Iran has announced it will begin enriching uranium beyond the 3.67 percent limit set in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
A technician works at a uranium conversion facility in Isfahan, 450 kilometres south of Tehran, in February, 2007 [File: Caren Firouz/ Reuters]
The move on Sunday is part of an effort to press Europe to salvage the accord after the United States pulled out and reimposed punishing sanctions, including on Iran’s oil sector.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency, said technical preparations for the new level of enrichment would be completed “within several hours and enrichment over 3.67 percent will begin”.
Monitoring will show the increased level by Monday morning, he told reporters in Tehran.
Under the accord, Iran agreed to enrich uranium to no more than 3.67 percent, which is enough for power generation, but far below weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. 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 to 300 kg.
On July 1, Iran and United Nations inspectors acknowledged Tehran had amassed more low-enriched uranium than the stockpile limit permitted under the nuclear deal.
Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, said Iran was taking the new step on Sunday because of the pact’s remaining signatories’ failure to shield Tehran from US sanctions that prevent it from selling its oil.
He said Iran would announce a scale back of other commitments in 60 days if there was no further progress.
“This is to protect the nuclear deal, not to nullify it,” he said at the news conference. “This is an opportunity for talks. And if our partners fail to use this opportunity they should not doubt our determination to leave the deal.”
The US could also join such talks if it lifted the sanctions it has reimposed on Iran, said Araghchi.
There was political will in Europe to save the deal, he said, referring to a new payment mechanism known as Instex, which is meant to help Iran bypass US sanctions. However, the trade channel was “not going to work unless European countries use it to buy Iranian oil,” he said.
“But they are trying to help us. We are hoping to reach a solution. Otherwise, within 60 days we will take another step.”
Araghchi added that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has outlined additional areas in which Iran would reduce its commitments in a letter to Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.
Iranian officials have previously stressed that all the moves announced so far could be reversed “in hours” if the other parties to the nuclear deal were to make good on their side of the bargain – relief from sanctions.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies