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Iran Raises Uranium Enrichment Past Nuclear Deal Limits

FILE - President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations of nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2018. Iran has broken the limit set on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by the 2015 nuclear deal, and will raise its enrichment of uranium.

Updated, July 7, 2019, 5:32 a.m.

Iran is raising its enrichment of uranium beyond the levels of a 2015 nuclear deal that placed limits on its nuclear program. Iran announced the change Sunday. Reuters reports that Iran may raise the enrichment level to 5% to produce fuel for power plants.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said last week that his country would begin enriching uranium at higher levels unless it received more help on sanctions relief from the other signatories to the 2015 agreement.

That agreement was meant to allay fears that Iran was working toward a nuclear weapon. The deal barred Iran from enriching uranium above 3.67% and said it could hold only 300 kilograms of such material in its stockpiles.

The 3.67% level is sufficient for nuclear power purposes, but far below the 90% enrichment that is needed for nuclear arms.

Rouhani said recently, Iran was prepared to enrich “any amount that we want” beyond the 3.67% level. He further pledged to resume construction of the Arak heavy water reactor, a project that Iran agreed to shut down when it signed the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iran has been seeking European support after the United States withdrew from the agreement last year and imposed several rounds of new sanctions, including measures targeting Iran’s key oil sector.

Last week, Iran announced that it had surpassed the 300 kilogram enriched uranium limit, but officials including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have said Iran was ready to go back to observing the limits under the JCPOA if it gets the economic help from the other nations involved in the deal.

Signatories express concern

The remaining signatories have all voiced concern about Iran’s stockpile limit breach.

Britain, France, Germany and the European Union said in a joint statement recently they had been “consistent and clear that our commitment to the nuclear deal depends on full compliance by Iran” and urged the Islamic Republic “to refrain from further measures that undermine” the accord.

The three countries and the EU said they “are urgently considering next steps.”

Russia and China, two other world powers that have stuck to the 2015 agreement, have also objected to Iran’s breaching of the uranium stockpile provision.