Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 10 December 2019

Iran planning to boost uranium enrichment level, official says

Supreme Leader's adviser Ali Akbar Velayati says move is in response to US and European actions

Ali Akbar Velayati advises to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on international affairs. AP Photo
Ali Akbar Velayati advises to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on international affairs. AP Photo

Iran is ready to enrich uranium beyond the level set by Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal and closer to weapons-grade levels, a senior adviser to the country's ruler said while accusing the United States and European countries of not abiding by the accord.

"Americans directly and Europeans indirectly violated the deal," Ali Akbar Velayati said in a video message posted on supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's website on Saturday.

In response, Iran increasing uranium enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels was "unanimously agreed upon by every component of the establishment," said Mr Velayati, who advises Mr Khamenei on international affairs.

"We will show reaction exponentially as much as they violate it. We reduce our commitments as much as they reduce it," he said. "If they go back to fulfilling their commitments, we will do so as well."

The 2015 nuclear deal, aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, allows Tehran to enrich uranium to no more than 3.67 per cent – enough to power nuclear plants but far below the 90 per cent level needed for atomic weapons. It also limits the amount of enriched uranium Iran can stockpile to 300 kilograms. Iran announced on Monday that it had breached the stockpile limit, which was later confirmed to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN agency monitoring Tehran's compliance with the accord.

In his video, Mr Velayati suggested that Iran would be increasing its level of uranium enrichment to 5 per cent.

"For Bushehr nuclear reactor we need 5 per cent of enrichment and it is a completely peaceful goal," he said. Bushehr, Iran's only nuclear power plant, is now running on imported fuel from Russia that is closely monitored by the IAEA.

His comments came before Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said that Tehran will announce more reductions in its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal on Sunday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported. Other officials will join Araqchi in making the announcement at a news conference at 10.30am local time, it said.

President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the accord in May last year, describing the deal reached under his predecessor Barack Obama as "flawed". Since then the US has reimposed stringent sanctions targeting the Iranian economy, particularly its oil exports. European signatories to the accord say they want to save accord but have failed to satisfy Iranian demands to provide a way around the US sanctions.

The abrasive rhetoric from Iran over the nuclear deal comes as its relations with signatories of the nuclear deal continue to deteriorate. A Revolutionary Guards commander on Friday had threatened to seize a British ship in retaliation for the capture by Royal Marines of Iranian supertanker Grace 1 in Gibraltar. On Saturday an Iranian cleric said Britain should be "scared" about Tehran's possible retaliation for the seizure of the Grace 1, the Fars semi-official news agency reported.

"I am openly saying that Britain should be scared of Iran's retaliatory measures over the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker," said Mohammad Ali Mousavi Jazayeri, a member of the Assembly of Experts clerical body.

UK-flagged supertanker Pacific Voyager which halted in the Gulf on Saturday is "safe and well", a British official said on Saturday, after Iran dismissed reports its Revolutionary Guards had seized the vessel.

The Pacific Voyager stopped in the Gulf en route to Saudi Arabia from Singapore before resuming its course, Refinitiv Eikon mapping showed.

It stopped as part of a routine procedure to adjust its arrival time at its next port, an official at UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) told Reuters.

The UKMTO, which coordinates shipping in the Gulf, had been in contact with the tanker, the official said.

Tensions are high in the Gulf following last month's attacks on vessels near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil shipping route, and Iran's downing of a U.S. drone. Washington and Saudi Arabia have directly blamed Iran for the attacks on tankers, something Tehran denies.

The attacks have raised fears of a broader confrontation in the region where the United States has boosted its military presence over perceived Iranian threats.

Iran's decision to flout the terms of the deal also comes amid a standoff with Washington over the crippling sanctions and an increased US military presence in the region since late May. Iranian leaders say the US of waging "economic warfare".

Increasing uranium enrichment levels and stockpiles brings Iran closer to producing a nuclear weapon, said Miles Pomper, a senior fellow at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies' James Marin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

"This would be a very worrisome step that could substantially shorten the time Iran would need to produce the material needed for nuclear weapons," Mr Pomper told Associated Press. "Both Iran and the Trump administration should be looking for ways to de-escalate the crisis, rather than exacerbate it."

The US said its ambassador to international organisations in Vienna, Jackie Wolcott, had requested a special meeting of the IAEA to discuss its "latest, concerning report on the Iran regime's nuclear program." The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

Updated: July 6, 2019 10:07 PM

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