Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of taking a “significant step” toward producing a nuclear weapon Monday, after Iran said it had exceeded the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Netanyahu said Iran’s announcement that it now holds over 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium was proof that Iranian leaders have lied over their nuclear intentions, and, called on European countries to sanction Tehran.
“When we exposed the secret Iranian nuclear archive [in April 2018], we proved that any nuclear agreement with Iran is built on one big lie. Now even Iran acknowledges this,” Netanyahu said at an event honoring Israeli reservists. “Soon will be revealed additional proofs that Iran has been lying this whole time.”
Iran’s acknowledgment Monday that it had broken the limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal marked its first major departure from the unraveling agreement a year after the US unilaterally withdrew from the accord.
Iran had been expected for days to acknowledge that it broke the limit after earlier warning that it would do so. It held off on publicly making an announcement, as European leaders met Friday in Vienna to discuss ways to save the accord.
Iran has threatened to increase its enrichment of uranium closer to weapons-grade levels by July 7.
Netanyahu repeated his vow not to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and called on the European signatories to the nuclear pact to hold Tehran accountable.
“They [the Europeans] promised to act the moment Iran violates the nuclear deal. They promised they would automatically enact sanctions that were imposed by the [UN] Security Council,” the prime minister said.
In a direct appeal to the Europeans, Netanyahu said in English: “Do it, Just do it.”
At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said Iran could reverse its moves if Europe offers it a new nuclear deal and bypasses US sanctions.
The “actions of the Europeans have not been enough so the Islamic Republic will move ahead with its plans as it has previously announced,” Zarif said. “We are in the process of doing our first phase of actions both on increasing our stockpile of enriched uranium as well as our heavy water reserves.”
British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said Monday that London was “deeply worried” by Iran’s announcement.
“Deeply worried by Iran’s announcement that it has broken existing nuclear deal obligations,” Hunt, a candidate to become Britain’s next prime minister, said on Twitter.
“UK remains committed to making deal work (and) using all diplomatic tools to deescalate regional tensions. I urge Iran to avoid any further steps away from JCPOA (nuclear deal and) come back into compliance,” he added.
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Monday its director general had informed officials that it verified Monday that Iran had broken through the limit.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Iran to stick to its commitments under the nuclear deal and address differences through a dispute mechanism, his spokesman said.
“It is essential that this issue, like other issues related to the implementation of the plan, be addressed through the mechanisms established in the JCPOA,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Guterres encourages Iran “to continue implementing all its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA,” Dujarric said.
Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to have less than 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium enriched to a maximum of 3.67 percent. 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.
Neither Zarif nor the UN agency said how much uranium Iran now had on hand. Last week, an Iranian official in Vienna said that Tehran was 2.8 kilograms away from the limit. Iran previously announced it had quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium, which, at under 3.67%, is enough to power a nuclear reactor to create electricity, but is far below weapons-grade levels.
However, Iran could have chosen to mix the low-enriched uranium with raw uranium, diluting it and bringing it down under the cap. Pushing past the limit served as a notice to Europe, Zarif said.
Russia, like Britain a signatory to the nuclear deal, said Iran’s announcement was a cause for “regret,” but added this was a consequence of US actions.
“(This) of course is a cause for regret but one mustn’t dramatize the situation,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said in comments reported by news agencies.
“It should be understood as the natural consequence of the events which have gone before,” he said.
Ryabkov denounced “unprecedented pressure” from the United States, but called on Tehran to behave “responsibly.”
Moscow is a close ally of Tehran and has previously called on European signatories of the nuclear agreement to respect the deal despite the US pullout.
The other signatories — China, France and Germany — did not immediately react to Iran’s announcement.
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, which has sought to pressure the remaining parties to save the deal, 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 helped it to circumvent sanctions, especially to sell its oil.
At the time of the 2015 deal, which was agreed to by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain, experts believed that Iran needed anywhere from several weeks to three months to have enough material for a bomb.