Just one week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu literally drew a red line on Iran's nuclear program, Iran is threatening to dash passed it if negotiations with major powers fail. On Tuesday, Mansour Haqiqatpour, the deputy head of parliament's Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said if world powers including the U.S., Russia, and China fail to strike a deal during upcoming talks, Iran will enrich uranium up to 60 percent purity, a level that brings it extremely close to the 90 percent enrichment level required for atomic weapons and well over Netanyahu's red line. "In case our talks with the (six powers) fail to pay off, Iranian youth will master (the technology for) enrichment up to 60 percent to fuel submarines and ocean-going ships," he said.
It's the type of statement that must drive Netanyahu crazy following his pugnacious address to the United Nations last week, in which he drew a thick red line across a Looney Tunes-style bomb. As far as we know, Iran currently enriches uranium to 20 percent purity, which it claims is needed for its medical research reactor. Reuters sees the move as a negotiating tactic:
Haqiqatpour's comments ... appeared to be an attempt to show the six world powers involved in diplomacy with Tehran that it has no intention of backing down in the long-running nuclear dispute. The powers - including the United States, Russia, China and six European heavyweights - want Iran to halt 20 percent enrichment, shut down the underground facility where this is done and ship out the stockpile.
Iran wants the powers to recognize its "right" to refine uranium and also ease sanctions on it. Three rounds of talks since April have failed to make any breakthrough.
If you're confused about whether 60 percent uranium enrichment would cross Netanyahu's red line, you're not alone. Reporters and Israelis alike were puzzled by Netanyahu's chart, which drew the line at 90 percent. However, he wasn't referring to the specific purity of acceptable uranium enrichment, he was referring to overall progress necessary to obtaining weapons-grade uranium. In Netanyahu's world, if Iran crosses the 20 percent enrichment threshold, it will be 90 percent complete with having weapons-grade uranium. So somewhere above 20 percent is really his red line, which Iran doesn't appear nervous about crossing (or at least threatening to cross).