BFF-84 Iran steps up pressure with plan to boost uranium enrichment capacity

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IRAN-NUCLEAR-DIPLOMACY-URANIUM,WRAP-UPDATE

Iran steps up pressure with plan to boost uranium enrichment capacity

TEHRAN, June 5, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Iran said Tuesday it has launched a plan
to boost uranium enrichment capacity with new centrifuges, raising the
pressure on European diplomats scrambling to rescue the crumbling nuclear
deal after Washington pulled out.

“If conditions allow, maybe tomorrow night at Natanz (plant), we can
announce the opening of the centre for production of new centrifuges,” said
Vice-President Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy
Organisation, according to conservative news agency Fars.

“What we are doing does not violate the (2015 nuclear) agreement,” he said,
specifying this was just the start of the production process and “does not
mean that we will start assembling the centrifuges”.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed it had received a letter
from Iran, which Salehi said was submitted on Monday and outlined Tehran’s
plans.

Under the 2015 nuclear agreement that Iran signed with world powers, it has
the right to build and test certain centrifuges, though detailed restrictions
exist for the first 10 years on the types and quantities of the machines.

Salehi also emphasised that these moves “do not mean the negotiations (with
Europe) have failed.”

European governments have been trying to salvage the nuclear deal ever
since the United States announced its withdrawal last month and said it would
reimpose sanctions on foreign companies working in the Islamic republic by
November.

The remaining parties — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — have
vowed to stay in the accord but many of their companies have already started
to wind down Iranian operations.

The European Union said that a first assessment indicated the new steps
announced by Iran did not constitute a violation of the agreement.

“However, at this particularly critical juncture, they will not contribute
to build confidence in the nature of the Iranian nuclear programme,” Maja
Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, told AFP.

– Enmity with Israel –

On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the
Europeans that “Iran will never tolerate both suffering from sanctions and
nuclear restrictions” and called for preparations to speed up uranium
enrichment.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for civilian uses only, but opponents
in the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia accuse it of seeking to build an atomic
bomb.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted swiftly to Salehi’s
announcement, declaring that the Islamic republic’s aim was “unlimited
enrichment of uranium to create an arsenal of nuclear bombs” to destroy his
country.

On Sunday, Khamenei repeated the long-standing view from Iran that Israel
is “a malignant cancerous tumour in the West Asian region that has to be
removed and eradicated”.

Under the 2015 agreement, Iran can only enrich uranium to 3.67 percent.

If it chooses to abandon the deal, it has stated it could “within days”
return to enrichment of 20 percent — still within the limits of civilian use
but allowing for a much quicker jump to military-grade levels of around 90
percent.

– Businesses leaving –

Iran was already seeing limited economic benefits from the deal even before
the US withdrawal, thanks to the reluctance of international banks to
facilitate trade and a raft of non-nuclear US sanctions that were not touched
by the agreement.

European governments have been scrambling to protect their businesses from
renewed US sanctions in order to keep Iran in the deal.

But several large firms have said it will be impossible to continue
operating in Iran except in the unlikely scenario that they win bulletproof
exemptions from Washington.

France’s PSA, which manufactures Peugeot and Citroen cars, on Monday became
the latest to announce its plans to pull out of Iran, where it sold nearly
445,000 cars last year.

French energy giant Total is also preparing its departure from a $4.8-
billion gas project in Iran, with its CEO saying last week that the chances
of a US exemption were “very slim”.

BSS/AFP/MRI/2235 hrs