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Tehran Hardens Its Stance, Aims At Higher-Grade Uranium Enrichment

File photo - Ali Akbar Velayati is a confidant of Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a long-term former foreign minister.

A senior adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iran will start to enrich uranium beyond the 3.67 percent agreed upon in the nuclear deal with the West, also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei's adviser for international affairs, made the statement on Thursday, adding that "Americans directly and Europeans indirectly violated the deal."

Earlier, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani had also said that Iran will no longer stick to the 3.67 percent enrichment after July 7. Tehran Friday Prayer Imam Movahedi Kermani took the threat to an even higher level on July 5, saying that "Iran will enrich uranium at any grade and in any amount it might deem necessary."

Velayati's statement is yet another sign that a defiant Tehran is hardening its tone with Europe which has so far failed to stand by its promise to help Iran avoid U.S. sanctions on its oil exports and international banking.

In a video published on Khamenei's official website on Saturday, Velayati said increasing enrichment, getting closer to weapons-grade levels was "unanimously agreed upon by every component of the establishment."

"We will show reaction proportionately, as much as they violate it. We reduce our commitments as much as they reduce theirs," said Velayati, adding, "If they go back to fulfilling their commitments, we will do so as well."

Meanwhile, it appears that various parts of the Islamic Republic establishment are now speaking with one voice against Europe while they are desperately clinging onto the 2015 nuclear deal the United States left last year demanding a new deal that would cover not only the nuclear issue, but also Iran's ballistic missile program and its interventionist Middle East policy.

All this is happening against a backdrop of serious tensions in the Persian Gulf region, where the United States has deployed new troops and military hardware including aircraft carriers, fighter jets, and B-52 bombers to tackle Iran's threats against its interests and international shipping.

During the past month, Iran has allegedly attacked oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and downed a U.S. drone, escalating the tensions to a dangerous level. President Donald Trump called off a strike on targets in Iran within minutes of its launch for humanitarian concern about possible casualties.

Iran's current enrichment level is far less than the weapons-grade 90 percent and so far the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has confirmed that Tehran has not violated the terms of the JCPOA. However, Iran's decision to give up some of its commitments under the nuclear deal could change the situation.

The United States has asked IAEA board of governors to meet on Wednesday to discuss Iran's new decision regarding its commitments. In the meantime, Russia is reportedly against the idea of holding a new IAEA meeting about Iran.

Iran's diplomatic mission to Vienna, where the IAEA is based, characterized the U.S. move "a sad irony" as America had unilaterally withdrawn from the deal in May 2018.

The JCPOA sought to prevent Iran from reaching weapons-grade enrichment by limiting the grade and quantity of enrichment. Iran has recently vowed to increase its enriched Uranium stockpile beyond the 300 kilograms allowed by the JCPOA.

According to the Associated Press, "On Monday, Iran and United Nations inspectors acknowledged it had broken the stockpile limit. Combining that with increasing its enrichment levels narrows the one-year window experts believe Iran would need to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon, if it chooses to do so."

However, Iran has constantly reiterated that it is not following a military nuclear program, although very few politicians might want to believe a regime that concealed its nuclear program from international watchdogs for decades and misrepresented its intentions in the region, such as its actions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

"This would be a very worrisome step that could substantially shortens the time Iran would need to produce the material needed for nuclear weapons," the AP quoted Miles Pomper, a senior fellow at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies' James Marin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies. "Both Iran and the Trump administration should be looking for ways to de-escalate the crisis, rather than exacerbate it," he said.

Velayati says that Iran needs 5% enriched Uranium for its only nuclear power plant, which he said currently runs on fuel imported from Russia. Also, according to Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran will also need5% enriched Uranium for its naval vessels in the future.

Iran stopped producing uranium enriched above 5% in January 2014 amid negotiations for the nuclear deal