Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday urged the international community to immediately snap back sanctions on Iran if it goes ahead with its threat to enrich uranium beyond the levels set by a landmark nuclear pact.
Iran said earlier Monday that it would break the uranium stockpile limit set by the 2015 accord in 10 days, and warned that Iran could enrich uranium up to 20 percent — just a step away from weapons-grade levels.
Netanyahu, one of the agreement’s most vociferous critics, said Israel was not surprised by the threat.
“In the event it acts upon its threats and violates the nuclear deal, the international community must immediately impose the sanctions that were set previously. Israel will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon,” he said at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, during a ceremony that commemorated Israeli presidents and prime ministers who have passed away.
The nuclear deal has steadily unraveled since the Trump administration pulled America out of the accord last year and re-imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, deeply cutting into its sale of crude oil abroad and sending its economy into freefall.
The Monday announcement by Behrouz Kamalvandi, timed for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, put more pressure on Europe to come up with new terms for the nuclear deal.
Europe has so far been unable to offer Iran a way around the US sanctions, and Netanyahu has urged other powers to follow the lead of the US and pull out of the deal as well.
Kamalvandi made the announcement during a press conference with local journalists at Iran’s Arak heavy water facility that was carried live on Iranian state television.
The spokesman acknowledged that the country has already quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and said Tehran would increase uranium enrichment levels “based on the country’s needs.”
That increase could be to any level, from 3.67%, which is the current limit set by the nuclear deal.
Iran needs 5% enrichment for its nuclear power plant in the southern port of Bushehr and needs 20% enrichment for a Tehran research reactor, Kamalvandi said.
Under terms of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium. Kamalvandi said that it would pass the 300-kilogram limit on Thursday, June 27.
Due to the nature of the uranium enrichment, going from 20% to 90% enrichment is a relatively quick process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts. Ninety percent is considered weapons-grade material.
Netanyahu has in the past threatened to use military force to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Tensions in the Persian Gulf have been steadily rising in recent weeks, with the US sending more forces to the region.
The US and others have blamed a series of attacks on tankers in the Gulf on Iran, while Iran has suggested they were carried out by the US.