TEHRAN – Iran’s nuclear energy agency announced on Monday a fourfold increase in production of enriched uranium and said that it was weeks away from breaching the limit set on its uranium stockpile by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral pact that promised Tehran sanctions relief in return for accepting restrictions on its nuclear activities.
“This issue does not mean that there is an increase in the purity of the material or that there’s an increase in the number of centrifuge machines or that there’s a change in the type of centrifuges,” agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said.
The JCPOA, which the United States renounced a year ago, allows Iran to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent, a fraction of the 90 percent required for weapons-grade material.
Kamalvandi said that while Iran has no plans to withdraw from the JCPOA, it needs the remaining signatories – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany – to make good on pledges to assist Tehran in coping with draconian US sanctions.
Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran is required to limit its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 300kg (660lbs), though the pact includes a provision permitting Tehran to exchange surplus enriched uranium with Russia.
Washington, however, recently ended the sanctions waiver that facilitated those transactions, leaving Iran with the choice of either halting enrichment entirely or breaching the 300kg limit.
“It won’t be long until we pass the 300-kg limit of low enriched uranium. So it’s better for the other side to do what it’s necessary to be done,” Kamalvandi said Monday.
Following US moves aimed at stopping Iranian oil exports and crippling the country’s financial system, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on May 8 that the remaining JCPOA partners had 60 days to take concrete steps to counter the Washington sanctions or see Tehran suspend adherence to some provisions of the nuclear deal.
Kamalvandi said that while China and Russia have responded positively to Rouhani’s appeal, the Islamic Republic is still waiting for the European JCPOA signatories to honor their commitments.
Iran has the technical means to enrich uranium beyond 3.67 percent, the spokesman said, citing comments by nuclear energy director Ali Akbar Salehi that Iran would need only four days to bring the enrichment rate back to the pre-JCPOA level of 20 percent.
President Donald Trump’s administration decided to beef up the already substantial US military presence in the Persian Gulf region based on unspecified “indications” of Iranian plans to attack American forces in the Middle East.
Concern has been increasing that US National Security Adviser John Bolton, a long-time hawk on Iran who was instrumental in instigating the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush, is trying to orchestrate a military confrontation with Iran.