Iran Tells United Nations of Plans to Enrich Uranium to 20%
(Bloomberg) -- Iran informed the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog that it may start enriching uranium to levels well above those allowed under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency reported.
The Islamic Republic submitted a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency as its official notice that it may produce 20% enriched uranium after the country passed a law calling for the measure, ISNA cited Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying.
Salehi’s comments come at a sensitive time as Iranians mark the one-year anniversary of the U.S. assassination of General Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. The killing pushed the long-term foes to the brink of war, capping a security crisis in the Persian Gulf that started when President Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal.
That agreement placed strict limits of 3.67% on the purity level of enriched uranium Iran is permitted to produce. The country breached the cap in response to Trump’s withdrawal and after the European Union was unable to offer relief from U.S. sanctions.
Iran last month passed a law triggering the hike in enrichment levels and halting voluntary UN nuclear inspections, if the U.S. doesn’t provide sanctions relief within months of its implementation. The legislation says the ramp-up in atomic activity is for peaceful purposes.
While the law has been approved by Iran’s top political chamber, Salehi said President Hassan Rouhani still needs to issue a directive and an “action order” for its official implementation to begin.
“We are soldiers and our hands are on the trigger. Once the chief gives the order, we can act very quickly,” Salehi said. Even if Iran does act, it still would be some distance from accumulating all the components required for a weapon -- something it’s repeatedly said it’s not seeking.
Iran has said it wants to develop a civilian atomic program and upgrade aging power stations, though the U.S. accuses it of trying to build a nuclear bomb. The 2015 nuclear deal was designed to satisfy concerns among Western powers, including the U.S. and EU, in exchange for sanctions relief.
About 630 kilograms (1,389 pounds) of low-enriched uranium must be purified to 90% to yield the 15-22 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium needed by an expert bomb-maker to craft a weapon.
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