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a joint news conference on April 13 with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Tehran.
"On the contrary, it will strengthen our position."
Last week in Vienna, Iran and the global powers held what they described as constructive EU-hosted talks centering on overcoming an impasse between Washington and Tehran to bring both parties into full compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord.
Further discussions were scheduled for April 14, but Russia's ambassador to the UN, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on April 13 that the talks in Vienna had been postponed for one day and would take place in the Austrian capital on April 15 in a “physical format.”
The pact lifted international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for limits on Iran's nuclear program. But the Trump administration imposed a raft of sanctions on Tehran under a "maximum pressure" campaign after it withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018.
Iran responded by gradually breaching many of the nuclear restrictions.
U.S. and Iranian officials have publicly clashed over the sequencing of possible U.S. sanctions relief and Iran reversing its breaches of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The reported incident at Natanz cast additional uncertainty over the talks in Vienna. It occurred a day after Iran launched new advanced centrifuges at the Natanz facility with the potential to accelerate uranium enrichment, in another breach of the country's undertakings in the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.
Iran has "no problem with returning to implementing our JCPOA commitments," Zarif said on April 13. "But the Americans should know that neither sanctions nor acts of sabotage will give them negotiation tools and these acts will only make the situation more difficult for them."
The foreign minister also said that "in the near future more advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges will be placed” in Natanz, an underground site key to Iran's uranium-enrichment program and monitored by inspectors of the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog.
Multiple Israeli media outlets quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying that the country's Mossad spy service carried out a successful sabotage operation at the Natanz site, potentially setting back enrichment work there by months.
Israel is suspected of carrying out sabotage against Iran in the past, including cyberattacks and assassinations of nuclear scientists.
The IAEA said it was aware of the reports of an incident but would not comment.
The White House said the United States was "not involved in any manner" in the Natanz incident and had no comment on speculation about its cause.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said it was "alarming how this situation" could impact on the talks to revive the deal, while the EU warned against attempts to derail talks to return Washington to the Iran nuclear accord.
Speaking alongside Zarif, Lavrov said Moscow expected the Iranian nuclear deal to be saved and criticized recent EU sanctions on Iran, saying they raised "a huge number of questions" while talks aimed at reviving the agreement were ongoing.
The previous day, the EU added eight Iranian security officials, including the chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and three notorious prisons to a sanctions blacklist over a 2019 protest crackdown.