GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will boost its uranium enrichment after July 7 to whatever levels it needs beyond the cap set in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, defying U.S. efforts to force Tehran to renegotiate the pact.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seen during meeting with health ministry top officials in Tehran, Iran, June 25, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS
Iran announced this week it has stockpiled more low-enriched uranium than is permitted under the accord, a move that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump – who withdrew the United States from the deal last year – to warn Iran was “playing with fire”.
European co-signatories said on Tuesday they were “extremely concerned” by Tehran’s apparent breach of the deal while Israel said it was preparing for possible involvement in any military confrontation between Iran and the United States.
“Our level of enrichment will no longer be 3.67. We will put this commitment aside by whatever amount we feel like, by whatever amount is our necessity, our need. We will take this above 3.67,” said Rouhani, according to IRIB news agency.
Uranium refined to a fissile purity of 3.67% is deemed suitable for electricity generation and is the maximum allowed by the deal. Enrichment to 90% yields bomb-grade material.
He said that if the other signatories do not protect trade with Iran promised under the deal but blocked by Trump’s reimposition of tough sanctions, Iran would start to revive its Arak heavy-water reactor after July 7.
As required by the accord, Iran said in January 2016 that it had removed the core of the reactor and filled it with cement.
“From (July 7) onward with the Arak reactor, if you don’t operate (according to) the program and time frame of all the commitments you’ve given us, we will return the Arak reactor to its previous condition,” said Rouhani.
“Meaning, the condition that you say is dangerous and can produce plutonium,” he said, referring to a key ingredient in a nuclear weapon. “We will return to that unless you take action regarding all your commitments regarding Arak.”
He kept the door open to negotiations, saying Iran would again reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium below the 300-kilogram limit set by the nuclear pact if signatories Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China honored their deal pledges.
U.S. SANCTIONS NOOSE
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated since Trump pulled Washington out of the pact in May 2018 and acted to bar all international sales of Iranian oil, the Islamic Republic’s economic lifeblood.
Washington also accuses Iran of perpetrating explosive attacks that damaged six oil tankers in the Gulf in May and June, something Tehran denies.
The European signatories to the accord have sought to pull the two longstanding adversaries from the verge of military conflict, fearing a mistake could spiral into a wider Middle East war endangering global security and energy supplies.
Israel has encouraged the Trump administration to press ahead with sanctions against its regional arch-enemy Iran, predicting that Tehran will eventually renegotiate a more limiting nuclear deal as Washington has demanded.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies that Iran is in violation of the nuclear accord by amassing more low-enriched uranium, saying Iran is exercising its right to respond following the U.S. withdrawal.
The nuclear deal lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its disputed nuclear work.
It aimed to extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year, and Iranian compliance with the terms prior to the showdown with the Trump administration was verified by U.N. inspectors.
Tehran has denied any intent to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran’s main demand – in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States – is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels that prevailed before Trump left the deal and restored sanctions.
The head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday the enemy – an allusion to Washington – was worried about the prospect of war and was focused instead on an economic conflict, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Heinrich