Iran will start enriching uranium at higher levels after this weekend, Rouhani says
Iran will begin enriching uranium at a higher level than what is allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal within days, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday.
The announcement comes two days after Iran announced it had exceeded limits on its low-enriched uranium stockpiles. Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to slash its stockpile of enriched uranium by 90%, and cap uranium enrichment at 3.67%. The agreement also reduced the number of its centrifuges by two-thirds.
Rouhani said the enrichment limits would be surpassed after Sunday. He has also vowed to revive work on the Arak heavy-water reactor, which had been suspended under the nuclear deal.
“We will raise the level of enrichment to the amount we want and need,” Rouhani said at a government meeting according to semi-official Tasnim News Agency.
He urged the Americans and the Europeans to “go back to their commitments in the nuclear deal.”
“If you do not do so, the Arak reactor will go back to its previous state, starting from July 7,” he said.
Later Wednesday, US President Donald Trump responded on Twitter, cautioning that Iran should “be careful with the threats,” warning, “they can come back to bite you.”
“Iran has just issued a New Warning. Rouhani says that they will Enrich Uranium to “any amount we want” if there is no new Nuclear Deal. Be careful with the threats, Iran. They can come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before!” he said.
Despite Trump’s warning to Tehran, it’s unlikely he would be quick to pursue a military response, said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. But Dubowitz cautioned that “it’s difficult to know where Trump has drawn his red lines for intolerable Iranian provocation. The Iranians don’t know, so they may overreach.”
Iran’s partial withdrawal from the nuclear deal — known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — follows Trump’s pull-out from the agreement in May 2018.
Trump has since imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, prompting an exodus of foreign companies from the country, causing inflation to skyrocket and the economy to contract.
After Monday’s announcement, Trump said Iran was “playing with fire.”
“They know what they’re doing. They know what they’re playing with. And I think they’re playing with fire,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron “noted with concern” Iran’s move to increase its stockpile of uranium, and urged the country to reverse it.
But Iranian officials say they have not breached the agreement. “We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a post on Twitter, sharing the text of paragraph 36 of the deal, which provides a dispute resolution mechanism when parties believe that other signatories aren’t meeting their commitments.
Zarif added that Iran took steps to exceed uranium caps 60 days after Trump pulled out of the deal. “As soon as E3 abide by their obligations, we’ll reverse,” Zarif said. The E3 refers to Germany, Britain and France, countries that Tehran accuses of failing to uphold their commitments to the deal.
As Iran incrementally violates terms of the nuclear deal, the White House is likely to work at increasing diplomatic pressure on Iran with the hope of further isolating it.
“The administration is working closely with the Europeans, who are making it clear to Tehran that there’s a limit to how many violations of the JCPOA they will tolerate,” Dubowitz said. If disputes over those violations can’t be resolved, “the Europeans or the United States could move to unilaterally snap back the UN and EU sanctions.”