Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seen during a public speech in the southern Hormozgan province, Iran, February 17, 2019.
(photo credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Iran will announce on Sunday that it will raise its uranium enrichment level to 5%, a concentration above the limit set by its 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, an Iranian official told Reuters.
“The main announcement tomorrow will be the increase of the level of enrichment to 5% from 3.67% that we agreed under the deal,” the official said on Saturday on condition of anonymity.
Earlier in the day Iran’s Fars news agency reported that Iranian senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi will announce more cuts in its commitments to the pact on Sunday. Iran warned already last week that such a move could take place.
Other officials will join Araqchi in making the announcement at a news conference at 10:30 a.m. in Tehran, Fars reported.
Tension has spiked between Tehran and Washington since last year, when US President Donald Trump quit the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers and reimposed sanctions that had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran curbing its sensitive nuclear work.
Under the deal, 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.
In reaction to US sanctions, which have notably targeted its main foreign revenue stream in the shape of crude oil exports, Iran said in May that it would scale back its commitments to the deal after a 60-day deadline.
Separately, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iranian officials were unanimous in raising the level of uranium enrichment beyond the 3.67% set in the nuclear accord, in remarks posted on Khamenei’s officials website.
“For example, we need uranium enriched to 5% for use in the Bushehr [power plant] and this is a completely peaceful purpose,” Velayati said, hinting that this might be the first step Iran might take in raising the enrichment level.
The US has requested a special meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation Board of Governors to discuss Iran, the US mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Friday.
Diplomats who follow the agency said they expected the meeting would be held Wednesday after the International Atomic Energy Agency last week said Iran had exceeded the maximum stock of enriched uranium allowed under its 2015 deal with major powers.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted on Friday that “Iran must be pressured to abandon its nuclear ambitions.”
The confrontation between Washington and Tehran took on a military dimension last month, with Washington blaming Tehran for attacks on ships in the Gulf, which Iran denies. Iran shot down a US drone last month, saying it had entered its airspace. Washington said the drone was in international skies, and Trump ordered, then aborted, retaliatory air strikes on Iranian targets.
Since May, Washington has ordered all countries to stop purchasing Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system. It has also dispatched extra troops to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer spoke about Iran on Thursday on conservative talk radio show The Mark Levin Show, explaining that an important aspect of the Iran deal for Tehran was its ability to sell and export oil. Last year it exported nearly 3 million barrels of oil a day and it used the money to fuel war machines in the Middle East, Dermer said, explaining “they didn’t join the community of nations. They were gobbling up nations.”
Dermer said the Iranians, over the last few weeks, have tried to lash out because they are worried about all the pressure that is being placed on them.
“And the right response to Iran’s lashing out is to actually increase the pressure. And that will actually make the Middle East a much safer place,” he said.
Tehran has said its commitment to the deal will gradually decrease until signatories Britain, France and Germany can ensure that Iran benefits financially from the accord – the Islamic Republic’s main incentive for signing up to it.
Germany is working hard to establish a special trade channel between Iran and European exporters, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said on Friday.
He said European industry had a great interest in the system being brought online, which will make it possible for trade between EU members and Iran to continue despite stiff US sanctions.
Set up by France, Britain and Germany, Instex (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) is a barter trade mechanism that aims to avoid direct financial transfers by offsetting balances between importers and exporters on the European side.
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