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France, Germany, UK raise alarm over Iran’s accelerated nuclear enrichment

Centrifuge machines at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Iran.
Centrifuge machines at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Iran. Copyright AP/AP
Copyright AP/AP
By Mared Gwyn Jones
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France, Germany and the United Kingdom have joined the United States in condemning Iran’s sharp increase in enriched uranium production as part of its nuclear programme.


A report published on Tuesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found that Iran had accelerated its production of 60% enriched uranium to a rate of nine kilograms a month since the end of November, up from around three kilograms in the previous months since June.

The four Western nations said in a joint statement on Thursday that this represents a “backwards step” in what had previously been a slowdown of Tehran's nuclear activities.

"We condemn this action, which adds to the unabated escalation of Iran’s nuclear programme," they said, adding that the production of high-enriched uranium by Iran "has no credible civilian justification."

Uranium enriched to 60% is considered close to weapons-grade level, with 90% enrichment required for nuclear devices.

Upping the enrichment level from 60% to 90% can be achieved through a technical process.

Diplomatic efforts to address the threat of nuclear warfare saw Iran and many world powers sign the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Iran agreed to keep within the 3.67% ceiling for enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.

But the deal collapsed when former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018 and reimposed a raft of sanctions on Tehran.

The EU launched talks to reinstate the deal in 2021 but the war in Ukraine and more recently between Israel and Hamas have severely hampered relations with Tehran. The international community has feared that Iran, a Hamas ally whose foreign policy is shaped by its long-standing hostility towards Israel, could be pulled into the devastating conflict in the Middle East.

In their statement Thursday, the four Western nations said in relation to the acceleration of uranium production: "These decisions demonstrate Iran’s lack of good will towards de-escalation and represent reckless behaviour in a tense regional context."

"We urge Iran to immediately reverse these steps and de-escalate its nuclear programme," they added. "We remain committed to a diplomatic solution and reaffirm our determination that Iran must never develop a nuclear weapon."

The Houthis, an Iranian-backed rebel movement in Yemen, have also been attacking international commercial ships navigating in the Red Sea, marking a further escalation in tensions. 

A spokesperson for the German foreign ministry confirmed earlier this week the country was in talks with its EU allies over a potential mission to safeguard commercial vessels.

On December 19, the US launched its own multinational maritime mission, but many EU nations have since distanced themselves from the plan, which is seen as having the potential to escalate tensions.

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