Wednesday 23 October 2019

Iran defiant as it steps up uranium enrichment plan

Tensions with Europe, US rise over nuclear power

Abbas Araqchi, Iranian deputy foreign minister for political affairs (R), Behrouz Kamalvandi, Iran's Atomic Energy Organization spokesman (L) and Iran's government spokesman Ali Rabiei attend a news conferenece in Tehran, Iran July 7, 2019. Photo: Reuters
Abbas Araqchi, Iranian deputy foreign minister for political affairs (R), Behrouz Kamalvandi, Iran's Atomic Energy Organization spokesman (L) and Iran's government spokesman Ali Rabiei attend a news conferenece in Tehran, Iran July 7, 2019. Photo: Reuters

Jon Gambrell Tehran

Iran increased its uranium enrichment beyond the limit allowed by its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, as it tries to build pressure for a diplomatic solution to heightened tensions with the US.

Iran increased its uranium enrichment beyond the limit allowed by its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, as it tries to build pressure for a diplomatic solution to heightened tensions with the US.

Iran's move, coupled with earlier abandoning the deal's limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile, intensifies pressure on Europe to find any effective way around US sanctions that block Tehran's oil sales abroad.

But the future of the accord that President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US from a year ago remains in question. While Iran's recent measures could be easily reversed, Europe has struggled to respond, even after getting a 60-day warning that the increase was coming.

Meanwhile, experts fear a miscalculation in the crisis could explode into open conflict, as Mr Trump already has nearly bombed Iran over Tehran shooting down a US military surveillance drone.

International reaction to Iran's decision came swiftly, with Britain warning Iran to "immediately stop and reverse all activities" violating the deal, Germany saying it was "extremely concerned", and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime critic of the accord, urging world powers to impose so-called "snapback sanctions" on Tehran.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: "Iran's latest expansion of its nuclear program will lead to further isolation and sanctions. Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran's nuclear program. Iran's regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the world."

Under the nuclear deal, the cap for enrichment was set at 3.67pc, a percentage closely monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog.

"Within hours, the technical tasks will be done and enrichment above 3.67pc will begin," Iran nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. "We predict that the IAEA measurements early tomorrow morning will show that we have gone beyond 3.67pc."

Ali Akbar Velayati, an aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, explained Iran's need for 5pc enrichment in a video released on Saturday. Bushehr, Iran's only nuclear power plant, is now running on imported fuel from Russia that's enriched to around 5pc.

On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron told his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, in a phone call that he is trying to find a way by July 15 to resume the dialogue between Iran and Western partners.

Enriched uranium at the 3.67pc level is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90pc.

The decision to ramp up uranium enrichment came less than a week after Iran acknowledged breaking the deal's 300kg limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile. Experts warn higher enrichment and a growing stockpile narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.

The steps taken so far by Iran show it is more interested in applying political pressure than moving toward a nuclear weapon, according to Daryl G Kimball, the executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

Irish Independent

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