France, Germany and the United Kingdom released a statement Thursday expressing "grave concern" over latest reports by the UN atomic watchdog confirming Iran has accelerated its enrichment of uranium to near weapons-grade, and urging the country to resume negotiations with world powers over the resumption of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran has produced uranium metal enriched up to 20% for the first time, as well as having significantly increased its production capacity of uranium enriched up to 60%, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported this week.
The countries asserted that these moves amounted to "serious violations of Iran’s commitments" under the 2015 nuclear deal, which capped the purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67%. They added that "both are key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon and Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure."
Additionally, the European powers criticized Iran's curbing of IAEA access by withdrawing from monitoring arrangements.
The countries called on Iran to "halt all violations" of the nuclear deal without delay and to return to Vienna negotiations as soon as possible.
The statement comes as Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett prepares to meet U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington next Thursday, in the first meeting between the two leaders since Bennett took office in June.
Bennett intends to forefront the Iranian issue at the meeting and will present Biden with information detailing Iran's progress in the last few days with its uranium enrichment drive. At a press conference on Wednesday, Bennett said that ahead of the U.S. visit "a process of policy formulation on the Iranian issue in all its aspects has been completed." Both Israel and the U.S. share the goal of stopping Iran's negative activity in the region and of stopping its nuclear drive, Bennett said.
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Iran increased the purity to which it is refining uranium to 60% from 20% in April in response to an explosion and power cut at its Natanz site that damaged output at the main underground enrichment plant there.
Iran has blamed the attack on Israel. Weapons-grade is around 90% purity.
In May, the IAEA reported that Iran was using one cascade, or cluster, of advanced centrifuges to enrich to up to 60% at its above-ground pilot enrichment plant at Natanz. The IAEA informed member states on Tuesday that Iran was now using a second cascade for that purpose, too.
The United States and its European allies have warned such moves threaten talks on reviving the deal, which are currently suspended.
Following Reuters' report, Iran reiterated that its nuclear program is peaceful and said it had informed the IAEA about its enrichment activities. It added that its moves away from the 2015 deal would be reversed if the United States returned to the accord and lifted sanctions, Iranian state media reported.
"If the other parties return to their obligations under the nuclear accord and Washington fully and verifiably lifts its unilateral and illegal sanctions ... all of Iran's mitigation and countermeasures will be reversible," Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh was quoted as saying by state media.
The IAEA said on Monday that Iran had made progress in its work on enriched uranium metal despite objections by Western powers that there is no credible civilian use for such work.
Uranium metal can be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb, but Iran says its aims are peaceful and it is developing reactor fuel.