Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Wednesday that his country would begin to enrich uranium in “any amount that we want” as early as Sunday.
The latest escalation in a dramatic confrontation between Tehran and the United States comes just days after Iran said it had blown past the uranium stockpile limits established in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, an agreement with six world powers that was meant to scale back its nuclear ability for a decade in exchange for an end in economic sanctions. But President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear accord last year after deriding it as “defective” and “insane,” and the White House has since imposed a series of new and crippling sanctions on Tehran.
Iran’s economy has suffered dramatically as a result, and Rouhani has been pushing the limits of the accord in an effort to secure some financial relief. According to Reuters, Iran’s oil exports, its main source of income, fell to 300,000 barrels per day. When the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal in April 2018, Iran shipped more than 2.5 million barrels of oil per day.
The 2015 deal caps enrichment at 3.67 percent, a level referred to as “low-enriched uranium,” which can be used for nuclear power generation, and mandates that Iran never has more than 300 kilograms, or about 660 pounds, of the material on hand. Foreign Policy reported that many experts believe it would take the country about a year to create enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb.
While Iran has repeatedly said it does not want to craft a nuclear bomb, any efforts to make highly-enriched uranium could endanger what’s left of the 2015 deal, The New York Times reported. Rouhani has signaled that he wants other European countries privy to the accord to step in and help relieve the sanctions so Iran can continue to abide by the deal’s provisions, but the uptick in rhetoric reflects his hard-line approach to the Trump administration.
“Our advice to Europe and the United States is to go back to logic and to the negotiating table,” Rouhani said on Wednesday, per The Associated Press. “Go back to understanding, to respecting the law and resolutions of the U.N. Security Council. Under those conditions, all of us can abide by the nuclear deal.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. accused Iran of bombing two oil tankers with mines; Iran rejected those claims. Days later, Iran shot down an American spy drone it said had flown into the country’s airspace. The White House claimed it was flying over international waters.
Trump initially authorized military action against Iran for the downing of the drone, but abruptly pulled back from launching airstrikes just hours before they were set to take place. The president said he only called off the attack after learning about the potential for civilian casualties, although he later claimed that “nothing was green-lighted until the very end.”
Since then, Trump has continued to threaten Iran, warning Rouhani to “be careful”:
On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration was mulling various legal explanations for a future strike against Iran. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has repeatedly urged Trump to seek Congressional authority before he authorizes any form of military action against the country, but it’s unclear if the president will abide by those requests.