Iran said on Saturday that it is now enriching uranium to five percent and has a capacity for up to 60 percent, after a series of steps back from its commitments under the 2015 nuclear accord with major powers.
Tehran also slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying it was his “biggest lie” that Iran seeks nuclear weapons.
Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at a press conference in Tehran that the organization has “the possibility to produce 5%, 20%, and 60%, and has this capacity,” adding that currently “the need is for 5%.”
Kamalvandi also said “Netanyahu’s biggest lie is that Iran is after nuclear weapons. Iran does not need nuclear weapons given the power balance in the region,” according to the Fars news agency.
“Of course, Iran enjoys nuclear capability and technology and there is no doubt about that. But these allegations by the Zionist regime are aimed at concealing its own ugly face,” he added. Israel has a stance of ambiguity — neither confirming nor denying the existence of nuclear weapon capabilities.
The 2015 deal set a 3.67% limit for uranium enrichment but Iran announced it would no longer respect it after Washington unilaterally abandoned the agreement last year and reimposed crippling sanctions.
“Based on our needs and what we have been ordered, we are currently producing five percent,” Kamalvandi said.
Uranium enrichment is the sensitive process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but also, in highly extended form, the fissile core for a warhead.
The current five percent level exceeds the limit set by the accord but is less than the 20% Iran had previously operated and far less than the 90% level required for a warhead. However, once Iran reaches 20% purity it is a relatively short technical jump to reach 90% enrichment.
In its fourth step away from the agreement, Iran resumed enrichment at the Fordo plant south of Tehran on Thursday, with engineers feeding uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) into the plant’s mothballed enrichment centrifuges.
Iran was already enriching uranium at another plant in Natanz.
Tehran emphasizes the measures it has taken are swiftly reversible if the remaining parties to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — find a way to get around US sanctions.
On July 1, Iran said it had increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to beyond a 300-kilogram (661 lb) maximum set by the deal, and a week later, it announced it had exceeded the enrichment cap.
The third move had it firing up advanced centrifuges on September 7 to enrich uranium faster and to higher levels.
Kamalvandi also said Saturday Iran is prepared, if necessary, to release footage of an incident with a UN nuclear inspector last week that led to it canceling her accreditation.
Kamalvandi said that a check at the entrance gate to the Natanz uranium enrichment plant “triggered the alarm multiple times, showing [the inspector] was either contaminated with certain materials or had them on her.”
He did not specify what the materials were or whether they had actually been found in her possession.
Kamalvandi said that Iran’s report on the incident to the International Atomic Energy Agency had convinced everyone but “the US, the Zionist regime and some Persian Gulf countries.”
“We’ve announced that, if needed, we will even present the footage of this,” he told a news conference, noting that Iran’s “bitter experiences” of nuclear sabotage had led to the strict system of checks.
Iran has accused its arch-foes Israel and the United States of mounting a long campaign of sabotage involving the assassination of Iranian engineers and cyber attacks on key facilities.
The IAEA said Thursday that the inspector was briefly prevented from leaving the country, adding that her treatment was “not acceptable.”
Iran’s ambassador to the agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi, denied the inspector was ever detained, saying she was allowed to leave even though an investigation was still ongoing.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of “an outrageous and unwarranted act of intimidation,” while the European Union voiced “deep concern” over the incident.
Under a 2015 deal between Iran and major powers that has been undermined by Washington’s withdrawal last year, its nuclear facilities are subject to continuous monitoring by the IAEA.