Iran will relaunch its nuclear program and enrich uranium at a higher level than it has previously if Russia, China, and European powers follow the U.S. example and stop honoring Iran's 2015 nuclear agreement, Iran's nuclear agency has warned.
"We will not return to previous levels if our counterparts leave the [nuclear deal], but will instead reach even more advanced levels," Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi was quoted as saying by state broadcaster IRIB on September 5.
"We are at a considerably more advanced status than when we signed the deal. The country is moving ahead in nuclear activities at a favorable pace," he said.
Iranian leaders have repeatedly said they will resume high-level uranium enrichment if the nuclear deal -- which put curbs on Iran's nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief -- falls apart. High-level enrichment is needed to produce uranium that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Following the withdrawal of the United States in May, the agreement's other parties -- Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, and the European Union -- all vowed to keep honoring it and have been scrambling to find ways to answer Iran's demands that it continue to experience the deal's promised economic benefits.
But Tehran has expressed increasing skepticism that those countries will be able to counter the negative effects from renewed U.S. economic sanctions, including a steep drop in the Iranian currency, which are already battering Iran's economy.
Last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran should be ready to "set aside" the agreement if it is no longer in the country's national interests.
That statement came even as the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran has continued to abide by the agreement, despite the U.S. move to begin reimposing sanctions last month.
The nuclear deal allowed Iran to continue some low-level uranium enrichment activities for civilian purposes. The Iranian agency's disclosure on September 5 that it already has advanced beyond levels reached before the 2015 agreement is likely to stoke skepticism about the effectiveness of the nuclear accord in Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump said he decided to withdraw from the deal in part because it did not do enough to prevent Iran from eventually developing the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon.
Despite escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, on September 5, Trump said he was still open to negotiating with Iran over a new nuclear deal -- an offer he has made several times in recent months only to be spurned by Tehran.
Trump told reporters at the White House that he would be willing to meet with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rohani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York later this month.
"It's possible, anything is possible," Trump said. "We'll see what happens with Iran. Whether they want to talk or not, that's up to them, not up to me."
Trump claimed that "Iran is a much different place than when I took over the presidency," describing the country as currently "in turmoil."
"When I took office, it was just a question of how long until they took over the entire Middle East. Now they are just worrying about their own survival as a country," he said.
Trump is due to lead a September 26 meeting of heads of state of the UN Security Council, with the goal of ramping up pressure on Tehran over its alleged violations of UN council resolutions.