Iran’s president warned Europe Wednesday that his country would “take the next step” in increasing its uranium enrichment this coming Sunday, and enrich to “any amount that we want.”
The comments by President Hassan Rouhani at a cabinet meeting in Tehran further increase pressure on European partners to salvage the unraveling 2015 nuclear deal following the US withdrawal from it last year.
If signatories of the nuclear accord do not fulfill their commitments, Rouhani said, levels of enrichment will go beyond the 3.67 percent limit agreed under the deal.
“In any amount that we want, any amount that is required, we will take over 3.67,” he said.
“Our advice to Europe and the United States is to go back to logic and to the negotiating table,” Rouhani added. “Go back to understanding, to respecting the law and resolutions of the UN Security Council. Under those conditions, all of us can abide by the nuclear deal.”
To reach weapons-grade levels, uranium must be enriched to over 90%. But 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.
US President Donald Trump pulled America from the nuclear deal last year and restored crippling economic sanctions. Iran this week breached a low-enriched uranium stockpile limitation set by the deal and said by Sunday it would increase its enrichment of uranium closer to weapons-grade levels if Europe does not offer it a new deal.
Iran, which has sought to pressure the remaining parties to save the deal, had announced on May 8 that it would no longer respect the limit set on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpiles.
The diplomatic chiefs of the EU, France, Germany and Britain said Tuesday they were “extremely concerned” and called on Iran to change course.
“We urge Iran to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal,” said the joint statement signed by EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and the three countries’ foreign ministers — France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian, Germany’s Heiko Maas and Britain’s Jeremy Hunt.
“We have been consistent and clear that our commitment to the nuclear deal depends on full compliance by Iran,” they said. “We regret this decision by Iran, which calls into question an essential instrument of nuclear nonproliferation.”
They added that the group was “urgently considering next steps under the terms” of the deal, which saw Iran commit to never acquiring an atomic bomb, accept drastic limits on its nuclear program and submit to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency in exchange for a partial lifting of international sanctions.
The European Union had said Friday after a crisis meeting aimed at salvaging the deal that a special payment mechanism set up to help Iran skirt the renewed US sanctions, known as INSTEX, was finally “operational” and that the first transactions were being processed.
But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that “the Europeans’ efforts were not enough, therefore Iran will go ahead with its announced measures.” INSTEX, which “is just the beginning” of their commitments, has not yet been fully implemented, he said.
On Monday US National Security Adviser John Bolton 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 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.