Iran announced on Sunday that it was set to raise its enrichment of uranium beyond its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal, further stoking tensions with Washington and putting more pressure on the European states that support the accord.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference that Iran will go beyond the limit of 3.67 percent enrichment Sunday and that the new percentage “will be based on our needs,” without specifying.
“Within hours, the technical tasks will be done and enrichment above 3.67% will begin,” Iran nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. “We predict that the IAEA measurements early tomorrow morning will show that we have gone beyond 3.67%.”
The IAEA said it was aware of Iran’s comments and “inspectors in Iran will report to our headquarters as soon as they verify the announced development.”
Iran’s decision comes a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal. Since then, America has imposed sanctions blocking Iranian crude oil from being sold on the world market.
In response, Iran on July 1 acknowledged breaking the deal’s 300-kilogram (661-pound) limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile.
Experts warn that higher enrichment and a growing stockpile narrows the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Sunday at a press conference with Rabiei that his nation will take another step impacting its compliance with the nuclear deal in 60 days. He said that he cannot elaborate now on the nature of the next step.
Araghchi added that a letter had been sent to European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini informing her of the development, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
“From our point of view if the US wants to participate in talks between Iran and 4+1 countries, it is possible,” he said, referring to the European parties to the deal.
Iran said Saturday that it would officially announce the steps cutting its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal on Sunday morning, the day it set for Europe to offer new terms for the accord.
Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Saturday that uranium enrichment “will increase as much as needed for our peaceful activities.”
He also accused the US and European states of violating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear accord is known.
Under the atomic accord, Iran agreed to enrich uranium to no more than 3.67%, which is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. However, the closer it gets to 20%, the less time it will need to break out to a bomb.
Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons, but the nuclear deal sought to prevent that as a possibility by limiting enrichment and capping Iran’s stockpile of uranium to 300 kilograms (661 pounds).
The UK, France and Germany have yet to offer a way for Iran to avoid the sweeping economic sanctions imposed by Trump since he pulled the United States out of the JCPOA a year ago, especially those targeting its crucial oil sales.
In response to the spiraling tensions and war of words with Iran, the US has rushed thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Mideast. Mysterious oil tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz, strikes by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia, and Iran shooting down a US military drone have raised fears of a wider conflict engulfing the region.
On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would increase its enrichment of uranium to “any amount that we want” beginning Sunday, after breaking the stockpile limit earlier in the week.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog said Friday that it would hold an emergency meeting on Iran’s nuclear program on July 10. The meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors was announced following a US request.
Iran insists that it is not violating the JCPOA, citing terms of the agreement allowing one side to temporarily abandon some of the commitments if it deems the other side is not respecting its part of the accord.
Rouhani said that Iran’s breach of the stockpile limit would be reversed if the other parties to the nuclear deal made good on their side of the bargain — relief from sanctions.
Rouhani said Iran will also deliver on its threat to resume construction of a heavy water reactor after July 7 and will bring it to the condition that “according to you, is dangerous and can produce plutonium.”
Trump warned Monday that Iran is “playing with fire” after Tehran said it had exceeded the limit set on its enriched uranium stockpile.
But Rouhani said it was the US that started the fire and Washington has to “put it out” by returning to the nuclear deal.