US National Security Adviser John Bolton on Monday declared the only reason Iran has for increasing its production of enriched uranium is to position itself for a quick jump to producing nuclear weapons.
Bolton’s remarks came hours after Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif acknowledged that Iran had exceeded a stockpile limit for enriched uranium laid down in a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The announcement from Iran followed previous threats from Tehran that it would gradually drop some of its commitments to the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, including enriching uranium beyond a 3.67% purity set in the pact.
“There is no reason for Iran to increase its enrichment unless it’s part of an effort to reduce the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons,” Bolton tweeted along with a copy of the official White House statement on the development.
Bolton was in Israel last week to attend a tripartite meeting of the national security advisers of the US, Israel and Russia, during which Iran’s impact on the region was a key topic of discussion.
At the meeting Bolton slammed Iran as the “source of belligerence and aggression” in the Middle East but said there is an “open door” for negotiations with the US.
Iran has threatened to start enriching uranium above the agreed maximum purification level of 3.67 percent from July 7. Due to the nature of the enrichment process, once Iran reaches 20% purity it is a relatively short jump to reach the 90% enrichment needed for fissile material used in nuclear bombs.
The White House said in its statement “maximum pressure on the Iranian regime will continue until its leaders alter their course of action. The regime must end its nuclear ambitions and its malign behavior.”
In his own remarks, US President Donald Trump said that Iran was “playing with fire.”
Zarif insisted Iran had done nothing wrong. “We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” he tweeted, referring to the deal.
He said Iran would “reverse” its decision “as soon as E3 abide by their obligations,” referring to the European parties to the deal: Britain, France and Germany.
Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal last year and hit Iran’s crucial oil exports and financial transactions as well as other sectors with biting sanctions. The Trump administration wants to renegotiate stricter terms for the deal to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and also to curb its missile development program.
Tehran, which has sought to pressure the remaining parties to save the deal, announced on May 8 it would no longer respect the limit set on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpiles.
It threatened to abandon further nuclear commitments unless the remaining partners — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — helped it circumvent sanctions, especially to sell its oil.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Monday Iran had exceeded the limit that the deal imposed on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU).
A diplomat in Vienna, where the UN’s nuclear watchdog is based, told AFP that Iran had exceeded the 300 kilogram (661 pound) limit by two kilograms.
The 2015 deal saw Iran accept drastic limits on its nuclear program and submit to IAEA inspections in exchange for a partial lifting of crippling international sanctions.
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 Iranian airspace.