Iran says it will increase uranium enrichment as nuclear deal unravels

Finbar Anderson
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, Tehran, Iran - REX

Iran said on Sunday it would begin enriching uranium past the level agreed in a rapidly disintegrating 2015 nuclear deal.

“In a few hours the technical process will come to an end and the enrichment beyond 3.67% will begin,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, in a news conference broadcast live.

In May, exactly a year after the United States announced its withdrawal from the deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Tehran’s intentions to step up its production of enriched uranium past the limits agreed in the deal.

The breach was confirmed a week ago when Iran said it had passed the 300kg cap on its enriched uranium stockpile.

The latest development will see Iran begin enriching uranium past the 3.67% fissile material limit agreed in the 2015 pact.

Mr Kamalvandi said the move was intended for the enrichment of uranium for use in its Bushehr power plant, to the level of 5%. "We are fully prepared to enrich uranium at any level and with any amount," he said.

Before the deal, Iran was enriching uranium to 20%, still significantly below the approximately 90% required for the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

During the conference, senior Iranian officials said that Tehran would continue to renege on its commitments in the deal every 60 days, unless the remaining signatories to the pact, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia, took steps to protect the country from expanded U.S. sanctions.

The recent steps by Tehran put the deal’s European signatories in an increasingly difficult position. They could follow the US, which has taken an increasingly hard line with Iran since withdrawing from the deal, in imposing sanctions, but this would likely destroy the deal altogether. 

Or the European states could try to persuade Iran to return to compliance with the deal. So far they have pinned their hopes on Instex, a new financial mechanism designed to allow European businesses to circumvent U.S. sanctions and trade with Iran. While the mechanism went live last week, there is little sign it will provide the economic relief sought by Tehran.

Despite the rising tensions, Iranian and European officials left the door open for a multilateral solution. Rouhani and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed on Saturday to discuss conditions to resume a dialogue on Iran's nuclear programme by July 15.