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Senior Iranian officials said Tehran would keep reducing its commitments every 60 days unless European powers protect them from U.S. sanctions.
Iran said Sunday it will boost its uranium enrichment in a few hours above a cap set by the 2015 nuclear deal as the European signatories of the deal missed a 60-days deadline to reverse the sanctions by the United States who pulled out from the deal unilaterally earlier this year.
Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Araqchi, Administration spokesman Ali Rabiei, and Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), announced in a joint press conference Sunday in Tehran the news of enriching uranium to a higher purity than 3.67 percent, the limit set in the 2015 agreement.
In a live news conference, the senior Iranian officials said Tehran would keep reducing its commitments every 60 days unless European signatories of the pact protect it from U.S. sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump.
"We are fully prepared to enrich uranium at any level and with any amount," said Behrouz Kamalvandi. "In a few hours the technical process will come to an end and the enrichment beyond 3.67% will begin.”
"And tomorrow early in the morning, when the IAEA [UN nuclear watchdog] takes the sample we would have gone beyond 3.67 percent," the AEOI spokesman said.
But the country is willing to show flexibility. All measures taken by Iran to scale back its commitments to the nuclear deal were "reversible" if the European signatories of the pact fulfilled their obligations, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Sunday.
The deal between Iran and six world powers, namely the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia, lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for restrictions on its nuclear work aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.
Under the deal, Iran agreed to enrich uranium to a maximum 3.67 percent which is enough to generate power but far below the weapons-grade level of 90 percent. Iran also maintained that it was never interested in developing a nuclear weapon and that its program was entirely for energy purposes.
The deal also limited the stockpile of uranium to 300 kgs. However, on July 1, Zarif informed the world that Iran has increased the level of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) production to over 300 kgs.
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Iran's decision as a "violation" of the pact. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the step was extremely dangerous and again called on Europe to impose punitive sanctions on Tehran.
"The enrichment of uranium is made for one reason and one reason only - it's for the creation of atomic bombs," Netanyahu said.
A top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saturday the clerical establishment fully backed the decision.
Daniel Byman, senior fellow for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, said Iran was engaged in a tricky balancing act.
“The step is meant to show domestic audiences that Iran is standing up to U.S. pressure. It is also meant to convey a sense of risk to European audiences that Iran may provoke a crisis," he said.
"But at the same time show that Iran is taking steps that are reversible and that it is the United States, not Iran, that is seeking to escalate things".
Iran's main demand - in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States - is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels before Washington pulled out of the agreement and restored sanctions.
Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day or less in late June, industry sources said, a fraction of the more than 2.5 million barrels per day Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.