Iran on Saturday announced that it possesses arrays of advanced centrifuges prohibited under the 2015 nuclear deal, and can enrich uranium "much more beyond" current levels - up to and including weapons grade material - while denying they seek to make them, according to the Associated Press.
Separately, Iran acknowledged that it had seized yet another ship and detained 12 Filipino crewmembers, while Satellite evidence revealed that an Iranian tanker is now off the coast of Syria despite Iran's promise not to sell oil there.
Speaking to journalists in front of the new centrifuges, Behrouz Kamalvandi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran threaened to push enrichment far beyond levels ever achieved by the Islamic Republic. Prior to the 2015 deal, Iran only reached up to 20% enrichment - not high enough to create nuclear weapons.
He added that Iran's 20 IR-6 centrifuges and 20 IR-4 centrifuges can produce enriched uranium 10 times and 5 times faster than an IR-1, and to much higher percentages - approaching the 90 percent required for a nuclear weapon.
"Under current circumstances, the Islamic Republic of Iran is capable of increasing its enriched uranium stockpile as well as its enrichment levels and that is not just limited to 20 percent," said Kamalvandi, adding "We are capable inside the country to increase the enrichment much more beyond that."
Not only has Iran increased enrichment up to 4.5%, exceeding the 3.67% level allowed under the deal, they have gone beyond the 300-kg limit for low-enriched uranium - and are likely to see a "high jump" in coming weeks as a result of the new measures.
The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one.
The move threatened to push tensions between Iran and the U.S. even higher more than a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal and imposed sanctions now crushing Iran’s economy. Mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone and other incidents across the wider Middle East followed Trump’s decision. -Associated Press
Kamalvandi said that while its latest actions violate the 2015 accord, they are "reversible within a day," and that the agreement itself remained intact.
“Iran’s breaches are still easy to reverse,” Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said in an email. “But the more they step away from their commitments, the harder it will become to restore status quo ante. In that sense, U.S. criticism of what the nuclear might allow in 10 or 15 years can backfire with a crisis today.”
“Iran’s logic seems straightforward: If its leaders ever agree to negotiate with an administration that is holding a gun to their heads, they will do so only after first having restored their leverage by partially resuscitating its nuclear program,” he said. -Bloomberg
"If Europeans want to make any decision, they should do it soon," said Kamalvandi, who added that Iran would allow UN inspectors to continue monitoring sites across the country. According to the report, a top UN official from the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to meet with Iranian officials on Saturday in Tehran.
The IAEA, meanwhile, said on Saturday that it was aware of Iran's announcement and that "agency inspectors are on the ground in Iran and they will report any relevant activities to IAEA headquarters in Vienna."
"The EU said it would fulfill its commitments under the nuclear deal and it’s supposed to live up to that. This is meant to make them think. If they refer to their conscience they will realize that the Islamic Republic has made good on all of its obligations and it’s they who haven’t fulfilled all their commitments and it’s they who need to take action," said Kamalvandi, adding that the new centrifuges won't be installed at its Fodrow uranium enrichment facility.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that Iran's announcement comes as no surprise. "The Iranians are going to pursue what the Iranians have always intended to pursue," Esper said, while speaking next to his French counterpart, Florence Parly.
France, meanwhile, has offered a $15 billion credit line to Tehran in order to allow them to sell crude. The deal would require the Trump administration to waive sanctions - an idea his advisers have dismissed thus far as they add new sanctions. China, meanwhile, is supportive of European efforts to help Iran sell their oil.
Russia says don't get dramatic
Responding to Iran's Saturday announcement, Russian ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov said via Twitter "The decision of Iran to use more advanced centrifuges shouldn’t be over-dramatized," though he admitted that the move marks "another deviation" from the nuclear deal - and is a "strong signal" that the agreement needs to be revived, according to Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, Iran also admitted to seizing a tugboat and 12 Filipino crew members suspected of smuggling 284,000 liters of diesel fuel near the Strait of Hormuz. According to Iranian media reports, 10 million liters of fuel are smuggled out of the country daily.
And Satellite images obtained by the Associated Press via Maxar Technologies "appeared to show the Adrian Darya-1, formerly known as the Grace-1, some 2 nautical miles (3.7 kilometers) off Syria’s coast."
Iranian and Syrian officials have not acknowledged the vessel’s presence there. Authorities in Tehran earlier said the 2.1 million barrels of crude oil onboard had been sold to an unnamed buyer. That oil is worth about $130 million on the global market, but it remains unclear who would buy the oil as they’d face the threat of U.S. sanctions.
The new images matched a black-and-white image earlier tweeted by John Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser.
“Anyone who said the Adrian Darya-1 wasn’t headed to #Syria is in denial,” Bolton tweeted. “We can talk, but #Iran’s not getting any sanctions relief until it stops lying and spreading terror!” -Associated Press
US prosecutors have alleged in federal court that the owner of the Adrian Darya is Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which is under direct orders from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Trump administration imposed new sanctions on an oil shipping network allegedly tied to the Guard, offering up to $15 million for anyone with information that can help disrupt its paramilitary operations.