Iran quadruples low-enriched uranium production

Production expected to soon exceed 300-kg stockpile limit under 2015 nuclear accord; Tehran seen abandoning pact after last year’s US pullout

FILE: Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of the capital Tehran, on April 9, 2007. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP)
FILE: Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of the capital Tehran, on April 9, 2007. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP)

Semi-official news agencies in Iran reported on Monday that the country has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium amid tensions with the US over an unraveling atomic accord.

The Fars and Tasnim news agencies both reported that the production is of uranium enriched only to the 3.67 percent limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, far below the 20% to which Iran was enriching before the deal or the 90% required to produce nuclear weapons.

However, a quadrupling of production would mean that Iran likely will soon go beyond the stockpile limitation of 300 kilograms set by the deal.

Iran said it has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, of its decision. The IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The fast combat support ship USNS Arctic transports cargo to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln during a replenishment-at-sea in the Arabian Sea, May 19, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeff Sherman/US Navy via AP)

The news comes amid heightened tensions in the region, with the US sending warships and bombers to counter what western intelligence agencies have said were threats from Iran to attack US and allied targets in the Persian Gulf. The crisis is rooted in US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear accord last year and impose sweeping sanctions on Iran. The Trump administration has criticized the 2015 accord for failing to rein in Tehran’s regional ambitions.

Earlier Monday, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, met with his visiting counterpart from Oman, Yusuf bin Alawi. The Gulf nation has in the past served as an intermediary between the United States and the Islamic Republic, including during the early stages of the talks that led to the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Overnight Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to warn Iran not to threaten the US or it will face its “official end.”

The USS Abraham Lincoln sails in the Arabian Sea near the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, on May 17, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur, US Navy via AP)

Trump tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

Trump did not elaborate, nor did the White House. However, the tweet came after a rocket landed less than a mile from the sprawling US Embassy in Baghdad in the Iraqi capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone Sunday night.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the rocket launch.

Trump’s tweet was a “genocidal taunt,” according to Iran’s top diplomat, Zarif.

In his own message on Twitter, Zarif said Trump had been “goaded” into “genocidal taunts.”

He wrote that Trump “hopes to achieve what Alexander (the Great), Genghis (Khan) & other aggressors failed to do,” adding: “Iranians have stood tall for a millennia while aggressors all gone.”

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