Iran has followed through on a threat to accelerate its production of enriched uranium, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Monday, departing from his usual guarded language to say he was worried about increasing tension.
Recent weeks have seen U.S.-Iranian confrontation sharply increase, a year after Washington abandoned an agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international financial sanctions.
Washington tightened sanctions from the start of May, ordering all countries and companies to halt all imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.
It has also begun discussing military confrontation, dispatching extra troops to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
Iran has responded with a threat to increase its enrichment of uranium, saying it was up to Europeans who still support the nuclear deal to save it by finding ways to ensure Tehran receives the economic benefits it was promised.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, whose agency is responsible for monitoring Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal, said Iran was now producing more enriched uranium than before, but it was not clear when it might reach stockpile limits set in the pact.
“Yes, [the)]production rate is increasing,” he told a news conference when asked if enriched uranium production had accelerated since the agency’s last quarterly report, which found Iran compliant with the nuclear deal as of May 20. He declined to say how much it had increased by.
Iran said last month it was still abiding by the deal but would quadruple its production of enriched uranium – a move that could take it out of compliance if stockpiles rise too far. It demanded European countries do more to shield it from sanctions.
IAEA chief Amano said he was “worried about increasing tensions over the Iranian nuclear issue.” He hoped “that ways can be found to reduce the current tensions through dialogue. It is essential that Iran fully implements its nuclear-related commitments” under the deal.
Washington’s European allies opposed its decision last year to abandon the nuclear deal. They have promised to help Iran find other ways to trade, though with no success so far. All major European companies that had announced plans to invest in Iran have since called them off for fear of U.S. punishment.