This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Iran has announced that it is raising its enrichment of uranium beyond the limit set by a 2015 nuclear deal, a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the landmark agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters in Tehran on July 7 that “today we will pass” the permitted enrichment level of 3.67 percent. He said the new percentage “will be based on our needs,” but didn’t provide further details.
Tehran, however, stressed that all measures taken by Iranian authorities to reduce the country’s commitment to the nuclear deal were “reversible” if the European signatories to the pact fulfilled their obligations.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that Iran was acting to protect its interests in the face of the what he called U.S.”economic terrorism.”
“All such steps are reversible only through E3 compliance,” Zarif wrote referring to European powers Britain, Germany, and France.
Iran has in the past demanded they guarantee it the access to world trade envisioned under the deal.
Earlier, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told reporters that Iran will keep scaling back its commitments to the nuclear deal every 60 days unless the remaining signatories to the accord moved to protect it from U.S. sanctions.
Araqchi said Iran still wanted to salvage the deal but he blamed European countries for failing to live up to their own commitments.
Macron Slams ‘Violation’
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Iran’s decision to increase its uranium enrichment levels, calling it a “violation” of the agreement.
However, a source at Macron’s office said that a dispute-resolution mechanism, which is part of the deal that could eventually lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions, will not be triggered for now.
“It’s not an option at this moment,” the unnamed source was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The French president reiterated a deadline of July 15 for the resumption of dialogue between the parties, Reuters reported, citing an official at the president’s office.
On July 6, Macron spoke by phone with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rohani, saying he was trying to find a way to resume dialogue between Iran and Western partners.
A statement from the French presidency said Macron had agreed with Rohani to explore between now and July 15 conditions to “enable the resumption of dialogue between all parties” and de-escalate tensions. The statement did not explain why the July 15 date was chosen.
The statement also said Macron explained “his deep concern in the face of the risk of a new weakening of the 2015 nuclear accord, and the consequences that would necessarily follow.”
The statement did not specify what consequences could follow.
U.S. allies France, Britain, and Germany tried unsuccessfully to persuade Washington to remain in the nuclear deal, which provided Tehran with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
‘Brushing Off Red Lines’
Trump withdrew from the accord in May 2018, saying the terms were not strict enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
In response, Rohani last month announced his country would surpass the deal’s limit on an enriched uranium stockpile, saying it would exceed the 300-kilogram restriction by June 27, a move that has been confirmed by international agencies.
Rohani also said Iran would boost its uranium enrichment after July 7 beyond the 3.67 percent concentration limit set under the nuclear deal.
Tehran has said the breach would be reversible “within hours” if progress was made toward providing Iran with relief from the reimposed U.S. sanctions.
Reacting to Iran’s announcement on July 7, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a vocal opponent of the 2015 agreement, said the step was extremely dangerous and he called on Europe to impose punitive sanctions on Tehran.
“The enrichment of uranium is made for one reason and one reason only – it’s for the creation of atomic bombs,” he said.
Israel’s energy minister accused Tehran of “brushing off the red lines” and moving “toward nuclear weaponry.”
“Iran has begun — while it is a moderate rise right now — but it has begun to raise, to break out of the uranium enrichment curbs that were imposed on it,” Yuval Steinitz told Israel’s Ynet TV.
A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed concern over the announcement and said the EU was “in contact with other participants [of the deal] regarding the next steps under the terms” of the pact.
Trump had recently warned Tehran against making any threats regarding its nuclear program.
“Be careful with the threats, Iran,” he wrote in a tweet on July 3.
“They can come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before!” he added.
Before the 2015 deal was reached, Iran produced 20-percent enriched uranium, which was needed to fuel its Tehran reactor, and the level of enrichment for its southern Bushehr nuclear power plant was 5 percent.
Weapons-grade uranium is 90-percent enriched or more.