Subscribe to the Real Truth for FREE news and analysis.Subscribe Now
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s president warned that Tehran will increase its enrichment of uranium to “any amount that we want” beginning on Sunday, putting further pressure on European nations to save its faltering nuclear deal and offer a way around intense U.S. sanctions.
President Hassan Rouhani’s threat, combined with Iran surpassing the stockpile limits of the 2015 atomic accord, could narrow the estimated one-year window it would need to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon, something Iran denies it wants but the deal sought to prevent.
But as tensions rise a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the deal, it looks unlikely that Europe can offer Iran a way to sell its oil on the global market despite U.S. sanctions.
All this comes as the U.S. has rushed an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and F-22 fighters to the region and Iran recently shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone. On Wednesday, Iran also marked the anniversary of the U.S. Navy shooting down an Iranian passenger jet in 1988, a mistake that killed 290 people and shows the danger of miscalculation in the current crisis.
“The Trump administration is pushing the center of Iranian politics to the right at the determent of the Iranian people and the entire region,” said Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group. “Rouhani is clearly at the end of his rope and has no choice other than green lighting further escalation.”
Mr. Rouhani, still viewed inside Iran as a relatively moderate cleric in the country’s Shiite theocracy, has taken an increasingly hardline tone in his remarks to the West. Particularly, he and others in his administration target European signatories to the nuclear deal for not doing enough to ease restrictions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors.
That continued Wednesday in a televised address to his Cabinet. His remarks seemed to signal that Europe has yet to offer Iran anything to alleviate the pain of the renewed U.S. sanctions targeting its oil industry and top officials.
The deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium to 3.67 percent, which is enough for nuclear power plants but far below the 90 percent needed for weapons. It also limited its stockpile of enriched uranium to 661 pounds. In exchange, Iran saw crippling economic sanctions lifted.
But after Mr. Trump withdrew from the deal, those sanctions and even more-stringent newer ones took effect. On Monday, both Iran and the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency confirmed that Tehran had breached that stockpile limit.
“From July 7 onward, the level of our enrichment will not be at 3.67% anymore,” Mr. Rouhani said Wednesday. “We will put aside this commitment as much as we want to and to any level we think is necessary and we need.”
However, Mr. Rouhani’s remarks, while strident, seemed to still insist last-minute diplomacy could be possible.
“Our advice to Europe and the United States is to go back to logic and to the negotiating table,” he said. “Go back to understanding, to respecting the law and resolutions of the UN Security Council. Under those conditions, all of us can abide by the nuclear deal.”
There was no immediate reaction in Europe, where the EU just the day before finalized nominations to take over the bloc’s top posts.
Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have launched a series of bomb-laden drone attacks on Saudi Arabia. Iran also shot down an over $100 million U.S. military surveillance drone on June 20, nearly sparking a retaliatory American strike.
Iranian state TV reported that the powerful Imam Reza Foundation, a religious body that manages vast endowments and businesses across Iran, awarded medals to those who shot down the U.S. drone.