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Iran Says It Is Raising Uranium Enrichment In Breach Of Nuclear Deal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and head of Iran's nuclear technology organization Ali Akbar Salehi (2-R) visit a nuclear facility during the National Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran, April 9, 2019

Iran has announced that it is raising its enrichment of uranium beyond the limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal, a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from a landmark nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran.

Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters in Tehran on July 7 that "today we will pass" the permitted enrichment level of 3.67 percent.

He said the new percentage "will be based on our needs," but didn’t provided further details.

The announcement comes a day after French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, saying he was trying to find a way to resume dialogue between Iran and Western partners.

A statement from the French presidency said Marcon explained "his deep concern in the face of the risk of a new weakening of the 2015 nuclear accord, and the consequences that would necessarily follow."

The statement did not specify what consequences could follow, but the United States has already reimposed hard-hitting financial sanctions against Tehran that have help devastate the country’s economy.

Macron also said he had agreed with Rouhani to explore between now and July 15 conditions to "enable the resumption of dialogue between all parties" and de-escalate tensions.

The statement did not explain why the July 15 date was chosen.

U.S. allies France, Britain, and Germany tried unsuccessfully to persuade Washington to remain in the nuclear deal, which provided Tehran with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Trump withdrew from the accord in May 2018, saying the terms were not strict enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

In response, Rouhani last month announced his country would surpass the deal’s limit on enriched uranium stockpiles, saying it would exceed the 300-kilogram restriction by June 27, a move that has been confirmed by international agencies.

Rouhani also said Iran would boost its uranium enrichment after July 7 beyond the 3.67 percent concentration limit set under the nuclear deal.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the increase would still be in line with civilian use.

"For example, we need uranium enriched to 5 percent for use in the Bushehr [power plant], and this is a completely peaceful purpose," Velayati said.

Tehran has said the breach would be reversible "within hours" if progress is made toward providing Iran with relief from the reimposed U.S. sanctions.

Trump recently warned Tehran against making any threats regarding its nuclear program.

“Be careful with the threats, Iran," he wrote in a tweet on July 3.

"They can come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before!” he added.

European diplomats have said that further breaches of the accord could see the so-called E3 -- France, Britain, and Germany - trigger a dispute-resolution mechanism that is part of the deal that could eventually lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa