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Iran 'begins enriching uranium to 60% purity' - its highest ever level

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Iran vowed to enrich uranium to its highest ever level after the bombing of its Natanz nuclear facility
Iran vowed to enrich uranium to its highest ever level after the bombing of its Natanz nuclear facility   -   Copyright  AP/AP
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Iran has started enriching uranium up to its highest level ever, according to the country's parliament speaker, bringing it closer to a level considered weapons-grade.

State television quoted speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf making the announcement on Friday, who said uranium is being enriched up to 60% purity. He did not elaborate on how much would be enriched to this level.

To put this into perspective, the landmark nuclear treaty signed by Iran in 2015 limited enrichment to 3.67%. Iran later raised this to 20%, breaching the deal, after the US unilaterally pulled out under Donald Trump's administration.

Therefore, 60% is a much higher level than agreed; although, still less than the weapons-grade level at 90%.

The move comes in response to an unexplained attack on its Natanz nuclear site last weekend, which is said to have damaged a number of centrifuges.

While the attack has not yet been claimed, it is widely suspected to have been carried out by Israel - a country that has vowed never to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon and has twice previously carried out pre-emptive bombings in Middle Eastern countries to thwart atomic programmes.

The attack has since marked a significant escalation in tension, despite talks underway in Vienna in an attempt to save the flailing nuclear agreement. It is hoped the US will re-join the agreement and lift stifling economic sanctions that were in place by Trump.

According to Iranian officials, its domestic nuclear programme is peaceful. A US intelligence report released on Tuesday also said its assessment deemed Iran was "not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that we judge would be necessary to produce a nuclear device".

Iran previously had said it could use uranium enriched up to 60% for nuclear-powered ships. However, the Islamic Republic currently has no such ships in its navy.