Iran hints it could enrich uranium to 5%

TEHERAN • A top adviser to Iran's supreme leader has hinted that Teheran could boost its uranium enrichment to 5 per cent for "peaceful" aims, ahead of a deadline it set for world powers to save a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement.

Iran is acting on its May 8 threat to suspend from today parts of the nuclear agreement in response to US President Donald Trump's reimposition of crippling sanctions on Teheran after withdrawing from the deal in May last year.

The accord caps Iran's enrichment maximum at 3.67 per cent, sufficient for power generation but far below the more than 90 per cent level required for a nuclear weapon.

Uranium enrichment "will increase as much as needed for our peaceful activities", Mr Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an interview published on Friday on the leader's official website.

"For the Bushehr nuclear reactor we need 5 per cent enrichment and it is for a completely peaceful goal," he added.

Bushehr, Iran's only nuclear power station, is running on imported fuel from Russia that is closely monitored by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency.

On May 8, Iran announced it would no longer respect the limits set on the size of its stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water, and threatened to abandon further nuclear commitments, including exceeding the agreed uranium enrichment maximum from today.

It has also threatened to resume building from that date a heavy water reactor - capable of one day producing plutonium - in Arak in central Iran, a project that had been mothballed under the deal.

The move comes in response to what Teheran deems a failure by the remaining parties to the deal - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - to provide Iran with relief from the American sanctions.

"The US has directly and Europeans indirectly violated" the deal, said Mr Velayati. "We will react proportionally the more they violate it."

Meanwhile, a British official told Reuters that UK-flagged supertanker Pacific Voyager, which halted in the Gulf yesterday, was "safe and well" after Iran dismissed reports its Revolutionary Guards had seized the vessel.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 07, 2019, with the headline 'Iran hints it could enrich uranium to 5%'. Print Edition | Subscribe