TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Saturday said it now uses arrays of advanced centrifuges prohibited by its 2015 nuclear deal and can enrich uranium “much more beyond” current levels to weapons-grade material, taking a third step away from the accord while warning Europe has little time to offer it new terms.
While insisting Iran doesn’t seek a nuclear weapon, the comments by Behrouz Kamalvandi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran threatened pushing uranium enrichment far beyond levels ever reached in the country. Prior to the atomic deal, Iran only reached up to 20%, which itself still is only a short technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.
The move threatened to push tensions between Iran and the U.S. even higher more than a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal and imposed sanctions now crushing Iran’s economy. Mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone and other incidents across the wider Middle East followed Trump’s decision.
“So far, Iran has showed patience before the U.S. pressures and Europeans’ indifference,” said Qassem Babaei, a 33-year-old electrician in Tehran. “Now they should wait and see how Iran achieves its goals.”
Iran separately acknowledged Saturday it had seized another ship and detained 12 Filipino crewmembers, while satellite images suggested an Iranian oil tanker once held by Gibraltar was now off the coast of Syria despite Tehran promising its oil wouldn’t go there.
Speaking to journalists while flanked by advanced centrifuges, Kamalvandi said Iran has begun using an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges and another 20 of IR-4 centrifuges. An IR-6 can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as an IR-1, Iranian officials say, while an IR-4 produces five times as fast.
The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one.
“Under current circumstances, the Islamic Republic of Iran is capable of increasing its enriched uranium stockpile as well as its enrichment levels and that is not just limited to 20 percent,” Kamalvandi said. “We are capable inside the country to increase the enrichment much more beyond that.”