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Iran says will start high-grade uranium enrichment, complicating US oil sanctions talks

Highlights

Move in retaliation for Natanz facility sabotage

US-Iran indirect talks in Vienna set to resume April 15

Israeli-owned ship attacked near Fujairah: reports

Tehran — Iran will begin enriching uranium to 60% purity, in gross violation of the nuclear deal, a senior official said April 13, ratcheting up the stakes of US oil sanctions negotiations.

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The move, announced by deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi, is in retaliation for what Iran said was the sabotage of the Natanz nuclear facility by Israel on April 11.

Meanwhile, an Israeli-owned commercial ship, Hyperion Ray, has been attacked near the eastern UAE port of Fujairah, according to reports. The incident has not been independently confirmed by S&P Global Platts.

The escalation of tensions surrounds talks set to resume April 15 in Vienna, in which the US and Iran are indirectly negotiating the parameters by which Washington would ease its sanctions targeting Tehran's oil sector, in exchange for full compliance with the original nuclear deal.

The sanctions have severely hamstrung Iran's crude production, which averaged 2.30 million b/d in March, according to the latest S&P Global Platts survey of OPEC output. That is down from more than 3.8 million b/d prior to the sanctions being re-imposed in 2018 when the US withdrew from the deal.

The two sides began their indirect talks April 6 in Vienna but have yet to agree on which country will act first.

Iran will be meeting with the remaining signatories of the pact -- the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany, plus the EU. US officials will also be in Vienna meeting separately with the deal signatories.

Iran has never progressed to such high-grade uranium enrichment. It restarted 20% enrichment in January -- a process it had abandoned in 2013 under an interim agreement as a prelude to the nuclear deal which was signed in 2015.

Under the terms of the deal, Iran is only allowed to enrich uranium up to 3.67% purity.

Aliakbar Salehi, the head of Iran's atomic energy organization, told state television that damaged centrifuges at the Natanz facility were being replaced and that the main power would be connected in the coming days to begin the high-level enrichment.

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