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Iran Says It Is Increasing Uranium Enrichment Fourfold

A TV grab shows three versions of domestically-built centrifuges at Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, June 6, 2018

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization announced on Monday, May 20 it has increased low level uranium enrichment fourfold, but is abiding by the nuclear agreement, keeping enrichment at level low.

Spokesman of IAEO Behruz Kamalvandi said that starting today enrichment of 3.67 percent uranium has quadrupled. This step does not mean the number or type of Iran’s centrifuges change; so Iran continues the current status in accordance with the agreement.

Iran announced May 8 that it will partially suspend implementing the 2015 nuclear agreement, demanding that the United Kingdom, France and Germany, the three European signatories of the deal, assist in trade despite the current U.S. sanctions.

The increase in the amount of uranium being enriched might end up as a violation of the agreement if it accumulates beyond the permitted 300 kilogram limit. In any case, Kamalvandi acknowledged that in a few weeks Iran will exceed the set limit.

He emphasized that soon Iran will reach the 300 kilo limit and other “parties” should take note of this fact.

It seems Iran is playing a game of brinksmanship with the U.S. and Europe, by ramping up pressure gradually.

Article 26 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA says that Iran will suspend parts or the whole agreement if sanctions are reimposed. The U.S. withdrew from the agreement in May 2018 and reimposed heavy economic sanctions during the year.

The last U.S. move was to ban Iran from shipping out excess uranium and heavy water. This puts Iran in a bind. If Iran maintains an intense enrichment pace it will reach the set limits and has to either violate the agreement or stop enrichment.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has also threatened to boost enrichment to 20 percent. Kamalvandi said that Iran’s technical needs and orders of senior leadership “will determine our next steps”.

Iran currently holds 200 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium, according to JCPOA. This was accumulated prior to the agreement. Experts believe that it would not be hard for Iran to further purify that stockpile to have enough material for one bomb.