Iran set to breach nuclear-deal cap

Tehran:Iran on said Sunday it is set to breach the uranium enrichment cap fixed four years ago in an accord with the US that was designed to keep Tehran from producing a nuclear weapon. The latest move brings Iran closer to where it was before the accord: on the path to being able to produce an atomic bomb. In recent weeks, Tehran has been resorting to deliberate but provocative violations of the accord, as part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to eliminate sanctions that have jeopardised it oil exports and crippled its economy. The new move by Iran — to increase enrichment levels beyond the 3.67 percent purity that is the ceiling under the deal — is the most threatening.

London said Iran had "broken the terms" of the accord and along with Berlin urged Tehran to halt its advance towards breaching the cap. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Tehran could further scale back its commitments, but "all such steps are reversible" if European countries deliver on their part. President Hassan Rouhani's order to exceed the threshold would be implemented "in a few hours" after the last technical details are sorted out, Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said live on state television. Rouhani initially flagged Tehran's intentions on May 8, exactly a year since US President Donald Trump abandoned the multilateral deal.

The arch-rivals have been locked in an escalating war of words with Washington blaming Iran for a series of attacks on tanker ships and Tehran shooting down an American surveillance drone, raising fears of a conflict that both sides have said they want to avoid. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi on Sunday singled out Iran's declining oil sales and the effect of financial sanctions as the main issues that needed to be solved, or Tehran would further step back from its nuclear commitments. "We hope we can reach a solution; otherwise, after 60 days we will take the third step as well," he said, adding that Tehran would give further details at an "opportune moment". Iran has previously threatened to also resume building a heavy water reactor -- capable of one day producing plutonium -- in Arak in central Iran, a project that had been mothballed under the agreement. The 2015 deal was reached between Iran and six world powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, the United States and Russia -- and saw Tehran agree to drastically scale down its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

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