Tehran can resume enriching uranium up to 20 percent within a matter of 48 hours if the U.S. backs out of the nuclear deal, the spokesman of the Islamic Republic’s Atomic Energy Organization said March 5.
“We are capable of returning to our former enrichment capacity, or even to increased capacity several times more advanced than the previous one,” Behrooz Kamalvandi said.
Enriching uranium up to 20 percent is well above the five percent required for civilian nuclear purposes like energy production, but far below the 80-90 percent enrichment needed for a nuclear weapon.
Speaking to Arabic TV channel Al Alam, Kamalvandi said uranium enrichment can be quickly boosted with the help of new centrifuges if the U.S. scraps the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he might do.
The JCPOA is the agreement reached in 2015 between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany and the European Union, for Iran to destroy most of its stockpiles of enriched uranium and strictly limit new enrichment in exchange for the easing of economic and financial sanctions.
Tehran further committed to limit the number of active centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear site to 5,060 for ten years, and not to instate any new centrifuges. However, according to Kamalvandi, Tehran is now capable of enriching uranium with “new machines.”
President Trump has always insisted that JCPOA should either be dismantled or renegotiated.
“The Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement,” Trump said in October 2017. “The Iranian regime has also intimidated international inspectors into not using the full inspection authorities that the agreement calls for…Iranian officials and military leaders have repeatedly claimed they will not allow inspectors onto military sites, even though the international community suspects some of those sites were part of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.”
On January 12, Trump set a four-month deadline for Congress and European allies to fix what he described as “disastrous flaws” in the deal, warning that otherwise he will withdraw the U.S. from it.
Kamalvandi, meanwhile, says U.S. conditions for maintaining JCPOA are “impractical” and that Tehran would never agree to limit its nuclear activities forever.
“Depriving Iran of its right to nuclear activities forever is an American dream that will not come true,” Kamalvandi said, adding that Trump “isn’t brave enough” to follow through on threats to dismantle the nuclear deal.
“If one intends to do something, there is no reason to just talk about it,” he said.
Iranian authorities have always insisted the missile program has only defense purposes and has nothing to do with its nuclear activities. “We have only committed ourselves to refrain from testing or producing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and we have done that so far,” said Kamalvandi.
Nevertheless, it appears the positions of European signatories to JCPOA are slowly but surely starting to align with President Trump’s. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Tehran March 5, and called upon the Islamic Republic’s top officials to curb its missile program. After a day of tense discussions in Tehran aimed at salvaging its historic nuclear deal, Le Drian admitted there is “Still a lot of work to do.”