Iran threatens to up enrichment level as IAEA confirms uranium limit breached

Iran threatens to up enrichment level as IAEA confirms uranium limit breached

Foreign minister says move can be reversed if Europe salvages nuclear deal, but warns if not, Tehran may move beyond only low enrichment

Iranian women walk past a mural painted with the Iranian flag in Tehran on June 25, 2019. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)
Iranian women walk past a mural painted with the Iranian flag in Tehran on June 25, 2019. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

The United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency confirmed Monday Iran has surpassed the stockpile of low-enriched uranium allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, as Tehran’s top diplomat threatened to enrich the element to higher levels.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said its director general, Yukiya Amano, has informed its board of governors that the organization had verified Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched up to 3.67% had exceeded the 300 kilograms allowed.

Iran earlier in the day had announced that it had exceeded the limit, as it threatened it would.

“Iran has crossed the 300-kilogram limit based on its plan” announced in May, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told semi-official news agency ISNA.

Zarif said Iran could also begin enriching the uranium to higher levels.

“The next step is about the 3.67% limitation, which we will implement too,” he warned.

Previously, Iran enriched as high as 20%, which is a short technical step away from reaching weapons-grade levels. It also held up to 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds) of the higher-enriched uranium.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives to meet his Japanese counterpart in Tehran on June 12, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The United States withdrew from the nuclear deal last year and reimposed biting sanctions on Iran’s crucial oil exports and financial transactions as well as other sectors.

Tehran on May 8 announced it would no longer respect the limit set on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpiles.

It also threatened to go further and abandon more nuclear commitments unless the remaining partners — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — helped it to circumvent sanctions, especially to sell its oil.

In his comments published Monday, Zarif said Iran had set out its intentions “very clearly” in May.

The EU said Friday after a crisis meeting aimed at salvaging the deal that a special payment mechanism set up to help Iran skirt the sanctions, known as INSTEX, was finally “operational” and that the first transactions were being processed.

In this April 9, 2018 file photo, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)

But “the Europeans’ efforts were not enough, therefore Iran will go ahead with its announced measures,” Zarif said.

INSTEX, which “is just the beginning” of their commitments, has not yet been fully implemented, he added.

“If Europeans do what they have to do, our measures are reversible,” Zarif said, according to Iranian news site IRNA.

Zarif did not say how much low-enriched uranium had on hand, IRNA said.

The 2015 deal saw Iran commit never to acquire an atomic bomb, to accept limits on its nuclear program and submit to IAEA inspections in exchange for a partial lifting of crippling international sanctions. Israel strongly opposed the accord, arguing that it merely delayed, but didn’t prevent, Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

US President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2018 — and subsequent sanctions — have deprived Iran of the economic benefits it expected and plunged it into recession.

Exactly a year after the US withdrew, President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would temporarily cease to limit its stocks of heavy water and low-enriched uranium to 130 tonnes and 300 kilograms (660 pounds) respectively.

Iran has also threatened to start enriching uranium above the agreed maximum purification level of 3.67 percent from July 7. That remains far short of the 90 percent purity required to build a weapon.

The latest tensions coincide with a buildup of US forces in the Gulf and a series of incidents including Iran’s shooting down of a US drone it claimed had entered its airspace.

Times of Israel contributed to this report.

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