Iran has sped up its uranium enrichment programme in the latest breach of the nuclear deal as it ratchets pressure on the West.
A spokesman for the country’s nuclear agency said it had launched forty centrifuges boosting its ability to make reactor fuel and ultimately nuclear weapons.
Behruz Kamalvandi said the measures are reversible at this stage if the European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal restore Iran’s access to foreign trade.
“The European parties to the deal should know that there is not much time left, and if there is some action to be taken [to salvage the nuclear deal], it should be done quickly,” Mr Kamalvandi said on Saturday.
Britain, France and Germany have repeatedly said they are committed to saving the deal that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, but their efforts have so far borne little fruit.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has led the European initiative. In his latest effort, he offered Iran a $15 billion line of credit to compensate for lost oil sales.
Mr Kamalvandi said the centrifuges now in operation are capable of enriching uranium to concentrations of 20 per cent. 90 per cent is required to make weapons grade uranium.
Iran began breaching the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement after the US abandoned the deal last May and reimposed economic sanctions on the country. The deal was intended to prohibit Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
In July the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found Iran had stockpiles of enriched uranium in excess of the 300kg it was allowed to have under the accord. Less than a week after the IAEA inspection, it began to enrich uranium to a 4.5 per cent concentration, exceeding the 3.67 per cent limit set out in the deal.
The UK and French governments yesterday expressed disappointment at Iran’s latest move.
Dr Roham Alvandi an Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and expert in Iran affairs said Iran does not wish to disband the 2015 deal and are trying to “keep it as in tact as possible”.
“This most recent step does not bring them much closer to developing nuclear weapons, that is not their intention. They are still subject to inspections by the IAEA who are monitoring their stockpiles.
“There are so many variables that it is difficult to determine how long it would take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was designed so Iran would remain at least a year away from reaching the necessary stockpiles for a bomb.”
Meanwhile, the Iranian tanker seized by Gibraltar in July was photographed by a US satellite off the Syrian port of Tartus.
The vessel formerly known as Grace 1 was released on August 15 after Tehran made assurances that its 2.1m barrels of oil would not be released to Syria. The tanker was seized in July by the British Royal Marine who suspected it was travelling to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
On Friday, the oil tanker now called Adrian Darya 1 was photographed closed to Tartus, Mazar Technologies Inc, a US space technology company said.