Iran Says It Passed Enriched Uranium Cap in Most Substantial Breach of Nuclear Deal Yet

Semi-official media in Iran is quoting the country’s nuclear agency spokesman as saying Tehran is now enriching uranium to 4.5% - a major violation of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers

The Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak, Iran, January 15, 2011
Mehdi Marizad,AP

Semi-official media in Iran is quoting the country’s nuclear agency spokesman as saying Tehran is now enriching uranium to 4.5%, a move that is Tehran's first major violation of the nuclear agreement, which President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of in May 2018.

Iran also threatened on Monday to restart deactivated centrifuges and sharply step up its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity as its next potential big moves away from the nuclear deal.

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The ISNA and Fars news agencies separately quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

Kamalvandi told the agencies this decision met the needs that Iran has now.

Kamalvandi said Monday Iran has passed the 3.67% uranium enrichment cap set by its landmark 2015 nuclear deal and may enrich at even higher levels. Iran earlier broke a limit put on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

In response, the European Commission spokesperson said in a statement that the EU is "extremely concerned" about Iran's announcement, adding that Brussels urges Tehran to stop and reverse any activities going against the deal's limits.

Iran said on Sunday it would boost uranium enrichment above the cap, prompting a warning from U.S. President Donald Trump, who wants the pact renegotiated, that Tehran "better be careful." 

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"Twenty percent is not needed now, but if we want we will produce it. When we've put aside 3.67% enrichment we have no obstacle or problem with this action," Kamalvandi was quoted as saying, noting that options for enriching at higher levels had been discussed with the Supreme National Security Council.

"There is the 20% option and there are options even higher than that but each in its own place. Today if our country's needs are one thing, we won't pursue something else just to scare the other side a little more.

"But they know it's an upward trend," he said.

Increasing the number of centrifuges is an option for Iran's third step in reducing its commitments to the nuclear deal, Kamalvandi said, noting that restarting IR-2 and IR-2 M centrifuges is an option.

The remaining European signatories to the nuclear deal should act quickly to fulfill their promises because Iran will continue reducing its commitments to the deal until it achieves a result, Kamalvandi said, according to IRIB.

Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium. That’s compared to the 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds) of higher-enriched uranium it once had. Currently, the accord limits Iran to enriching uranium to 3.67%, which can fuel a commercial nuclear power plant. Weapons-grade uranium needs to be enriched to around 90%.

However, once a country enriches uranium to around 20%, scientists say the time needed to reach 90% is halved. Iran previously has enriched to 20%.

Reuters contributed to this report