In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani addresses the…
FILE - President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that his country’s decision to enrich uranium up to 60% purity is in response to the sabotage attack that damaged the nation’s Natanz nuclear site. 

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Rouhani called the move “an answer to your evilness.”  Iran had previously enriched uranium to 20%. 

In addition to higher enrichment levels, Rouhani also said first-generation IR-1 centrifuges that were damaged in the attack would be replaced by more advanced IR-6 centrifuges. 

FILE - This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on Jan. 28, 2020, shows an overview of Iran's Natanz nuclear facility.

Under the terms of a 2015 agreement between Iran and a group of six world powers, Iran was limited to enriching uranium up to 3.67% to allay concerns about it developing nuclear weapons.  Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to about 90%. 

Iran has said its nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes such as electricity and medicine. 

Rouhani’s government has taken multiple steps away from its restrictions under the agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  Those include several increases in the enrichment level, as well as breaking the cap on the amount of enriched uranium Iran is allowed to stockpile. 

Those actions followed the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and imposition of new sanctions in 2018. 

But with a new administration under President Joe Biden, both the United States and Iran have said they would be willing to rejoin the agreement, and the two sides began indirect talks through the other signatories last week. 

Those discussions are scheduled to resume Thursday in Vienna. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday Iran’s announcement was “provocative” and should be rejected by the other parties to the nuclear agreement.  The other signatories include Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. 

“This step both calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard to the nuclear talks and underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA,” Psaki said. 

She added that the Biden administration remains committed to working through the diplomatic process in the Vienna talks. 

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