U.S. denounces 'nuclear blackmail' over Iran's uranium limit.
DUBAI / WASHINGTON: Iran announced Monday it would soon breach limits on the amount of enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 international agreement, in a new point of contention with the U.S., which accused Tehran of "nuclear blackmail."
Tensions between Iran and the United States are rising more than a year after President Donald Trump announced Washington was withdrawing from the nuclear deal.
The accord, which Iran and the other signatories have maintained following Trump's decision, caps Iran's stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg enriched to 3.67 percent, which is far below the 90 percent needed for weapons grade uranium.
But Iran's Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said Monday: "We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment [of uranium] and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit."
"Iran's reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate," he told state TV, adding that "the move will be reversed once other parties fulfill their commitments."
The move further undermines the nuclear pact also signed by Russia, Britain, Germany, China and the European Union, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.
A White House National Security Council spokesman said Iran's plan amounted to "nuclear blackmail" and must be met with increased international pressure.
Britain said if Iran breached agreed limits then London would look at "all options." However, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.
A series of U.N. inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments.
Iran's Rouhani said Monday that European nations still had time to save the accord.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he regretted Iran's announcement but that Paris would hold talks with Iran and its partners to avoid any further escalation in the region.
Kamalvandi, in a news conference at Iran's Arak heavy water nuclear reactor which has been reconfigured under the deal, said Tehran could rebuild the underground facility to make it functional. Heavy water can be employed in reactors to produce plutonium, a fuel used in nuclear warheads.
Mojtaba Zolnour, head of Parliament's nuclear committee, said Iran would quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty against the spread of nuclear weapons unless European powers saved the 2015 agreement.
The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani said Iran had exposed a cyber espionage network, accused the CIA of running it and that several U.S. spies had been arrested in different countries as a result.
U.S.-Iran tensions are growing again following attacks last Thursday on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil shipping route. Trump's administration has accused Iran of being behind the incidents. Iran denies having any role.
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|Publication:||The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)|
|Date:||Jun 18, 2019|
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