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Iran:Vienna Offers Not Worth Looking At04/15 06:16

   

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Iran's supreme leader on Wednesday 
dismissed initial offers at talks in Vienna to save Tehran's tattered nuclear 
deal as "not worth looking at," attempting to pressure world powers after an 
attack on the country's main nuclear enrichment site.

   The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of 
state in the Islamic Republic, came after a day that saw Iran's president 
similarly ratchet up pressure over the accord. European powers meanwhile warned 
Tehran its actions were "particularly regrettable" and "dangerous."

   The talks already have been thrown into disarray by a weekend attack on 
Iran's main Natanz nuclear enrichment site suspected to have been carried out 
by Israel. Tehran retaliated by announcing it would enrich uranium up to 60% -- 
higher than it ever has before but still lower than weapons-grade levels of 90%.

   "The offers they provide are usually arrogant and humiliating (and) are not 
worth looking at," the 81-year-old Khamenei said in an address marking the 
first day of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Iran.

   He also criticized the U.S. and warned time could be running out.

   "The talks shouldn't become talks of attrition," Khamenei said. "They 
shouldn't be in a way that parties drag on and prolong the talks. This is 
harmful to the country."

   Speaking to his Cabinet, an impassioned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani 
said the first-generation IR-1 centrifuges that were damaged in Sunday's attack 
would be replaced by advanced IR-6 centrifuges that enrich uranium much faster.

   "You wanted to make our hands empty during the talks but our hands are 
full," Rouhani said.

   Rouhani added: "60% enrichment is an answer to your evilness. ... We cut off 
both of your hands, one with IR-6 centrifuges and another one with 60%."

   Rouhani also accused Israel of being behind the Natanz attack and threatened 
to retaliate.

   In Jerusalem at a Memorial Day commemoration, Israeli Prime Minister 
Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to reference Iran.

   "We must never remain apathetic to the threats of war and extermination of 
those who seek to eliminate us," he said. Israel has not claimed the attack, 
though it rarely does in its ongoing shadow war against Tehran.

   The talks in Vienna are aimed at finding a way for the United States to 
re-enter Tehran's nuclear agreement with world powers and have Iran comply 
again with its limits. The accord, which former President Donald Trump 
unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from in 2018, prevented Iran from stockpiling 
enough high-enriched uranium to be able to pursue a nuclear weapon in exchange 
for the lifting of economic sanctions.

   Late on Wednesday, the European Union said formal negotiations would resume 
Thursday in Vienna.

   Rouhani in his comments Wednesday insisted Iran is still hoping that the 
Vienna talks lead to a negotiated settlement over its program -- and the 
accompanying lifting of punishing sanctions. Khamenei as well said he believed 
in his negotiators, but kept up the pressure on the West in his remarks 
Wednesday night.

   "They must do what we say first, and we are assured that it's done, then we 
will do what is we are required to do," he said.

   France, Germany and the United Kingdom, all parties to the nuclear deal, 
only hours earlier issued a joint statement Wednesday expressing their "grave 
concern" over Iran's decision to increase enrichment.

   "This is a serious development since the production of highly enriched 
uranium constitutes an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon," 
the countries said. "Iran has no credible civilian need for enrichment at this 
level."

   China and Russia also took part in the deal.

   U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called Iran's enrichment 
decision a "provocative announcement."

   "It calls into question Iran's seriousness of purpose in the nuclear talks," 
he said in Brussels.

   Saudi Arabia, a regional rival to Iran, similarly issued a statement, saying 
enriching at that level "could not be considered a program intended for 
peaceful purposes." It called on Iran to "avoid escalation."

   Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, though the West and the 
International Atomic Energy Agency says Tehran had an organized military 
nuclear program up until the end of 2003. An annual U.S. intelligence report 
released Tuesday maintained the American assessment that "Iran is 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.

   Iran had been enriching up to 20% -- even that was a short technical step to 
weapons-grade levels. The deal limited Iran's enrichment to 3.67%

   Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, posted a letter online 
addressed to IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi warning against "any 
adventurism by (the) Israeli regime" targeting Iranian nuclear sites.

   "The most-recent cowardly act of nuclear terrorism will only strengthen our 
determination to march forward and to replace all (damaged) centrifuges with 
even more advanced and sophisticated machines," Gharibabadi wrote.

   IAEA inspectors visited Natanz on Wednesday on their first trip since the 
sabotage and found Iran preparing an above-ground area for the higher 
enrichment, the agency said.

   Iran has "almost completed preparations to start producing (uranium gas) 
enriched up to 60%," the IAEA said in a later statement. "Iran informed the 
agency that the necessary pipework was being finalized and that feeding of 
(uranium gas) enriched up to 5% into a cascade of IR-6 centrifuges would start 
soon thereafter."

   The weekend attack at Natanz was initially described only as a blackout in 
the electrical grid feeding above-ground workshops and underground enrichment 
halls -- but later Iranian officials began calling it an attack.

   Alireza Zakani, the hard-line head of the Iranian parliament's research 
center, referred to "several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed" in a 
state TV interview. However, no other official has offered that figure and no 
images of the aftermath have been released.

   Satellite photographs from Planet Labs Inc. of Natanz taken Wednesday and 
analyzed by The Associated Press showed no apparent damage above ground at the 
facility.

 
 
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