Iran has begun injecting gas into advanced centrifuges to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium, an official has announced, warning that time is running out for other signatories to save a multilateral 2015 nuclear deal.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said on Saturday the agency had started up advanced centrifuges at Iran’s enrichment facility in Natanz as the third step by Tehran in scaling back its commitments under the crumbling pact following the United States‘ unilateral withdrawal last year.
“We have started lifting limitations on our research and development imposed by the deal … it will include development of more rapid and advanced centrifuges,” Kamalvandi said.
“The capacity of these machines is many times more than the previous machines. This started as of yesterday (Friday),” he continued, adding that “all these steps are reversible if the other side fulfils its promises”.
‘We hope they’ll come to their senses’
In two separate moves already, Iran reduced its commitments outlined in the crumbling deal and vowed further measures unless the European signatories of the pact did more to shield Tehran’s economy.
The deal – agreed on by Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the US as well as the European Union – offered Tehran relief from many international sanctions in exchange for accepting curbs on its nuclear programme.
Since US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal last year and reimposed crippling sanctions, Iran has maintained that it wants to save the pact but has demanded the remaining signatories – especially the Europeans – provide additional economic support.
“As far as the other side does not implement their commitments, they should not expect Iran to fulfil its commitments,” Kamalvandi said, adding that Iran had the ability to go beyond 20 percent enrichment of uranium.
According to analysts, 20 percent is just a short technical step away from 90 percent enrichment, which is weapons-grade level.
During the press conference, Kamalvandi warned several times that Iran was rapidly approaching a point that would mean a full withdrawal from the deal.
“Our stockpile is quickly increasing, we hope they will come to their senses,” he said.
But Kamalvandi said Iran would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to continue monitoring its nuclear programme, as it has done under the 2015 accord.
“Regarding the monitoring and accesses of the IAEA … so that everything is clear (Iran’s) commitments regarding transparency will be followed as before,” he said.
Iran’s latest move comes against a backdrop of heightened tensions with the US in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the deal and his “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign on Tehran to force it to the negotiating table.
In June, Trump said he had called off air raids against Iran at the last minute after Iranian forces downed a US drone, and blamed Iran for a series of tanker attacks in the Gulf despite Iranian denials.
Iran has ruled out holding bilateral talks with the US but says if Washington lifts all sanctions it reimposed, then it could join multilateral discussions between the remaining signatories to the landmark accord.
Meanwhile, John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, tweeted on Friday a satellite image which he claimed showed Iran had broken its word about the destination of an oil tanker at the centre of the mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Anyone who said the Adrian Darya-1 wasn’t headed to #Syria is in denial. Tehran thinks it’s more important to fund the murderous Assad regime than provide for its own people. We can talk, but #Iran’s not getting any sanctions relief until it stops lying and spreading terror! pic.twitter.com/saar05T8wt
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) September 6, 2019
Adrian Darya 1, formerly named Grace 1, was detained by British Royal Marine commandos off Gibraltar on July 4 as it was suspected to be en route to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.
Despite a last-minute legal bid by the US to extend the vessel’s detention, Gibraltar in mid-August released the tanker after receiving formal written assurances from Tehran that the ship would not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria.
Since its departure, the Adrian Darya 1 has been moving around the Mediterranean Sea, with every change of course sparking speculation about where its cargo, worth about $140m, will ultimately go.
Iran has previously said it had “sold the oil” on board the tanker and that the owner would decide the destination. It has not identified the buyer nor specified whether the oil had been sold before or after the tanker’s detention in the Strait of Gibraltar, saying it could not name the actual destination due to the US’s “economic terrorism” and its sanctions on Iranian oil sales.
The ship appeared to have turned off its transponder in the Mediterranean west of Syria, Refinitiv ship-tracking data showed on Tuesday, and US space technology company Maxar Technologies Inc said on Friday the tanker was photographed by satellite off the Syrian port of Tartus.
Bolton, an Iran hawk, said in a Twitter post that anyone doubting that the Adrian Darya 1 was headed to Syria was “in denial”.
“We can talk, but Iran’s not getting any sanctions relief until it stops lying and spreading terror,” he said.
But Washington-based security analyst Richard Weitz told Al Jazeera that the “preoccupation with the ship is drawing away attention from more important issues,” referring to the nuclear deal.