Iran said on Sunday it would further scale back its commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, raising its uranium enrichment level beyond agreed levels to produce fuel for power plants. The announcement, confirming what Reuters reported on Saturday, signaled a growing challenge to escalating U.S. sanctions pressure. In a news conference, senior Iranian officials said Tehran would keep reducing its commitments every 60 days, unless signatories of the pact moved to protect it from U.S. sanctions, but they left the door open to diplomacy.
Before the deal was sealed, Iran produced 20% enriched uranium needed to fuel its Tehran reactor and the level of enrichment for its southern Bushehr nuclear power plant was 5%. “We will enrich uranium based on our needs ... right now we don’t need to enrich uranium needed for Tehran reactor,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman. “We will enrich uranium to the level that is needed for the Bushehr reactor.”
In a sign of heightening Western concern, French President Emmanuel Macron said he and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had agreed to seek conditions for a resumption of dialogue on the Iranian nuclear question by July 15.
Macron’s office added that he would keep on talking with Iranian authorities and other involved parties to “engage in a de-escalation of tensions related to Iranian nuclear issue.”
Long-tense relations between Tehran and Washington took a turn for the worse in May 2018 when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal reached before he took office, and reimposed sanctions.
Under the pact, Iran can enrich uranium to 3.67% fissile material, well below the 20% it was reaching before the deal and the roughly 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon. What has Iran announced?
On the anniversary of the US withdrawal, Iran gave a 60-day deadline to the remaining signatories of the deal - China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK - to protect it from US sanctions. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday at the end of that deadline, Mr Araqshi said Iran would start enriching uranium above a concentration of 3.67% within a few hours, to provide fuel for its Bushehr power plant.
Officials previously said this would mean a concentration of about 5%. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more. Mr Araqchi said Iran would keep reducing its commitment to the 2015 deal every 60 days. But he also stressed that diplomacy was still an option, provided the sanctions are lifted. Israel’s energy minister has already criticised the move, saying that while the increase was “moderate”, Iran had “begun its march... toward nuclear weaponry”.
The announcement comes a day after French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and expressed his “strong concern” about what would happen if the agreement was abandoned.
Mr Rouhani called on European countries to act now to save the deal. What is the nuclear deal? Six countries signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015 to curb Iran’s nuclear programme. Tehran agreed to let in international inspectors and to limit its nuclear activities, in exchange for an end to tight economic sanctions.
Under the deal, Iran is only permitted to produce low-enriched uranium, which has a 3-4pc concentration of U-235, and can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants.The deal also restricted Iran to stockpiling no more than 300kg (661lb) of the low-enriched uranium. A stockpile of 1,050kg, however, could be further enriched later into enough material to build one bomb, according to the Arms Control Association.