Iran is ramping up enrichment of low-grade uranium and will pass the limit it is allowed to stockpile under the nuclear deal in 10 days, a spokesman for the Iranian atomic agency announced Monday.
During a news conference at the Arak heavy water reactor facility, Behrouz Kamalvandi said that Iran had increased low enriched uranium production fourfold and would exceed the limit of 300 kilograms by June 27, in the latest blow to the nuclear deal agreed between Tehran and world powers in 2015.
“If Iran feels that the sanctions have been reinstated or not lifted, Iran has the right to partly or on the whole suspend its commitments,” Kamalvandi said, referring to sanctions that were lifted as part of the nuclear deal but have since been reinstated by the US. The Trump administration withdrew from the pact in May 2018.
However, he said, there was still time for European countries to save the nuclear deal if they “abide by their commitments.”
After exceeding the limit, Iran will accelerate uranium enrichment to 3.7%, Kamalvandi said – above the 3.67% mandated by the nuclear deal. Enrichment at this percentage is enough to continue powering parts of the country’s energy needs, but not enough to ever build a nuclear bomb.
Under the nuclear deal, Iran was permitted to stockpile limited amounts of enriched uranium and heavy water produced in that process, exporting any excess. Doing so has become extremely difficult after the US revoked waivers that allowed Iran to export those excess stockpiles, effectively forcing Iran to halt enrichment or ignore the limits, which it is now doing.
President Hassan Rouhani declared in May that Iran was reducing its “commitments to the deal” but not fully withdrawing from it.
Rouhani said at the time that Iran would keep its excess enriched uranium and heavy water, instead of selling it to other countries.
Iran’s important message to Europe
Iran has reiterated that it could reverse the new measures should the remaining European signatories in the nuclear deal (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) step in and make more of an effort to circumvent US sanctions.
Tehran has repeatedly criticized Europe’s delay in establishing their own trade channel to Iran, and Monday’s announcement is yet another sign that the nation is growing increasingly impatient.
“I think til now the Europeans have not done their part and they’ve wasted a lot of time,” Kamalvandi said during the press conference. “They have given us a lot of good words but not deeds.”
During a meeting with Iran’s new French ambassador Philippe Thiebaud, Rouhani said that the collapse of the nuclear deal is “not in the interest of Iran, France, the region and the world,” according to the nation’s semi-official news agency Fars News.
However, the Iranian President added that Europe only has a “very small chance” to ensure the deal continues to exist given the current situation is “sensitive.”
In response, a Downing Street spokesperson said at a briefing Monday that if Iran breaches its low-grade uranium stockpile limits, which was agreed under the nuclear pact, then the UK would look at “all options.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said that the Iran announcement was regretful, adding that France “encourage(s) them to adopt a patient and responsible behavior.”
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert and the European Union’s foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini both said that they expect Iran to live up to its obligations as laid out in the deal.
“As of this moment, as of today, Iran is compliant and we strongly hope, encourage, expect that Iran continues to comply with its commitment in full,” Mogherini said at a press conference.
“Our focus is not to enter into a blame game or giving responsibility for a collapse of a deal that might come, our focus is to keep the deal in place.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is perhaps the most outspoken critic of the nuclear deal, called on the international community to immediately impose sanctions on Iran if it violates the 2015 agreement.
“In the case that Iran will carry out its present threats and break the Iran deal, the international community needs to put into action immediately the sanctions mechanism that was planned in advance – what was called the ‘snapback sanctions,’” Netanyahu said while speaking at an official ceremony in Jerusalem.
Reiterating his support of the US position, the Israeli Prime Minister added: “Israel is standing together in one united front with the United States, with the moderate Arab states, and with additional countries, against Iranian aggression.”
The development comes after two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday. The US and Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran for the attack, with Riyadh calling on the international community to take a “firm stand towards an exponential regime that supports terrorism and spreads killing and destruction.”
Iran has vehemently denied any involvement in the tanker incident. The country’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani accused the US of carrying out “acts of sabotage” against the two tankers in an effort to pressure Tehran, according to Iranian state-funded Press TV.
The Iranian ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad, a senior official within the country’s foreign ministry, warned that the US and Iran are headed toward “a confrontation which is very serious for everybody in the region.”
In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Baeidinejad denied the allegations against Tehran, and cautioned the White House would be “very sorry” to underestimate Iran, should a military conflict ensue.
When asked who else could be responsible for the attack, Baeidinejad pointed to other countries in the region “who have invested heavily, billions and billions of dollars to draft the United States into a military conflict with Iran.”
On Monday, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Baqeri, said that if it wanted to, Iran was capable of blocking oil exports through the Persian Gulf “by force,” Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency reported.
“If the Islamic republic of Iran wanted to block the export of oil through the Persian Gulf, it can do that by force and in public,” Baqeri is quoted as saying.
CNN’s Max Ramsay, Stephanie Halasz and Warda Aljawahiry contributed reporting.