Iran says it can enrich uranium in under 2 days if US pulls out of nuke deal

Ahead of Trump-Netanyahu meeting, spokesman for Islamic Republic’s atomic agency says centrifuges are 24 times more powerful than its older models

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative. Centrifuges enriching uranium. (Public Domain/US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)
Illustrative. Centrifuges enriching uranium. (Public Domain/US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)

An Iranian nuclear energy official on Monday warned that his country is able to create highly enriched uranium in “less than 48 hours,” should the United States drop out of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

“If we want to enrich uranium to the 20-percent level, we can do it in less than 48 hours,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the Iranian Arabic-language al-Alam TV network.

Uranium enriched above the level of 20% is considered highly enriched and could theoretically be used in an atomic weapon, though most nuclear bombs contain uranium enriched to higher than 80%.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, in an interview with the Iranian Arabic-language al-Alam TV network on March 5, 2018. (Screen capture)

In his interview, Kamalvandi said that Iran has developed highly advanced centrifuges that are 24 times more powerful than the previous models used.

He official said that those machines could be brought back into full service if the 2015 nuclear deal — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — were to collapse.

The interview came on the same day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — in America for the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, DC — was slated to meet with US President Donald Trump to discuss the JCPOA.

Trump has been a vocal critic of the Iran deal since his 2016 campaign and, in January, waived new sanctions against the Islamic Republic for what he said was the last time.

US President Donald Trump (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25, 2018. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

“Today, I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions, but only in order to secure our European allies’ agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal,” Trump said in a statement. “This is a last chance.”

Last month, Netanyahu told reporters he would be using Monday’s meeting to convince Trump to impose such sanctions on Iran in order to address aspects of the nuclear deal Israel finds problematic — notably its “sunset clauses” that allow Iran to resume the production of fissile material after a number of years — and issues that are not part of the accord, like the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program.

The prime minister said those problems need to be addressed, though he stressed that that “did not necessarily mean altering the JCPOA, but changing the situation,” a reference to his call on world powers to contain Iranian aggression beyond the confines of the deal.

Netanyahu said the rest of the world should consider how Iran will act if it acquires an atomic arsenal, in light of its current destabilizing actions in the region.

“This is what they do today, when they don’t have nuclear weapons,” he said, referring to Tehran’s involvement in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Netanyahu’s central argument is that if the US were to put in place new sanctions against Iran, countries throughout the world would be forced to choose between access to the Iranian economy, with its GDP of approximately $500 billion, and the American economy, with its GDP of nearly $20 trillion.

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