Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday Iran might enrich uranium up to 60% purity if the country needed it and would never yield to U.S. pressure over its nuclear activity, state television reported.
Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, which it has been breaching since the United States withdrew in 2018, caps the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67%, well under the 20% achieved before the agreement and far below the 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 may increase it to 60%,” the TV quoted Khamenei as saying, upping the ante in a stand-off with U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration over the future of the fraying deal.
“Americans and the European parties to the deal have used unjust language against Iran…Iran will not yield to pressure. Our stance will not change,” Khamenei said.
The Biden administration said last week it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the 2015 accord abandoned by former U.S. president Donald Trump.
Iran, which has resumed enriching to 20% in an apparent bid to heap pressure on the United States, has been at loggerheads with Washington over which side should take the initial step to revive the accord.
Although under domestic pressure to ease economic hardships worsened 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.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday Washington intended to bolster and extend the 2015 pact, which aimed to limit Iran’s enrichment potential – a possible pathway to atomic bombs – in exchange for a lifting of most sanctions.
Blinken, addressing the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said in a pre-recorded speech: “The United States remains committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. Diplomacy is the best path to achieve that goal.”
Khamenei, in his televised remarks, repeated a denial of any Iranian intent to weaponise uranium enrichment.
He added: “That international Zionist clown (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) has said they won’t allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons. First of all, if we had any such intention, even those more powerful than him wouldn’t be able to stop us.”
Biden has said that if Iran came back into “strict compliance” with the 2015 pact, his administration would do the same, according to Blinken.
“Working with allies and partners, we will also seek to lengthen and strengthen the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or nuclear deal) and address other areas of concern, including Iran’s destabilizing regional behavior and ballistic missile development and proliferation,” Blinken said.
To help pressure the Biden administration to drop sanctions, Iran’s hardline-dominated parliament passed a law last year obliging the government to end roving snap inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog from Tuesday if sanctions are not lifted.
“God willing, tomorrow…this law, which is good, should be executed precisely,” said Khamenei.
To create room for diplomacy, the U.N. watchdog on Sunday reached a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of Iran’s reduced cooperation and refusal to permit short-notice inspections.
Iranian lawmakers protested on Monday at Tehran’s decision to permit “necessary” monitoring by U.N. inspectors for up to three months, saying this broke the new law.