Nuclear officials have revealed that Iran quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity amid tensions with the US over Tehran’s atomic programme.
The announcement came after US president Donald Trump and Iran’s foreign minister traded threats and taunts on Twitter.
Iranian officials stressed that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers – making it usable for a power plant, but far below what is needed for an atomic weapon.
However, by increasing production, Iran soon will exceed the stockpile limitations set by the accord.
Tehran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to set new terms for the deal, or it will enrich closer to weapons-grade levels. The Middle East is already on edge, and the Trump administration has deployed bombers and an aircraft carrier to the region over unspecified threats from Iran.
If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2019
Already this month, officials in the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers were sabotaged. Yemeni rebels allied with Iran launched a drone attack on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, and US diplomats relayed a warning that commercial airlines could be misidentified by Iran and attacked, although this was dismissed by Tehran.
On Sunday, a rocket landed near the US embassy in the Green Zone of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, days after non-essential US staff were ordered to evacuate from diplomatic posts in the country. No-one was reported injured.
Iraqi military spokesman Brig Gen Yahya Rasoul told the Associated Press that the rocket was believed to have been fired from eastern Baghdad, an area home to Iran-backed Shia militias.
The Iranian enrichment announcement came after local journalists travelled to Natanz in central Iran, the country’s underground enrichment facility.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, as acknowledging that capacity had been quadrupled.
Goaded by #B_Team, @realdonaldTrump hopes to achieve what Alexander, Genghis & other aggressors failed to do. Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone. #EconomicTerrorism & genocidal taunts won't "end Iran". #NeverThreatenAnIranian. Try respect—it works!
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 20, 2019
He said Iran took this step because the US had ended a programme allowing it to exchange enriched uranium to Russia for unprocessed yellowcake uranium, as well as ending the sale of heavy water to Oman. Heavy water helps cool reactors producing plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Mr Kamalvandi said Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of the development.
Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its programme could allow it to build them.
Before Iran’s announcement, Mr Trump tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”
But allowing #B_Team to trash diplomacy & abet war crimes—by milking despotic butchers via massive arms sales—achieves nothing but empowering that same complex.
Time to #DrainTheSwamp?
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 20, 2019
His remarks reflect what has been a strategy of alternating tough talk with more conciliatory statements he says is aimed at keeping Iran guessing at the administration’s intentions. He also has said he hopes Iran calls him and engages in negotiations.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif soon responded by tweeting that Mr Trump had been “goaded” into “genocidal taunts”. Mr Zarif referenced both Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan as two historical leaders that Persia outlasted.
“Iranians have stood tall for a millennia while aggressors all gone,” he wrote. “Try respect – it works!”
Mr Zarif also used the hashtag #NeverThreatenAnIranian, a reference to a comment he made during intense negotiations for the 2015 nuclear accord.