In this March 30, 2005 file photo, an Iranian security official in protective clothing walks through part of the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the Iranian city of Isfahan. Image Credit: AP file

BERLIN: Germany and Israel are worried about an accusation attributed to international inspectors that Iran enriched uranium to 84 per cent purity, the German foreign minister said Tuesday, insisting that there would be no plausible civilian justification for such a move.

Annalena Baerbock spoke at a news conference with Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen days after an Iranian official called the allegation part of a “conspiracy” against Tehran amid tensions over its nuclear programme. Germany is one of the world powers with which Iran entered a 2015 nuclear deal that limited its uranium enrichment to 3.67 per cent purity — enough to fuel a nuclear power plant.

Bloomberg first reported on February 19 that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency had detected uranium particles enriched up to 84 per cent. The Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog hasn’t denied the report, saying only “that the IAEA is discussing with Iran the results of recent agency verification activities.”

“We are united by concern about the nuclear escalation on Iran’s part and about the recent reports about the very high uranium enrichment,” Baerbock said.

“There is no plausible civilian justification for such a high enrichment level.”

A spokesman for Iran’s civilian nuclear programme, Behrouz Kamalvandi, sought last week to portray any detection of uranium particles enriched to that level as a momentary side effect of trying to reach a finished product of 60 per cent purity — which Tehran already has announced it is producing.

However, uranium at 84 per cent is nearly at weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent — meaning any stockpile of that material could be quickly used to produce an atomic bomb if Iran chooses. Tehran has long insisted its programme is for peaceful purposes, though the IAEA, Western intelligence agencies and nonproliferation experts say Iran pursued a secret nuclear weapons programme up until 2003.

Cohen pointed to two options to deal with Iran — using a so-called “snapback” mechanism in the Security Council resolution that enshrined the 2015 nuclear deal to reimpose UN sanctions, and “to have a credible military option on the table as well.”

“From our intelligence and from our knowledge, this is the right time to work on these two specific steps,” he said. Iran is Israel’s regional archrival, and recently reinstalled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already has threatened military actions against Tehran.

Baerbock stressed the importance of “preventing a nuclear escalation by Iran by diplomatic means, because every alternative would be disastrous.” She added that “it’s important ... that the international community make this clear to Iran with a united voice.”