Iran declared that has amped up its uranium enrichment on the day of its deadline to negotiate the Iran nuclear deal with signatories, surpassing the cap set under the Obama-era agreement that President Trump has withdrawn the US from.
“Within hours, the technical tasks will be done and enrichment above 3.67 percent will begin,” Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. “We predict that the IAEA measurements early tomorrow morning will show that we have gone beyond 3.67%.”
The move is intended to give Iran leverage in talks with European countries interested in maintaining the deal, but getting around the US sanctions imposed on Iran will prove difficult for EU countries.
The US sanctions block Iran Crude Oil sales and target its Top officials, but Iran says it can reduce its uranium enrichment if Europeans can offer sanctions relief.
The IAEA said it was aware of Iran’s comments and “inspectors in Iran will report to our headquarters as soon as they verify the announced development.”
Ali Akbar Velayati, an aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made remarks in a video Saturday about Iran’s need for 5% enrichment. Bushehr, Iran’s only nuclear power plant, is now running on imported fuel from Russia that is enriched around 5%.
Iran’s FM Mohammad Javad Zarif sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini outlining the steps it had taken, said Abbas Araghchi, a deputy foreign minister. Discussions with European powers are continuing and ministerial-level talks are planned later this month, he said.
“We will give another 60-day period, and then we will resume the reduction of our commitments,” Mr. Araghchi said, without elaborating.
Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron told his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, in a phone call he is trying to find a way by 15 July to resume the dialogue between Iran and Western partners.
“For the enrichment we are using the same machines with some more pressure and some special technical work,” Mr. Kamalvandi said. “So, we do not have an increase in the number of centrifuges for this purpose.”
But Mr. Kamalvandi stressed Iran is able to continue enrichment “at any speed, any amount and any level.”
Sunday’s announcement about uranium enrichment came a year after President Trump withdrew from the deal. Iran has repeatedly warned Europe in recent weeks that it would begin walking away from an accord neutered by a maximalist American campaign of sanctions.
Experts warn higher enrichment and a growing stockpile narrow the 1-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.
Enriched uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.
Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons, but the nuclear deal sought to prevent that as a possibility by limiting enrichment and Iran’s stockpile of uranium.
International reaction came swiftly, including from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who long has described Iran and its nuclear program as a threat to his country. He called on world powers to impose “snapback sanctions” on Iran.
“It is a very, very dangerous step,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “I’m asking you, not to provoke but out of joint knowledge of history and what happens when aggressive totalitarian regimes can cross the threshold toward things that are very dangerous to us all. Take the steps that you promised. Enact the sanctions.”
President Trump warned Tehran Sunday that “Iran better be careful.” He didn’t elaborate on what actions the US might consider. President Trump told reporters: “Iran’s doing a lot of bad things.”
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