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Iran nuke chief promises ‘much, much higher’ nuke program if deal collapses

Ali Akbar Salehi, Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, delivers his statement at the 54th Regular Session of the IAEA General Conference. IAEA, Vienna, Austria, 20 September 2010. (Dean Calma/International Atomic Energy Agency)
September 11, 2018

Iran has been ramping up its nuclear program in recent years, and now has their strongest nuclear capabilities yet, and could grow even stronger if the nuclear agreement falls apart.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and vice president to Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani, told the Associated Press in an exclusive interview on Tuesday that Iran hopes the nuclear agreement between the remaining world powers continues, but Iran is prepared if it the agreement collapses.

If the nuclear deal does collapse, Iran is prepared to implement a phased plan of increased nuclear production.

Salehi said uranium enrichment could increase to “20 percent because this is our need,” and their stockpile of enriched uranium would also increase. Iran already doubled its stockpile in recent years, rising to 950 tons.

“If we have to go back and withdraw from the nuclear deal, we certainly do not go back to where we were before,” Salehi said. “We will be standing on a much, much higher position.”

Iran and its nuclear agreement have been threatened by President Trump’s decision to pull the United States from the deal this past May, as well as sanctions imposed on Iran.

“I think (Trump) is on the loser’s side because he is pursuing the logic of power,” Salehi told the AP. “He thinks that he can, you know, continue for some time but certainly I do not think he will benefit from this withdrawal, certainly not.”

Iran’s currency, the rial, has already dropped significantly, causing an even weaker Iranian economy. In addition to sanctions from the U.S., numerous Western firms have retracted their business from Iran. Additional sanctions are expected to be enacted against Iran in Nov., which will be a detriment to Iran’s oil industry, and subsequent funding to the government.

Iran has long insisted that its nuclear program has existed for peaceful purposes, leaving many to question why it continues to expand the program – especially the rapid growth in recent years.

The 2015 nuclear deal intended to restrict Iran’s nuclear development. Under the deal, Iran’s centrifuge storage was subjected to routine surveillance by U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran was permitted to use older model centrifuges for low-level enrichment.

Iran recently completed construction of a centrifuge production facility at the Natanz nuclear site. The new facility will expand production of advanced centrifuges to be used in increased uranium enrichment.

“This does not mean that we are going to produce these centrifuges now. This is just a preparation,” Salehi said. “In case Iran decides to start producing in mass production such centrifuges, (we) would be ready for that.”