Iranian President Hassan Rouhani bragged Thursday that Iran is now enriching more uranium than it was before President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
This boast would be a profound embarrassment for supporters of the JCPOA if true since Iran only abrogated the last few provisions of the deal a week ago.
“Pressure has increased on Iran, but we continue to progress. We have no limits on the nuclear file, and we are increasing enrichment every day,” Rouhani said in a televised speech.
Rouhani claimed Iran has been patient ever since the “unpredictable” President Donald Trump made the “mistake” of withdrawing from the JCPOA. He continued Iran’s efforts to blackmail Europe by saying he would consider returning to the limits established by the JCPOA if the Europeans “make up” for America’s exit.
“If they fail to do so, we will, in turn, reduce our commitments,” he said.
On Tuesday, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom rejected Iran’s claims that it was entitled to resume unlimited uranium enrichment and triggered the JCPOA’s dispute mechanism for the first time. This process could ultimately end with the U.N. Security Council voting to reimpose full international sanctions on Iran, adding to the already crushing burden from the U.S. sanctions restored by Trump.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif angrily denounced Europe’s invocation of the dispute mechanism as “legally baseless and a strategic mistake from a political standpoint.” Rouhani threatened violent attacks on European soldiers, much as Iran and its proxies have been conducting terrorist attacks against Americans, if Europe does not obey Iran’s demands.
“Today, the American soldier is not safe, tomorrow it could be the turn of the European soldier. You will suffer if you take a wrong move,” Rouhani declared.
On Thursday, Zarif goaded the Europeans as “appeasers” and puppets of Trump, who he described as a “high school bully” for reportedly using tariff threats to force France, Germany, and the UK to activate the JCPOA dispute mechanism. Some European diplomats grumbled that tariffs were threatened by Washington, but said Iran’s behavior made them decide to take action before it was made.
The Associated Press reported that Iran “has only modestly increased its nuclear activity” despite Rouhani’s belligerent boasts.
“In recent months it has boosted its enrichment of uranium to 4.5 percent – higher than the 3.67 percent limit set by the agreement but far from the 20 percent enrichment it was engaged in before the deal. Uranium must be enriched to 90 percent to be used in a nuclear weapon,” the AP wrote, without mentioning that reaching 20 percent enrichment covers roughly 90 percent of the work required to create weapons-grade material.
The head of Iran’s nuclear agency stated in November that over a thousand centrifuges at the Fordow nuclear facility were being spun up to enrich uranium at five percent. He also said Iran had a significant stockpile of 20 percent uranium, which can be used in research reactors.
Rouhani said in December that Iran was testing even more advanced uranium centrifuges, in clear violation of the JCPOA. The centrifuges in question would be able to quickly ramp up to weapons-grade uranium production.
Israeli intelligence warned on Wednesday that on its current trajectory, Iran will have enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear bomb by the end of this year, although it still lacks the missile technology necessary to deliver a nuclear warhead at long range. However, France, Germany, and the UK wrote a letter to the United Nations in December that warned Iran is much closer to producing nuclear-capable missiles than previously believed and has violated U.N. resolutions to achieve that capability.
Radio Farda on Tuesday reported Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) published photos of at least three underground “missile cities” where huge stockpiles of missiles are kept in hardened bunkers hundreds of feet below mountains. The IRGC presumably published the photos to emphasize that its missiles cannot be neutralized with preemptive airstrikes.