Jan 2, 2021 - World

Iran plans to resume 20% uranium enrichment

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani during a press conference on Jan. 2.
President of Iran Hassan Rouhani during a press conference on Jan. 2. Photo: Presidency of Iran/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Iran announced Saturday its atomic energy agency will begin enriching uranium up to 20% at its underground Fordow nuclear facility — a level of enrichment exceeding regulations set by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, AP reports.

Why it matters: The resumption of enriching uranium to pre-nuclear deal levels would bring the country's nuclear program closer to being capable of producing the levels of enrichment needed for nuclear weapons.

What they're saying: The International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged in a statement that Iran has told its inspectors of the decision to resume high-level enrichment, according to AP.

  • The IAEA said Iran did not disclose when it planned to boost enrichment, though the agency added that it “has inspectors present in Iran on a 24/7 basis and they have regular access to Fordo.”

Context: Iran is currently enriching uranium to levels above the limit set by the nuclear deal, and experts believe the country has enough low-enriched uranium for at least two nuclear weapons if it decides to produce them, according to AP.

  • Iran has long said its nuclear program exists for peaceful purposes, but Israeli and American officials believe otherwise.

The big picture: The announcement comes a day before the anniversary of the U.S. killing of top Iranian military commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani in 2020 and weeks after the assassination of the nation's top nuclear scientist.

  • The move could set off the return of brinkmanship between Iran and Israel, which considered striking the Fordow facility before the nuclear deal if Iran did not stop enriching to 20%.
  • Iran's parliament ratified a law in early December that ordered its atomic energy agency to expand uranium enrichment to match levels prior to the 2015 nuclear agreement and to expel IAEA nuclear inspectors, though the inspectors so far remain in the country.

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