Iran has warned for months that it is ready to begin producing weapons-grade uranium unless Europe helps it avoid crippling U.S. sanctions. Now, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says he’s prepared to make good on that threat.
Rouhani warned Wednesday that his government will begin increased enrichment of uranium on Sunday. The warning comes just two days after Iran confirmed it had breached the stockpile limits of low-enriched uranium imposed by the 2015 nuclear agreement it signed with the U.S. and other world powers.
Tehran and Washington have been involved in an increasingly bitter war of words since the U.S. pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018. That conflict has threatened to spill over into an all-out war in recent weeks, after Washington blamed Tehran for attacking oil tankers in the Gulf and Iran shot down a U.S. spy drone it claimed entered its air space.
Rouhani’s nuclear threat is designed to force the remaining signatories of the fast-unraveling accord to help the country circumvent U.S. sanctions, which are causing severe economic hardship for Iran’s citizens. Rouhani is specifically appealing to France, Germany and U.K., the remaining EU signatories to the deal.
“Our advice to Europe and the United States is to go back to logic and to the negotiating table,” Rouhani told a cabinet meeting, according to the IRIB news agency. “Go back to understanding, to respecting the law and resolutions of the UN Security Council. Under those conditions, all of us can abide by the nuclear deal.”
But if that doesn’t happen, Rouhani warned, Iran was ready “to take the next step” to produce uranium “in any amount that we want, any amount that is required.”
Under the JCPOA, Iran is limited to producing low-enriched uranium of no more than 3.67 percent, which is enough for nuclear power plants but far below the 90 percent needed for weapons production.
Rouhani said Iran will breach that 3.67 percent limit on Sunday — but didn’t indicate how high Iran’s uranium enrichment would go.
Experts say that it could take up to a year for Iran to produce enough highly-enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon.
There was no reaction from Europe Wednesday to Iran’s latest threat. On Tuesday, the European powers issued a statement criticizing Iran for breaching its stockpile limit and calling on Tehran “to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal.”
Despite pulling out of the deal, the U.S. said this week it will continue to put “maximum pressure” on Tehran to refrain from boosting its stockpiles of uranium. On Tuesday, Trump warned Iran about breaching the stockpile limits:
“They know what they're doing. They know what they're playing with, and I think they're playing with fire,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
Early on Wednesday morning, Trump once again referenced Iran’s breach of its stockpile limit, calling it “not good.”
Cover: In this photo released by the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)