Tehran says it can exceed 20% enrichment level
US not surprised, other signatories express concerns
Bolton says released Iranian tanker in Syrian port
Filipinos arrested as boat seized in Strait of Hormuz
Iran yesterday said it was now capable of raising uranium enrichment past the 20% level and had launched advanced centrifuge machines in further breaches of commitments to limit its nuclear activity under a 2015 deal with world powers.
“We have started lifting limitations on our Research and Development imposed by the deal ... It will include development of more rapid and advanced centrifuges,” Iranian nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told a televised news conference.
The 2015 pact curbed Iran’s disputed nuclear programme in exchange for relief from sanctions, but has unravelled since the United States pulled out of it last year and acted to strangle Iran’s oil trade to push it into wider security concessions.
Since May, Iran has begun to exceed limits on its nuclear capacity set by the pact in retaliation for US pressure on Iran to negotiate restrictions on its ballistic missile programme and support for proxy forces around the Middle East.
Iran says its measures are reversible if European signatories to the accord manage to restore its access to foreign trade promised under the nuclear deal but blocked by the reimposition of US sanctions.
The deal capped the level of purity to which Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67 percent - suitable for civilian power generation and far below the 90% threshold of nuclear weapons grade.
UN nuclear inspectors reported in July that Iran had cranked up enrichment to 4.5% purity. Kamalvandi said Tehran could now exceed the 20% level, a significant leap towards the critical 90%, “but right now there is no need for that”.
He added, however: “European parties to the deal should know that there is not much time left, and if there is some action to be taken (to rescue the pact), it should be done quickly.”
Kamalvandi stressed that IAEA inspectors retained full and regular access to Iran’s nuclear installations and again denied that Tehran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Acting IAEA chief Cornel Feruta was due in Tehran to meet Iranian officials today.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said he was “not surprised that Iran has announced that it’s going to violate the JCPOA”.
Britain called Iran’s move “particularly disappointing at a time when we and our European and international partners are working hard to de-escalate tensions”.
Meanwhile, US national security advisor John Bolton said that the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, blacklisted by Washington, has arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus.
The Adrian Darya 1 had been held for six weeks by the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on suspicion it was set to deliver oil from Iran to its main Arab ally Syria -- a violation of European Union sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad’s iron-fisted regime. Gibraltar released the ship, formerly called the Grace 1, on August 18 espite US protests.
In another development, Iran yesterday seized a boat and arrested 12 Filipinos as it busted a “fuel-smuggling ring” in the Strait of Hormuz.
“A foreign tugboat was confiscated as well as 283,900 litres of petrol worth about $2 million,” ISNA said, citing the coast guard chief in the southern province of Hormozgan.