US President Donald Trump has warned Iran to “be careful with the threats” after its president announced it would soon begin enriching uranium beyond the limits set by the Obama-era nuclear deal with the US.
Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, said the country would “take the next step” to begin producing uranium at a higher level of purity as soon as Sunday.
Mr Rouhani’s comments are the second blow to the landmark nuclear deal in a week. On Monday, Iran said it had breached the internationally agreed limits on its less-enriched uranium stockpile.
Washington and Tehran have been engaged in a stand-off since Mr Trump last year unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal Tehran signed with world powers. The US has since embarked on a “maximum pressure” campaign, issuing punitive sanctions in a bid to force Iran to comply with a list of US demands.
Mr Trump tweeted on Wednesday: “Iran has just issued a New Warning. Rouhani says that they will Enrich Uranium to ‘any amount we want’ if there is no new Nuclear Deal. Be careful with the threats, Iran. They can come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before.”
Currently, Iran produces uranium up to the purity of 3.67 per cent allowed by the nuclear accord, but Iranian officials have signalled they could boost this to 20 per cent. Such a move that would bring Iran closer to being able to produce weapons-grade uranium, which requires 90 per cent purity.
In May, Mr Rouhani gave the other signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal — Germany, France, the UK, Russia and China — 60 days to find ways to counter the economic damage on Iran caused by US sanctions. That deadline is Sunday.
Germany, the UK and France last week launched a long-awaited payments channel to buoy EU-Iran trade in the face of US sanctions. But Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the channel, known as Instex, was “not sufficient”.
China, for its part, has continued buying Iranian oil in defiance of US sanctions levied by the US in May in a bid to reduce Iranian oil exports to “zero”.
Late last month, Mr Trump signed an executive order to imposes new sanctions on Iranian officials including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader and ultimate decision maker.
The US did not seek conflict but it “cannot ever let Iran have a nuclear weapon”, he added.
At the time, Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, warned that Mr Zarif, the country’s top diplomat, would also face sanctions within the week, but such sanctions have not materialised.
Mr Zarif, who was respected in many foreign capitals, would be at the forefront of any conversations with European powers, including those aimed at keeping the nuclear agreement with Tehran alive.