DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Iran on Thursday directly acknowledged an accusation attributed to international inspectors that it enriched uranium to 84% purity for the first time, which would put the Islamic Republic closer than ever to weapons-grade material.
The acknowledgement by a news website linked to the highest reaches of Iran's theocracy renews pressure on the West to address Tehran's program, which had been contained by the 2015 nuclear deal from which America unilaterally withdrew in 2018. Years of attacks across the Middle East have followed.
Already Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently regained his country's premiership, is threatening to take military action similar to when Israel previously bombed nuclear programs in Iraq and Syria. But while those attacks saw no war erupt, Iran has an arsenal of ballistic missiles, drones and other weaponry it and its allies already have used in the region.
The acknowledgment came from Nour News, a website linked to Iran's Supreme National Security Council, overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nour News separately is sanctioned by Canada for having “participated in gross and systematic human rights violations and perpetuated disinformation activities to justify the Iranian regime’s repression and persecution of its citizens" amid nationwide protests there.
The comments by Nour News follow days of muddled comments by Iran not directly acknowledging the accusation by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran had enriched up to 84%.
Bloomberg first reported Sunday that inspectors had detected uranium particles enriched up to 84%. The IAEA, a United Nations agency based in Vienna, has not denied the report, saying only “that the IAEA is discussing with Iran the results of recent agency verification activities.”
In its comments Thursday, Nour News urged the IAEA to “not fall prey to the seduction of Western countries” and declare that Iran's nuclear program was “completely peaceful.”
“It will be clear soon that the IAEA surprising report of discovering 84% enriched uranium particles in Iran’s enrichment facilities was an inspector’s error or was a deliberate action to create political atmospheres against Iran on the eve of the meeting of" its board, Nour News said on Twitter. The board, a group of nations that oversees the IAEA, will meet beginning March 6 in Vienna.
The IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday over Nour News' remarks.
It wasn't immediately clear where the 84% enrichment allegedly took place, though the IAEA has said it found two cascades of advanced IR-6 centrifuges at Iran's underground Fordo facility “interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran to the agency in November last year.” Iran is known to have been enriching uranium at Fordo up to 60% purity — at level which nonproliferation experts already say has no civilian use for Tehran.
Iran also enriches uranium at its Natanz nuclear site.
Weapons-grade uranium is enriched up to 90%. While the IAEA's director-general has warned Iran now has enough uranium to produce “several” nuclear bombs if it chooses, it likely would take months more to build a weapon and potentially miniaturize it to put on a missile.
The new tensions over Iran's program also take place against the backdrop of a shadow war between Iran and Israel that has spilled out across the wider Middle East. Netanyahu, who long has advocated military action against Iran, mentioned it again in a talk this week.
“How do you stop a rogue nation from acquiring nuclear weapons?” Netanyahu rhetorically asked. “You had one that’s called Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It was stopped by military force, ours. You had a second one that is called Syria that tried to develop nuclear weapons. And it was stopped by a military action, ours.”
He added: “A necessary condition, and an often sufficient condition, is credible military action. The longer you wait, the harder that becomes. We’ve waited very long.”
Late Thursday night, online videos showed explosions and anti-aircraft fire in Karaj, a city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Tracer rounds lit up the night sky, with the thud of blasts heard in the videos.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency later attributed the activity to an unannounced drill at a base for the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. In 2021, a suspected Israeli strike drone damaged a centrifuge assembly facility in Karaj.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twiter.com/jongambrellAP.