A year after US pullout, Iran says it may lift cap on uranium enrichment if remaining powers do not abide by deal.
Iran has said it will breach the internationally agreed limit of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium within days, ramping up the pressure on the remaining signatories to save the 2015 nuclear deal.
The spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi, said on Monday Iran would reach the allowed 300kg level of enriched uranium at levels mandated by the agreement with world powers on June 27.
“We will go further from that ceiling, not only that but we will also increase production drastically. After we pass the limit of 300kg the pace and the speed of enriched uranium production at the lower rate will also increase,” Kamalvandi said on Monday, speaking on television from Iran’s Arak nuclear plant.
Tehran said it would reduce compliance with some elements of the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in May, a year after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the deal. Under it, Iran had agreed to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on May 8 the remaining signatories – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia – had 60 days to implement their promises to protect Iran’s oil and banking sectors from reimposed US sanctions.
Commenting on Monday’s announcement, Ali Fathollah Nejad from the Brookings Doha Center said “The aim is to increase the bargaining leverage and to put increasing pressure on Europe”.
“This is more symbolic than substantial because Iran is not going to commit any violation. They’re going to go as far as possible to the threshold but won’t break it because they’ll lose European support. And for now, this is not the Iranian strategy.”
‘There is still time’
Kamalvandi said they were still waiting for officials to tell them what the second phase of the strategy for reducing commitments to the JCPOA would be but said the deal could still be salvaged.
“There is still time … if European countries act,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said the atomic energy spokesman noted Iran had heard “good words” from Europe but had not seen any action.
“He’s very clear that if the Europeans don’t hold up their end of the deal within the coming weeks, the Iranians are in the position to increase their percentage. That is something that it will be up to the leaders of Iran to decide.”
Rouhani had said in May that Iran could resume high-level uranium enrichment if world powers did not uphold their part of the nuclear deal.
Tehran would increase uranium enrichment levels “based on the country’s needs,” Kamalvandi also said.
He said there were two scenarios. One would be to increase the enrichment up to five percent for the use in the Bushehr power plant, or to increase it up to 20 percent for a research reactor in Tehran.
Both levels would be above the 3.67 percent enrichment allowed under the nuclear deal, and put the country closer to being able to produce weapons-grade material.
The chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s Nuclear Committee, Mojtaba Zonnour, said that Iran would quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) altogether if Europe’s JCPOA signatories fail to do their share of saving the agreement before the 60-day deadline, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Monday.
Iran says its decision to reduce commitments under the nuclear deal is within its rights under the 2015 agreement.
Responding to Monday’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Iran to be hit with sanctions if it violated the 2015 accord.
“Should Iran make good on its current threats and violate the nuclear agreement, the international community will need to immediately impose the sanctions regime that was agreed upon in advance, the ‘snapback sanctions’,” Netanyahu said.
Iran’s move comes amid rising tensions in the Gulf after a series of unexplained attacks on ships and infrastructure in the region, which the US has blamed on Iran or its proxies.
Two tankers in the Gulf of Oman last Thursday reported explosions on board that sparked fires with the crews abandoning the vessels. The US accused Iran of attacking the ships.
Tehran has vehemently denied the allegations and on Sunday Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, suggested the US may have staged the tanker attacks because of “the failure of its harsh sanctions” on Tehran, according to the official IRNA news agency.
The US military last week released a grainy video it said showed an Iranian boat removing an unexploded mine as part of its proof of Tehran’s involvement.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was other evidence beyond the video to show it was “unmistakable” that Iran was responsible for the suspected attacks.
In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Pompeo said Washington did not seek war with Tehran.
Saudi Arabia and Britain have backed the US claims.
European Union foreign ministers, meeting on Monday said they are still looking for more information on who might be behind the attacks, and called for restraint.
The escalating tensions have caused a spike in oil prices and concerns of a conflict in the region.