Iran has suggested that it will boost uranium enrichment to 5% — well above the 3.67% cap set under the 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran has begun to row back on commitments after the US withdrew from the accord.
Iran was expected to start enriching uranium to 5% on Sunday, after repeated hints that it would break the cap set at 3.67% as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Tehran has said it plans to suspend part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which the US signed but subsequently withdrew from over a year ago.
Iran has already indicated that it plans to break the cap, having set a July 7 deadline for European powers to do more to keep the deal alive. The country accuses its European cosignatories to the 2015 nuclear deal — aimed at stopping Iran from getting closer to making its own nuclear weapons — of failing to resist US pressure to undermine the agreement.
Iran's semiofficial FARS news agency reported on Saturday that the country would announce the boost in enrichment levels on Sunday.
Iran's commitment to the 3.67% cap means uranium is being enriched at well below the 20% it was reaching before the nuclear deal. Enrichment to 90% would make the material suitable for a nuclear weapon.
'No limits on enrichment'
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani warned the international community on Wednesday that Tehran would boost its uranium enrichment to "any amount that we want" after the July 7 deadline.
Iran has also threatened to resume the building of a heavy water reactor, which would be capable of producing plutonium. The project had been mothballed as part of the JCPOA. On Monday, the country announced that it had already amassed more low-enriched uranium than is permitted under the deal.
One senior Iranian official claimed the measures were being taken because European signatories Britain, France and Germany — who signed alongside the US, Russia and China — had "indirectly violated" the accord.
"We will react proportionally the more they violate it," said Ali Akbar Velayati, the international affairs adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, in an interview for the leader's official website.
French President Emmanuel Macron conveyed his "strong concern over the risk of weakening the nuclear agreement" to Rouhani on Saturday, his office announced.
In a telephone conversation that lasted over an hour, Macron said he would consult with the Iranian authorities and international partners concerned with a view to resuming talks involving all concerned parties to bring about the "necessary de-escalation" of the situation, the Elysee palace added.
Although the European signatories have stuck with the deal, US sanctions against firms doing business with Iran have proved effective in isolating the country economically.
European powers had come up with a scheme called Instex — a barter trade mechanism which avoids US sanctions by offsetting direct financial transfers. However, Iran has said that, while the idea marks progress, it is not enough.
rc/sms (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)