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Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei. Photo: Iranian Leader Press Office via Getty

Iran has informed the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it will begin 60% uranium enrichment, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters as he arrived to Vienna on Tuesday for a second round of nuclear talks.

Why it matters: This will be Iran's most severe violation of the 2015 nuclear deal since the Trump administration withdrew from the agreement in 2018. It's also a serious blow to the ongoing efforts to salvage the deal.

  • The announcement comes in response to the explosion at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, for which Iran blames Israel.
  • It will leave Iran short of the 90% enrichment necessary to produce a nuclear weapon, but bring Iran closer to that threshold than ever before.
  • Iran had been enriching to 20% since January. That's also the level at which Tehran was enriching prior to the nuclear deal.
  • Araghchi added that another 1,000 centrifuges with 50% more enrichment capacity will be added in Natanz, in addition to replacing the damaged centrifuges.

The state of play: The resumption of the Vienna talks has been postponed from Wednesday to Thursday because a member of the EU delegation tested positive for COVID-19, Araghchi said.

  • Meanwhile, senior officials from the U.S. and Israel will meet Tuesday for a strategic dialogue on Iran.
  • The Biden administration has distanced itself from the Natanz explosion and said it hopes the Vienna talks will proceed as planned.
  • The latest: Shortly after the Iranian announcement, Lebanese and Iranian media outlets reported that an Israeli-owned ship was attacked in the Gulf of Oman. Israeli officials confirmed the reports and said Iran is likely behind the attack.

Update: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the "provocative Iranian announcement... calls into question Iran's seriousness" in the negotiations, but also stressed the U.S. would continue diplomacy with Iran.

What's next: The U.S. and Israel are expected to hold a third round of strategic talks on Iran at the end of April.

  • The White House said that during the round of virtual talks held today between the parties National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan "warmly invited" his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, to visit Washington before the end of this month for follow-up consultations.

Go deeper: "Nuclear sabotage" in Iran threatens nuclear talks in Vienna

Go deeper

Apr 12, 2021 - World

"Nuclear sabotage" in Iran threatens nuclear talks in Vienna

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (2nd R) at a Nuclear Technology Day exhibition on Saturday. Photo: Iranian Presidency Handout via Getty

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has threatened retaliation against "any power with knowledge" of Sunday's attack on an Iranian nuclear site, and said Iran would now accelerate its violations of the 2015 nuclear deal until the U.S. lifts sanctions.

Why it matters: The apparent act of Israeli nuclear sabotage, which caused a blackout at the underground Natanz enrichment facility and may have caused significant damage, comes as the U.S. attempts to revive the nuclear deal.

Apr 12, 2021 - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to hold strategic Iran talks on Tuesday

Jake Sullivan. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty

Top national security officials from the U.S. and Israel will convene virtually on Tuesday for a second round of strategic talks on Iran, three Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The talks come two days after an explosion at an Iranian nuclear facility that experts consider a likely act of Israeli sabotage, and one day before the U.S. resumes indirect nuclear talks in Vienna over a return to the 2015 nuclear deal — a prospect that has raised anxiety levels in Jerusalem.

Apr 12, 2021 - World

U.S. distances itself from explosion at Iranian nuclear site

Lloyd Austin (L) and Benjamin Netanyahu today in Jerusalem. Photo: Mehahem Kahana/Pool/AFP via Getty

The Biden administration says it had no role in the explosion on Sunday at an Iranian uranium enrichment facility. Iran has blamed Israel and vowed to take revenge.

Why it matters: The administration is attempting to negotiate a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, with a second round of indirect talks set to start on Wednesday. The timing of the incident, along with several recent Israeli strikes on Iranian ships, could make Biden's diplomatic challenge more difficult.