Iran‘s president warned today there is ‘no limit’ on the country’s uranium enrichment programme since it abandoned the global nuclear deal in response to the killing of its top general in a US airstrike.
President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech: ‘We are enriching more uranium than before the deal was reached … Pressure has increased on Iran but we continue to progress.’
The speech increased fears Iran could be close to building its own nuclear weapons as European diplomats try desperately to salvage the 2015 deal which President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.
As Rouhani spoke, the European Union‘s top diplomat met Iran’s foreign minister in India to press Tehran to ‘preserve’ the increasingly fragile deal, according to a statement released in Brussels.
President Hassan Rouhani said today there was ‘no limit’ on Iran’s uranium enrichment
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (right) and the head of Iran nuclear technology organisation Ali Akbar Salehi inspecting nuclear technology in Tehran last April
Josep Borrell warned that the deal was ‘more important than ever’ in a statement issued after talks with Mohammad Javad Zarif in New Delhi.
He said the two had ‘a frank dialogue’ in which Borrell ‘underlined the continued interest of the European Union to preserve the agreement’.
Iran has gradually scaled back its commitments to the deal since Trump pulled out and imposed crippling economic sanctions.
And after the airstrike that killed General Qassem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s regional military operations, it said it would abandon all restrictions.
Rouhani said today its nuclear programme was now in a ‘better situation’ than it was before the deal was agreed with world powers, including Britain, Germany and France.
Rouhani visiting the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the city of Bushehr, Iran, in January 2015
Iran says it will no longer be bound by the number of nuclear enrichment centrifuges it can operate following soaring tensions with the United states
His latest speech follows warnings he made yesterday that European soldiers ‘could be in danger’ in a threat to Britain, France and Germany when the three nations triggered the pact’s ‘dispute resolution mechanism’ over Iran’s failure to comply with the deal.
Raising tensions even further he said: ‘Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger.’
Iran has also accused the EU of having ‘sold out’ what remains of the nuclear deal to avoid new US tariffs on European exports, following reports President Trump had renewed a threat to slap a 25 per cent tariff on cars.
The EU’s position is further complicated by Britain’s exit from the European bloc, expected in two weeks.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has voiced support for the tottering Iran nuclear accord to be replaced by a ‘Trump deal’ – something France and Germany do not see as possible given Tehran’s steadfast refusal to negotiate with the US.
Trump withdrew from the pact in part because it did not address Iran’s support for armed groups across the region and its ballistic missile program.
The US has since imposed ‘maximum’ sanctions on Iran’s economy.
Iran continued to abide by the agreement until last summer, when it began openly breaching some of its limits, saying it would not be bound by the deal if it saw none of its promised economic benefits.
So far Iran has only modestly increased its nuclear activity but there are fears it could be within a year or two of becoming a nuclear power.
In recent months it has boosted its enrichment of uranium to 4.5 per cent – higher than the 3.67 per cent limit set by the agreement but far from the 20 per cent enrichment it was engaged in before the deal.
Uranium must be enriched to 90 per cent to be used in a nuclear weapon.