Iran breaks uranium enrichment threshold; more sanctions says U.S.
Iran is raising its uranium enrichment level beyond the 3.67-percent level agreed under the 2015 nuclear accord, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabei said on Sunday.
The move marks Iran's second breach of the agreement, after it earlier this week confirmed exceeding a stock limit of 300 kilogrammes on its low-enriched uranium production. The U.S. condemned Iran's declaration, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying Tehran will face "further isolation and sanctions."
Pompeo wrote on Twitter that states should "restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran's nuclear programme." President Donald Trump also said Iran "better be careful" in a brief response to reporters prior to departing to Washington, DC.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for Iran's nuclear department, confirmed the move during a press conference, saying that enrichment levels would be increased incrementally to between 5 and 20 percent.
Trump last year pulled the U.S. out of the accord and began imposing a "maximum pressure" campaign of strict sanctions on Tehran, over the objections of his European allies.
The remaining powers in the agreement, including Britain, France and Germany, have sought to keep it alive by developing a money transaction system known as Instex that allows Iran to circumvent U.S. sanctions and continue doing business with international partners.
Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister, said at the press conference that the decision to start raising the enrichment level was legitimate. "We gave diplomacy one year after the U.S. exit ... but to no avail," Araghchi said.
Uranium needs to be enriched to 90 percent for a nuclear weapon to be built, but getting from 20 to 90 percent is considered to be a relatively quick process.
Iran has said multiple times that even if the Islamic Republic does pull out of the nuclear agreement, the country has no intention of developing nuclear weapons. Islam forbids the creation and use of nuclear weapons, Iran's spiritual and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday that Iran's uranium enrichment has one purpose only: "the creation of atomic bombs." He called on European countries to immediately impose "snapback sanctions" against Iran.
"This is a very dangerous step and I call on my friends, the heads of France, Britain and Germany: You signed this agreement and you said that once they take this step, there will be harsh sanctions," Netanyahu said.
The UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to address Iran's breach of the deal, in a session that comes at the request of the United States.
The European Union said on Sunday it is "extremely concerned" about Iran's decision. "We had called upon Iran not to take further measures that undermine the nuclear deal," said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. "We are in contact with the other JCPOA participants regarding the next steps under the terms of the JCPOA, including a Joint Commission," she added, referring to the official name for the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed with the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany and the European Union.
Britain said Iran must immediately "stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its obligations" under the 2015 deal.
"Iran has broken the terms of the JCPOA, following its announcement that it will start uranium enrichment above the 3.67-percent limit agreed in the nuclear deal," a Foreign Office spokesperson said in a statement.
Britain is "coordinating with other JCPOA participants regarding the next steps," the statement added. (dpa)