France is making a last-minute bid to rescue Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran appears poised to raise its enrichment of uranium and break another limit from its faltering 2015 agreement.
A year after President Donald Trump pulled the US from the deal, Iran has already broken through the limit the deal put on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
All this comes as America has rushed thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East.
Mysterious oil tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and Iran shooting down a US military drone have raised fears of a wider conflict engulfing the region.
In a last-minute diplomatic bid, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, by phone, saying he is trying to find a way by July 15 to resume dialogue between Iran and Western partners.
However, hopes for saving the faltering deal appear increasingly dim, as tensions between the US and Iran continue to rise.
In a video on a website for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a top aide said that increasing enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels was “unanimously agreed upon by every component of the establishment”. Ali Akbar Velayati in his remarks also made reference to 5% enrichment.
Under the atomic accord, Iran agreed to enrich uranium to no more than 3.67%, which is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons, but the nuclear deal sought to prevent that as a possibility by limiting enrichment and Iran’s stockpile of uranium to 300 kilograms.
On Monday, Iran and United Nations inspectors acknowledged it had broken the stockpile limit. Combining that with increasing its enrichment levels narrows the one-year window experts believe Iran would need to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon, if it chose to do so.
Iran stopped producing uranium enriched above 5% in January 2014 amid negotiations for the nuclear deal.
The deal limits Iran to having 130 tonnes of heavy water. The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has said Iran’s heavy water stockpile was 125.2 metric tonnes as of May 26, up from 124.8 tonnes in February but below the 130-ton limit.
Heavy water helps cool reactors, producing plutonium as a by-product that can be used in nuclear weapons.