China urges diplomatic solution
VIENNA, July 8, (RTRS): Iran has enriched uranium beyond a 3.67 percent purity limit set by its deal with major powers, the UN nuclear watchdog policing the deal said on Monday, confirming a move previously announced by Tehran. “(International Atomic Energy Agency) Director General Yukiya Amano has informed the IAEA Board of Governors that Agency inspectors on 8 July verified that Iran is enriching uranium above 3.67 percent U-235,” an IAEA spokesman said.
A report to member states obtained by Reuters said the agency had verified the enrichment level using online enrichment monitors and samples had also been taken on Monday for analysis. Iran, meanwhile, threatened on Monday to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity as its next potential big moves away from a 2015 nuclear agreement that Washington abandoned last year.
The threats, made by the spokesman for Tehran’s nuclear agency, would go far beyond the small steps Iran has taken in the past week to nudge its stocks of fissile material just beyond limits in the nuclear pact. That could raise serious questions about whether the agreement, intended to block Iran from making a nuclear weapon, is still viable.
The two threats would reverse major achievements of the agreement, although Iran omitted important details about how far it might go to returning to the status quo before the pact, when Western experts believed it could build a bomb within months. In a separate standoff, Iran’s foreign minister accused Britain on Monday of “piracy, pure and simple” for seizing an Iranian oil tanker last week.
Britain says the ship was bound for Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, confirmed an announcement that Tehran had enriched uranium beyond the deal’s limit of 3.67 percent purity, passing 4.5 percent, according to the student’s news agency ISNA. That followed an announcement a week ago that it had amassed a greater quantity of low-enriched uranium than permitted. Iran has said it will take another, third step away from the deal within 60 days but has so far held back from formally announcing what it plans.
Kamalvandi said options included enriching uranium to 20 percent purity or beyond, and restarting IR-2M centrifuges that were dismantled as one of the deal’s core aims. Such threats will put new pressure on European countries, which insist Iran must continue to comply with the agreement even though the United States is no longer doing so. China regrets Iran’s decision to boost uranium enrichment above a cap set in a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, its foreign ministry said on Monday, reiterating that the standoff needed to be resolved diplomatically. At a daily briefing, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also reiterated that China called on all sides involved to exercise restraint. Washington has imposed sanctions that eliminate any of the benefits Iran was meant to receive in return for agreeing to curbs on its nuclear programme under the 2015 deal with world powers. The confrontation has brought the United States and Iran close to the brink of confl ict, with President Donald Trump calling off air strikes last month minutes before impact. Enriching uranium up to 20 percent purity would be a dramatic move, since that was the level Iran had achieved before the deal was put in place, although back then it had a far larger stockpile than it is likely to be able to rebuild in the short term. It is considered an important intermediate stage on the path to obtaining the 90 percent pure fissile uranium needed to make a bomb.
One of the main achievements of the deal was Iran’s agreement to dismantle its advanced IR-2M centrifuges, used to purify uranium. Iran had 1,000 of them installed at its large enrichment site at Natanz before the deal was reached. Under the deal, it is allowed to operate only up to two for testing. Still, the threatened measures also appear intended to be sufficiently ambiguous to hold back from fully repudiating the deal. Kamalvandi did not specify how much uranium Iran might purify to the higher level, nor how many centrifuges it would consider restarting. He did not mention other more advanced centrifuges, including the most advanced, the IR-8. Iran has said all the steps it is contemplating are reversible. The nuclear diplomacy is only one aspect of a wider confrontation between Washington and Tehran that has threatened to spiral into open confl ict since the United States sharply tightened sanctions on Iran from the start of May.