Thursday 19 September 2019

Iran pushes nuclear brinkmanship to edge

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the Iranian nuclear agency spokesman. Photo: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
Behrouz Kamalvandi, the Iranian nuclear agency spokesman. Photo: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

John Gambrell

Iran yesterday said it now uses arrays of advanced centrifuges prohibited by its 2015 nuclear deal and can enrich uranium "much more beyond" current levels to weapons-grade material, taking a third step away from the accord while warning Europe has little time to offer new terms.

While insisting Iran doesn't seek a nuclear weapon, the comments threatened pushing uranium enrichment far beyond levels ever reached in the country.

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Prior to the atomic deal, Iran only reached up to 20pc, which itself still is only a short technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90pc.

The move threatened to push tensions between Iran and the US even higher, more than a year after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal and imposed sanctions now crushing Iran's economy. Mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran shooting down a US military surveillance drone and other incidents across the wider Middle East followed Trump's decision.

By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material to build a nuclear bomb if it chose to pursue one.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the Iranian nuclear agency spokesman, stressed that although "the Islamic Republic is not after the bomb", he warned that Iran was running out of ways to stay in the accord. "If Europeans want to make any decision, they should do it soon," he said. France had floated a proposed $15bn line of credit to allow Iran to sell its oil abroad despite US sanctions. Another trade mechanism proposed by Europe called INSTEX also has faced difficulty.

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