Iran Informs UN It's Starting Process to Increase Uranium Enrichment

Iran announces work on advanced centrifuges – but says new nuclear activity still within deal

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on June 4, 2018 shows him greeting the crowd during a ceremony on the occasion of the 29th anniversary of the death of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at his mausoleum in a suburb of Tehran.
HO/AFP

Iran has told the UN nuclear watchdog that it will increase its nuclear enrichment capacity within the limits set by the 2015 agreement with world powers.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for Iran's nuclear agency, was quoted by state TV on Tuesday as saying a letter was submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency detailing the move.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had ordered the increase in a speech Monday, in which he vowed that the country would preserve its nuclear program despite the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark 2015 accord. Iran has said it has the option of resuming industrial-scale enrichment now that the U.S. has withdrawn from the deal.

The agreement set strict limits on Iran's uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions.

Iran has begun working on infrastructure for building advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility, Ali Akbar Salehi, the director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said on Tuesday. 

Iran's nuclear activities would remain within the framework of the deal, Salehi said. Salehi also said Iran had developed infrastructure to produce electricity at Natanz.

Iran was set to inform the UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna on Tuesday over its start of a process to increase the country’s uranium enrichment capacity, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told ISNA news agency.

“In a letter that will be handed over to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ... Iran will announce that the process of increasing the capacity to produce ... UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) ... will start on Tuesday,” Kamalvandi said.

He said Iran had the capacity to accelerate production of centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium. The UF6 is a feedstock for centrifuges.

Khamenei said on Monday he had ordered preparations to increase uranium enrichment capacity if a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers falls apart after the U.S. withdrawal from it last month.

“The leader (Khamenei) meant that we should accelerate some process ... linked to our nuclear work capacity to move forward faster in case needed,” Kamalvandi said.

European signatories of the accord back the deal but have concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile program and its influence in the Middle East. Iran says the two issues are non-negotiable.

Under the agreement with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China, Iran strictly limited uranium enrichment capacity to satisfy the powers that it could not be used to develop atomic bombs.

In exchange, Iran received relief from sanctions, most of which were rescinded in January 2016.

The deal allows Iran to continue 3.67 percent uranium enrichment, far below the roughly 90 percent threshold of weapons-grade. Before the deal was reached, Tehran enriched uranium to up to 20 percent purity.

Since President Donald Trump’s announcement of the U.S. exit on May 8, EU leaders have pledged to try to keep Iran’s oil trade and investment flowing but admitted that will not be easy to do.

Iranian authorities have said that if the European countries failed to keep the pact alive, Tehran had several options, including resuming its 20 percent uranium enrichment.