Dubai/London: Iran announced on Monday it would breach uranium enrichment limits in 10 days in a move that drew an accusation of “nuclear blackmail” from Washington, but it added that European nations still had time to save the nuclear deal that sets those curbs.
In an indication of Western concern, a White House spokesman said the plan amounted to “nuclear blackmail” and must be met with increased international pressure.
Britain said if Iran breached limits agreed under the deal then London would look at “all options”. Close US ally Israel, Iran’s arch foe, urged world powers to step up sanctions against Tehran swiftly should it exceed the enriched uranium limit.
However European Union (EU) said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) identified one.
US-Iran tensions are growing following accusations by US President Donald Trump’s administration that Tehran last Thursday attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
Iran denies having any role. Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, major general Mohammad Baqeri, on Monday denied Tehran was behind the attacks and said if the Islamic Republic decided to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane it would do so publicly. In an announcement drawing signs of Western unease, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment (of uranium) and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300kg limit.” “Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate,” he told state TV, adding that “the move will be reversed once other parties fulfil their commitments.”
In May, Tehran had said it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact it agreed with world powers in 2015, in protest at the US’ decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions last year. The deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions. It requires Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, capping Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 per cent or its equivalent for 15 years.
A series of more intrusive UN inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments. Urging European signatories to hasten efforts to salvage the accord, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said its collapse would not be in the interests of the region or the world. “It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying during a meeting with France’s ambassador. The west European signatories to the deal — France, Britain and Germany — have defended the nuclear accord as the best way to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium.
But Iran has repeatedly criticised delays in setting up a European mechanism that would shield trade with Iran from US sanctions in an effort to save the nuclear deal.
The US and the IAEA believe Iran had a nuclear weapons programme that it abandoned. Tehran denies ever having had one.
Representatives for the White House and the US state department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Iranian announcement. The IAEA declined to comment. Its chief Yukiya Amano said last week he was worried about rising tensions around Iran’s nuclear programme and he hoped they could be resolved through dialogue.