By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday that Iran could enrich uranium up to 60% purity if the country needs it and that it will never give in to pressure from the United States over its nuclear program, reported the state television.
Iran’s 2015 six-power nuclear deal, which it has been in breach of since the United States withdrew in 2018, limits the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium to 3.67%, well below the 20% previously achieved. of the agreement and well below 90%. suitable for a nuclear weapon.
“Iran’s uranium enrichment level will not be limited to 20%. We will increase it to whatever level the country needs … We can increase it to 60%,” Khamenei quoted the TV as saying, upping the ante on a stalemate. with the administration of US President Joe Biden on the future of the deal.
“The Americans and the European parties to the agreement have used unfair language against Iran … Iran will not give in to pressure. Our stance will not change,” Khamenei said.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Khamenei’s comments “sound like a threat” and declined to respond to what he described as “hypothetical” and “poses.”
He reiterated the United States’ willingness to enter into talks with Iran on returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
The Biden administration said last week that it was ready to talk with Iran about the return of both nations to the deal abandoned by former US President Donald Trump.
Tehran said last week that it was studying a European Union proposal for an informal meeting between current members of the agreement and the United States, but has not yet responded.
Iran, which has resumed its 20% enrichment in an apparent attempt to rack up pressure on the United States, has disagreed with Washington on which side it should take the initial step to revive the deal.
Though under internal pressure to ease economic hardships compounded by sanctions, Iranian leaders insist Washington must end its punitive campaign first to restore the deal, while Washington says Tehran must first return to full compliance.
ROUTE OF DIPLOMACY
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that Washington intended to strengthen and extend the 2015 pact, which was aimed at limiting Iran’s enrichment potential, a possible pathway to atomic bombs, in exchange for a lifting of the most penalties.
Blinken, addressing the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said in a prerecorded speech: “The United States remains committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. Diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal.”
Khamenei, in his televised remarks, repeated denial of any Iranian attempt to weaponize uranium enrichment.
He added: “That international Zionist clown (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) has said that they will not allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons. First of all, if we had such an intention, even those most powerful than him could not stop us.”
To pressure the Biden government to remove the sanctions, the hard-line dominated Iranian parliament last year passed a law that forces the government to end erratic inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog as of Tuesday if sanctions are not lifted.
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said Iran had ended the implementation of the so-called Additional Protocol, which allows the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct inspections on short notice to midnight (2030 GMT).
To create room for diplomacy, the UN watchdog on Sunday struck a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of Iran’s reduced cooperation and refusal to allow inspections on short notice.
Iranian lawmakers on Monday protested Tehran’s decision to allow “necessary” supervision by UN inspectors for up to three months, saying this violated the new law.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Arshad Mohammed and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; written by Parisa Hafezi; edited by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)