Iran announced Sunday it will raise its level of uranium enrichment, breaking another limit of its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and further heightening tensions between Tehran and the US.
Officials told a news conference the new level would be reached later Sunday, but did not provide a percentage. Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said the new level “will be based on our needs.” Under the faltering nuclear deal, the cap for enrichment had been set at 3.67 percent.
The officials suggested the latest steps did not close the door to diplomatic efforts to save the deal. “Opportunity will be available for diplomacy,” said Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister.
Iran threatened to abandon more commitments under the nuclear agreement in “60 days” unless a solution is found with signatories to the endangered deal.
“We hope we can reach a solution otherwise after 60 days we will take the third step as well,” Araghchi said, singling out Iran’s declining oil sales as one of the main issues that needed to be solved.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, by phone Saturday, saying he is trying to find a way by July 15 to resume dialogue between Iran and Western partners.
Araghchi said Sunday that discussions with the Europeans are continuing.
Araghchi added that Tehran has “given enough time to diplomacy,” and that its reduction of its commitments is not a violation of the pact. He said that Iran wants the 2015 nuclear deal to be salvaged, and demanded that obligations be fulfilled by other parties.
The Europeans have failed to fulfill their commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, Araghchi said. “The doors of diplomacy are still open, but new initiatives are required,” he added.
Iran also said it has the capability to restore the Arak Heavy Water Reactor Facility, and that it will act based on Tehran’s needs.
Araghchi said if all sanctions on Tehran are lifted, “then the US can enter nuclear talks.”
“From our point of view if the US wants to participate in talks between Iran and 4+1 countries, it is possible,” he said, referring to the European parties to the deal.
Yet hopes for saving the faltering deal appear increasingly dim, as the Europeans have been unable to offer Iran any effective way around US sanctions.
While the Iranian steps are concerning to nuclear non-proliferation experts, they could be easily reversible if Europeans offer Iran the sanctions relief it seeks.
Iran’s decision came a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally 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 that blocked Tehran’s oil sales abroad and targeted its top officials.
Sunday’s announcement came less than a week after Iran acknowledged breaking the deal’s 300-kilogram limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile.
Experts warn higher enrichment and a growing stockpile narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.
Under the 2015 atomic accord, Iran agreed to enrich uranium to no more than 3.67 percent, which is enough for peaceful pursuits but is 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 kilograms.
Iran’s foreign minister is to inform European Union leaders of the decision concerning uranium enrichment, officials said Sunday.
The spokesman for Iran’s nuclear department, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said Sunday that technical preparations for the new level of enrichment will be completed “within several hours and enrichment over 3.67 percent will begin.”
He says monitoring will show the increased level by Monday morning.