TEHRAN – President Donald Trump warned Iran Wednesday against stepping up uranium enrichment, the latest escalation of the conflict over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program that has plunged the Gulf into renewed uncertainty.
“Rouhani says that they will Enrich Uranium to ‘any amount we want’ if there is no new Nuclear Deal,” Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon in Washington, referring to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “Be careful with the threats, Iran. They can come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before!”
Iran has said it will restore a mothballed reactor and step up enrichment if European nations fail to offer it economic guarantees by a July 7 deadline, escalating a crisis that threatens to collapse what’s left of the 2015 nuclear accord that Trump quit last year.
“If you don’t meet all your commitments according to the timetable and plans, the Islamic Republic will restore the Arak reactor to its previous condition,” Rouhani said on Wednesday in remarks addressed to European participants in the agreement, Mehr news agency reported.
“Our level of enrichment will no longer be at 3.67%,” he said. “We put aside this commitment and will increase enrichment as we please.” Under the international deal struck four years go, Iran had poured concrete into the heavy water reactor at Arak, which was to be modernized so it couldn’t produce plutonium and ease the path to a nuclear weapon.
Tehran has repeatedly threatened to abandon some of its commitments under the accord as it counters the crippling economic sanctions imposed by the US since Trump quit the multilateral pact. On Monday, it exceeded the 300-kilogram (661-pound) cap on its stores of uranium enriched to 3.67%, saying the deal allowed it to protect its interests if another party had abrogated terms.
European nations have come up with a financial vehicle, known as Instex, that’s intended to protect trade with Iran, but Iranian officials say it needs to be accompanied by a mechanism to skirt American sanctions on purchases of Iranian oil to be effective.
Attacks in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway for oil shipments from the Middle East, and the Iranian downing of an American drone have raised concerns of another war in the region as the standoff escalates.
The nuclear deal was designed to prevent Iran from breaking out and constructing a weapon within a year, as the U.S. and its allies feared. The Arms Control Association, a Washington nonprofit, estimates Iran would need about 1,050 kilograms (2,315 pounds) of uranium enriched to 3.67% to build one bomb. The material would then need to undergo further enrichment.
Trump has said he wants to negotiate a better deal that would also restrict Iran’s missile program and support for armed proxies across the region. But Iran says it can’t be forced to negotiate while its economy and -- more recently -- its leaders are targeted by US sanctions.
Instex is intended mainly to facilitate trade of basic goods such as food and medical products, but not the oil sales that are Iran’s lifeline and a main target of the sanctions. Iran says it can’t be expected to abide by the accord while the U.S. penalties rob it of the economic benefits it was promised in exchange for curbing what it says is a nuclear program intended for peaceful purposes.