Iran says it can resume 20% uranium enrichment in days if no economic relief

Tehran has threatened to further step back from 2015 nuclear deal if negotiations with Europe yield no results

File: An Iranian worker at the Uranium Conversion Facility at Isfahan, 410 kilometers south of Tehran, January 2014. (AP /Vahid Salemi)
File: An Iranian worker at the Uranium Conversion Facility at Isfahan, 410 kilometers south of Tehran, January 2014. (AP /Vahid Salemi)

Iran’s atomic energy agency said Tuesday that it could resume enriching uranium to 20 percent within two days unless the remaining European signatories to the nuclear deal provide economic relief to counter US sanctions.

“If the signatory states to the nuclear deal delay selling the 20% (enriched nuclear) fuel, it is Iran’s right to provide its needed fuel,” agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said, quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency.

“If the Islamic Republic of Iran decides, it can have 20% enriched fuel within one to two days,” he said.

On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that the Islamic Republic was ready to further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal “in the coming days” if the negotiations with the remaining parties to the deal yielded no results by Thursday.

Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi answers the press in the capital Tehran on July 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

Uranium needs to be enriched to 90% to be used in a nuclear weapon and 20% purity is considered an important benchmark toward reaching weapons grade level.

Under the 2015 deal with world powers, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium up to 3.67% but the UN atomic watchdog has confirmed Tehran was enriching uranium up to 4.5% after it went through with a previous threat to ratchet up enrichment.

Iran wants Europe to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the global market as it struggled with crushing sanctions imposed by the US after President Donald Trump withdrew from the landmark 2015 accord. In response, Iran has surpassed limits on nuclear enrichment set out in the accord in a bid to pressure Europe to find a way around the US sanctions.

The 2015 deal was negotiated by Iran and the so-called 5+1 — UN Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany.

On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian said talks on Monday in Paris with Iranian officials focused on a possible guaranteed credit line for Tehran in exchange for oil, conditioned on renewed compliance with the  2015 deal.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif holds talks in Biarritz on August 25, 2019 with France’s President Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (Handout photo via AFP)

A conservative Iranian lawmaker was quoted by media reports over the weekend as saying that French President Emmanuel Macron had proposed a $15 billion credit line, a figure that French officials have not confirmed.

Macron has been leading diplomatic efforts to salvage the nuclear accord, and has urged European Union dialogue with the Islamic Republic.

Last week he arranged the surprise arrival of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, and proposed a summit between Trump and Rouhani. Trump showed openness to the notion, a fact that reportedly caused intense concern in Jerusalem.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani speaks at parliament in the capital Tehran on September 3, 2019. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

But Rouhani on Tuesday ruled out holding any bilateral talks with the US unless it lifted the crippling sanctions as a precondition.

“In principle, we don’t want bilateral talks with the United States,” Rouhani was quoted as saying on the official government website. “If the United States lifts all sanctions, it would be possible to talk (with them) during 5+1 meetings as in the past.”

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have been rising steadily in recent months, and the two were on the cusp of confrontation in June when Iran downed a US drone and Trump ordered retaliatory strikes before cancelling them at the last minute.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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