TEHRAN, Iran — Iran will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days, the spokesman for the country's atomic agency said Monday while also warning that Iran has the need for uranium enriched up to 20%, just a step away from weapons-grade levels.
The announcement indicated Iran's determination to break from the landmark 2015 accord, which has steadily unraveled since the Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year and re-imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall.
The spokesman for Iran's nuclear agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, made the announcement during a press conference with local journalists at Iran's Arak heavy water facility that was carried live on Iranian state television.
The development comes in the wake of suspected attacks on oil tankers last week in the region, attacks that Washington has blamed on Iran, and also as tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States, a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America for the nuclear deal.
The deal was meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic incentives.
But Trump's pullout and the U.S. campaign of sanctions hammering Iran's anemic economy and blocking its sale of oil on the global market only made life worse, putting further pressure on Iran's Shiite theocracy and its 80 million people.
Kamalvandi acknowledged that the country already quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and said Tehran would increase uranium enrichment levels “based on the country's needs.”
That increase could be to any level, from 3.67% which is the current limit set by the nuclear deal.
Iran's needs 5% enrichment for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it also needs 20% enrichment for a Tehran research reactor, the spokesman said.
In May, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned the country would enrich its uranium stockpile closer to weapons-grade levels in 60 days if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for the nuclear deal.
When uranium is mined, it typically has about 140 atoms of an unwanted isotope for every atom of U-235. Refining it to a purity of 3.67%, the level now allowed by the nuclear deal, means removing 114 unwanted atoms of U-238 for every atom of U-235.
Boosting its purity to 20% means removing 22 more unwanted isotopes per atom of U-235, while going from there to 90% purity means removing just four more per atom of U-235. Ninety percent is considered weapons-grade material.
That means going from 20% to 90% is a relatively quicker process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts.
The U.S. alleges Iran used limpet mines to target the tankers last Thursday, pointing to black-and-white footage it captured that American officials describe as an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel removing an unexploded mine from the Japanese-operated tanker Kokuka Courageous, one of the two ships that were targeted.
The Japanese tanker's crewmembers appeared to contradict the assertion that mines were used. They described “flying objects” as having targeted the vessel.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the U.S. official position. He claimed that intelligence officials have “lots of data, lots of evidence” tying Iran to the attacks, though he did not provide any specifics. He called the alleged shipping attacks “an international challenge, important to the entire globe.”
In Brussels on Monday, European Union foreign ministers said they were still looking for more information on who might be behind the incident involving the tankers. Germany and others insisted they need a clearer picture before wading into a diplomatic conflict which could have serious implications in the Middle East.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that U.S. and British intelligence needs to be compared with other information from allies. “We have to be very careful,” he said.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said it was not a time to jump to action without proper information. “The maximum restraint and wisdom should be applied,” she said ahead of the monthly foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.
- US sending troops to Mideast amid Gulf tensions over Iran
- Iran, foreign minister walk back more from missile remarks (UPDATED)
- Concern grows over UAE-based oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz
- Reports: Iran enriching uranium to 4.5%, breaking deal limit
- Rouhani: Iran will enrich uranium to 'any amount we want'
- France urges Iran to reverse breach of nuclear deal
- Iran, nuclear deal partners to meet as accord under threat
- Britain says Iranian vessels tried to block tanker in Gulf
- Iran calls new US sanctions 'outrageous and idiotic'
- Mike Pompeo in Saudi Arabia, Iran threatens more US drone attacks
- Iranians say their 'bones breaking' under US sanctions
- Global airlines reroute flights after Iran downs US drone
- Trump calls off Iranian strikes, citing likely deaths
- Experts fear 'snowball effect' as Iran abandons nuclear deal
- US says Iran took mine off tanker; Iran denies involvement
- Tankers targeted near Strait of Hormuz amid Iran-US tensions
- Saudi Arabia flies Iranian to hospital off 'hostile' ship
- Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu uncharacteristically quiet over Gulf crisis
- In United Arab Emirates, John Bolton accuses Iran of seeking nuclear arms
- Dual hearings on Capitol Hill focus on Trump's Iran policy
- Bomb-carrying drone from Yemen rebels targets Saudi airport
- Trump warns Iran not to threaten US or it will face 'end'
- Iran says US sanctions 'unacceptable' amid Gulf tensions
- Iran's supreme leader makes uranium enrichment threat
- Saudi Arabia says its oil infrastructure attacked by drones
- Saudi Arabia says 2 oil tankers damaged by sabotage attacks
- Iran threatens more enrichment if no new nuclear deal
- US-Iran tensions rise ahead of anniversary of deal pullout
- Iran’s ‘revolution babies’ weigh their progress since 1979
- AP Exclusive: Iran hackers hunt nuclear workers, US targets
- Iran officials mock, warn US over renewed sanctions
- Iran president warns of 'war situation' as sanctions resume
- Iran Guard launches missiles into Syria over parade attack
- Iran's politicians under pressure, 40 years after revolution
- Iran’s domestic car market stalls as nuclear deal falters
- Unease, anger in Tehran's Grand Bazaar, Iran's beating heart
- Iran looks warily to China for help as US sanctions resume
- AP Interview: Iran nuclear chief says atomic program strong
- Doubts on North Korean denuclearization shadow Pompeo visit
- France: Europe isn't US 'vassal,' should trade with Iran
- AP FACT CHECK: Trump vs. truth on the Iran nuclear deal
- President Trump warns Iran against resuming nuclear program
- Iran president: Uranium enrichment may resume if deal fails
- Trump declares US leaving 'horrible' Iran nuclear accord
- 'Halal' internet means more control in Iran after unrest
- Khamenei says 'enemies of Iran' meddling in deadly unrest
- Revolutionary Guard faces new foe in Iran's opening economy
- U.S. mulling new rules on dollars to help Iran