Iran on Monday said it would consider going to 20 percent or higher uranium enrichment as its next step in rolling back the commitments it made under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, rapidly bringing its program closer to weapons-grade levels.
Nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi confirmed in a state television interview that Iran had surpassed the 3.67% enrichment cap set by the faltering deal.
“This morning Iran passed the 4.5% level in uranium enrichment,” Kamalvandi said, according to the semi-official ISNA News Agency. “This level of purity completely satisfies the power plant fuel requirements of the country.”
He said the next and third stage in abandoning the agreement could be increasing uranium enrichment to 20% or more. That would worry nuclear nonproliferation experts, as 20% is a short technical step away from reaching weapons-grade levels of 90%.
Behrouz also suggested Iran could use new or more centrifuges, which are also limited by the deal.
He said Iran surpassed the 3.67% cap on Sunday after waiting a year for the other parties in the agreement to honor their commitments in the wake of the American pullout from the deal.
The future of the pact has been in doubt since US President Donald Trump unilaterally exited a year ago and reimposed the harsh sanctions the deal had lifted.
While Iran’s recent measures to increase enrichment and break its low-enriched uranium stockpile limit could be easily reversed, Europe has struggled to respond, even after getting a 60-day warning that the increase was coming.
Under the nuclear deal, the cap for enrichment was set at 3.67%, a percentage closely monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. The IAEA said it was waiting for a report from its inspectors before commenting on Iran’s move.
The decision to ramp up uranium enrichment purity came less than a week after Iran acknowledged breaking the deal’s 300-kilogram (661-pound) limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile. Experts warn higher enrichment and a growing stockpile could begin to narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.
On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said his country remained open to diplomacy to save the agreement, though it had “no hope” that the international community could salvage the deal.
Abbas Mousavi said Iran appreciated the efforts of some nations to save the deal, but offered a jaded tone on whether Tehran trusted anyone in the negotiations.
“We have no hope nor trust in anyone nor any country but the door of diplomacy is open,” Mousavi said.
He also gave a sharp, yet unelaborated warning to Europe about another 60-day deadline Iran set Sunday. That deadline will come September 5.
“If the remaining countries in the deal, especially the Europeans, do not fulfill their commitments seriously, and not do anything more than talk, Iran’s third step will be harder, more steadfast and somehow stunning,” he said.