Iran's uranium enrichment at higher level than before nuclear deal, president says

Tehran scaled back its commitments to the landmark nuclear deal after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Obama-era pact.
Image: Natanz nuclear power plant
IR-8 centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear power plant, some 180 miles south of Tehran, on Nov. 4.Iran's Atomic Energy Organization / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Saphora Smith

Iran is now enriching more uranium than it did before it agreed to the landmark nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday.

“We are enriching more uranium before the deal was reached,” he said, according to a translation by Reuters. “Pressure has increased on Iran but we continue to progress.”

Iran has scaled back its commitments to the landmark Obama-era nuclear deal in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the pact and reimpose crippling sanctions.

In the wake of the killing of a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. drone strike Jan. 3, Tehran announced that it would lift all limits on uranium production. This prompted the United Kingdom, France and Germany to activate a formal dispute clause in the nuclear deal Tuesday.

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Iran says the U.S. reversal justifies its decision to lift the limits, but European powers disagree. If no solution can be reached, Iran could see previous United Nations sanctions reimposed and Rouhani warned Wednesday that European troops in the Middle East “could be in danger.”

The nuclear deal was signed five years ago by Iran, the European trio, the United States, China and Russia. It was designed to keep Tehran from having enough material to be able to build an atomic bomb should it choose to pursue one, in return for sanctions relief.

Iran has consistently denied that it seeks to acquire a nuclear weapon.

Trump has called for European powers to follow the U.S. and withdraw from the deal, but the countries have so far resisted. However, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested Tuesday that the deal should be replaced with a “Trump deal.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif told Reuters on Wednesday that the 2015 deal was still alive.

“It’s not dead. It’s not dead,” he told the news agency, on the sidelines of a conference in New Delhi.

But he told the conference that Trump’s withdrawal from the deal had made new negotiations with Washington pointless.

“If I have a Trump deal, how long will it last?” he asked.

Reuters contributed.