EU vows to ‘redouble efforts’ to save Iran nuclear deal
Iran will produce up to nine kilograms of enriched uranium with the purity of 20% per month, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said on Tuesday.
"At present, we are producing 17 to 20 grams of 20% (enriched) uranium per hour. We have a production capacity of eight to nine kilograms per month to reach the 120 kilograms limit provided by law," Salehi told national TV.
"Besides, until four years ago we produced an average of four to five tons of yellow cake (annually)...and this year it will be increased to 35 to 40 tons which is eightfold" compared to four years ago, he noted.
Iran started the 20% uranium enrichment process at its Fordo facility on Monday at the order of President Hassan Rouhani.
It is Iran’s latest and most important suspension of nuclear commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers which saw the Islamic Republic limiting its enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.
Tehran began rolling back parts of its nuclear work in 2019 in response to US President Donald Trump’s dramatic withdrawal from the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in May 2018 and imposition of tough economic sanctions.
Tensions have heightened between Iran and the US in the waning days of the Trump administration.
US President-elect Joe Biden has said he is willing to reenter the nuclear deal.
The other signatories to the deal – China, France, Germany, Russia and Britain – have been playing for time, in advance of Biden’s inauguration as US president on January 20.
On Monday, AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said Iran produced its first UF6 (uranium hexafluoride or hex) product after injecting gas into centrifuges.
“Considering the previous experience of enrichment in the Fordo facility, the new production line for enriching uranium to 20% was prepared very quickly,” Kamalvandi said, according to Press TV.
He also noted that the country is prepared to enrich uranium at purity levels beyond 20 percent.
According to the AEOI, the resumption of uranium enrichment at this level of purity came in line with a law passed by the Iranian Parliament, which obliges the government to expand the country’s nuclear activities.
The legislation calls for the production and storage of “at least 120 kilograms per year of 20% enriched uranium” and to put an end to the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) if Iran does not receive the benefits promised under the nuclear deal.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said resumption of 20% uranium enrichment is legal.
"We resumed 20% enrichment, as legislated by our Parliament. IAEA has been duly notified," Zarif said in a tweet.
He emphasized that the move is in conformity with Paragraph 36 of the JCPOA, once again reiterating that all Iran's measures are reversible if other signatories to the landmark nuclear deal remain committed to their obligations.
"Our remedial action conforms fully with Para 36 of JCPOA, after years of noncompliance by several other JCPOA participants. Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL," the top diplomat tweeted.
Enrichment not to kill JCPOA
Zarif's deputy, Seyyed Abbas Araqchi, echoed his remarks in a televised interview, and said the 20% uranium enrichment is not going to kill the 2015 nuclear deal, and is in conformity with the multilateral accord.
"The 20% enriched uranium is what Tehran's atomic reactor needs, and we restarted the process based on the Parliament's legislation. If the other parties return to their commitments, we can also get back to our JCPOA commitments. We started enrichment to 20 percent in 12 hours," Araqchi said.
He said Iran enriches its uranium based on its need and does not believe in nuclear weapons.
"These weapons have no position in our security and defense doctrine. Our programs are based on on-the-ground needs, and we don't need enrichment beyond 20%," he clarified.
The IAEA confirmed in a statement that Iran started the process.
"IAEA inspectors were present at the site to detach the agency's seal from a cylinder with the feed material" and that "the cylinder was then connected to the feeding line to start the production of uranium enriched up to 20 percent", the statement said.
A total of 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges were being used in the process, the IAEA said.
The European Union pledged Tuesday to try to salvage the JCPOA.
EU spokesman Peter Stano said the bloc noted the steps taken by Iran "with deep concern" and insisted "we will redouble our efforts to preserve the agreement and return to its full implementation by all parties", AFP reported.
“This action is in breach of Iran’s nuclear commitments and will have serious implications,” he told a regular briefing. “It is regrettable but it is also highly important and ... that we maintain the agreement.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Tuesday said the Iran nuclear issue was at a critical juncture and was “extremely complex and sensitive”, Reuters reported.
“China urges all sides to exercise calm and restraint, to stick to the commitments of the agreement and to refrain from taking actions that might escalate tensions, so as to make space for diplomatic efforts and a change in the situation,” she told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
“The urgent task at hand is for all sides to push the United States to return unconditionally to the agreement and remove all relevant sanctions,” Hua said.
Doing so could help bring the agreement back onto “the right track”, she said.
Japan's top government spokesman on Tuesday said the country was deeply concerned about Iran's resumption of 20% uranium enrichment.
"The government has strong concerns about this move, which is a breach of a nuclear agreement," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters.