DUBAI/LONDON • Iran yesterday said it would breach internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium in 10 days - a move likely to worsen already high tensions with the US - but it added European nations still had time to save a landmark nuclear deal.
US-Iran tensions are growing following accusations by US President Donald Trump's administration that Teheran last Thursday attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil shipping route. Iran denies having any role.
"We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300kg limit," said Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi on state TV. "There is still time... if European countries act."
Teheran said last month it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact it agreed with world powers in 2015, in protest at the United States' decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions last year.
The deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.
The accord requires Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, capping its stock of low-enriched uranium at 300kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 per cent or its equivalent for 15 years.
A series of more intrusive UN inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments.
Urging European signatories to speed up their efforts to salvage the accord, President Hassan Rouhani said its collapse would not be in the interests of the region or the world.
"It's a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time," Mr Rouhani said during a meeting with the new French ambassador in Iran.
Mr Kamalvandi, in a news conference at the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor which has been reconfigured under the deal, said Iran could rebuild the underground facility to make it functional. Heavy water can be employed in reactors to produce plutonium, a fuel used in nuclear warheads.
In a sign of concern at Teheran's announcement, Germany urged Iran to meet all its obligations under the 2015 accord.
Britain said if Iran breached limits agreed under the deal then London would look at "all options".
The Western European signatories to the deal - France, Britain and Germany - have defended the nuclear accord as the best way to limit Iran's enrichment of uranium.
But Teheran has repeatedly criticised delays in setting up a European mechanism that would shield trade with Iran from US sanctions in an effort to save the nuclear deal.
The US and the International Atomic Energy Agency believe Iran had a nuclear weapons programme that it abandoned. Teheran denies ever having had one.
Close US ally Israel, Iran's arch foe, has urged world powers to step up sanctions against Teheran swiftly should it exceed the enriched uranium limit.
Meanwhile, Iran's Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Major-General Mohammad Baqeri, yesterday denied Teheran was behind last Thursday's oil tanker attacks. He said that if the Iran decided to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane it would do so publicly.
And the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Mr Ali Shamkhani, said Teheran was responsible for security in the Gulf and called on US forces to leave the region.