Iran makes new nuclear threats that would reverse steps in pact

The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria

GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran threatened on Monday to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity as its next potential big moves away from a 2015 nuclear agreement that Washington abandoned last year. The threats, made by the spokesman for Tehran’s nuclear agency, would go far beyond the small steps Iran has taken in the past week to nudge its stocks of fissile material just beyond limits in the nuclear pact. That could raise serious questions about whether the agreement, intended to block Iran from making a nuclear weapon, is still viable. The two threats would reverse major achievements of the agreement, although Iran omitted important details about how far it might go to returning to the status quo before the pact, when Western experts believed it could build a bomb within months.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, confirmed an announcement that Tehran had enriched uranium beyond the deal’s limit of 3.67% purity, passing 4.5%, according to the student’s news agency ISNA.

That followed an announcement a week ago that it had amassed a greater quantity of low-enriched uranium than permitted. Iran has said it will take another, third step away from the deal within 60 days but has so far held back from formally announcing what it plans. Kamalvandi said options included enriching uranium to 20% purity or beyond, and restarting IR-2 M centrifuges that were dismantled as one of the deal’s core aims. Such threats will put new pressure on European countries, which insist Iran must continue to comply with the agreement even though the United States is no longer doing so. Enriching uranium up to 20% purity would be a dramatic move, since that was the level Iran had achieved before the deal was put in place, although back then it had a far larger stockpile than it is likely to be able to rebuild in the short term. It is considered an important intermediate stage on the path to obtaining the 90% pure fissile uranium needed to make a bomb.