TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran in the next 10 days will surpass the uranium-stockpile limits set by its nuclear deal, an official said Monday, hours before the Pentagon announced it was sending about 1,000 additional American troops to the Middle East.
The declaration from the spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization marked the first time Tehran has explicitly said it was on track to violate the 2015 international agreement. The statement targeted Iran's European partners in the deal, urging them to do more to help the country circumvent U.S. sanctions.
"There is still time for the European countries, but if they want more time, it means that they either can't or don't want to honor their obligations" under the deal, spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told reporters gathered at Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor.
President Hassan Rouhani already has warned Europe that a new deal needs to be in place by July 7 or the Islamic Republic will increase its enrichment of uranium. Increases in both quantity and quality of the enriched fuel could shorten the time, currently estimated at a year, that it would take for Iran to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon.
Kamalvandi suggested that Iran's enrichment could reach up to 20%, just a step away from weapons-grade levels. The nuclear deal limits Iran to enriching uranium only to 3.67%, enough for power plants and other peaceful purposes.
But Kamalvandi said Iran would stay within the uranium enrichment limits if Britain, France, Germany and the full European Union -- all of which are signatories to the nuclear deal -- followed through on plans to give Iran access to international financial systems, sidestepping U.S. sanctions, and made up for lost oil revenue.
Iran originally agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. But subsequent U.S. sanctions have deeply cut into Iran's sale of crude oil abroad and sent the nation's economy into free fall.
"If this condition continues, there will be no deal" anymore, Kamalvandi said. He accused the Europeans of "killing time" as the clock runs down.
Rouhani, greeting France's new ambassador to Tehran on Monday, similarly warned that time was running out on the deal.
"The current situation is very critical, and France and the other parties to the [deal] still have a very limited opportunity to play their historic role for saving the deal," Rouhani said, according to his website.
Europeans want to stay in the deal and continue trading and investing in Iran. But the Netherlands' foreign minister, Stef Blok, said on Monday that European support for the nuclear deal depended on Iran adhering to the pact's terms.
"It's very important to keep on verifying through the international atomic agency whether Iran is still fulfilling the criteria," he said. "As long as Iran is fulfilling these criteria, we should stick to this deal."
Kamalvandi said Iran would continue to allow the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to inspect the country's nuclear facilities for the time being.
The additional 1,000 troops being sent to the Middle East come on top of 1,500 dispatched in May. They will be used primarily for additional surveillance of Iranian activities and for further protecting U.S. forces already in the Middle East.
President Donald Trump ordered that the troops be sent to the Middle East, and he vowed again that Iran would not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.
In addition, a defense official said that Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the chief of U.S. Central Command, will meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., to discuss Middle East security.
The Pentagon's announcement of the troop deployment came three days after attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that the administration has blamed on Iran.
"The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region," acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a statement.
Shanahan said the additional forces are "for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East."
"The United States does not seek conflict with Iran," Shanahan said. "The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests." He added that the U.S. will continue to adjust troop levels as needed.
While Iran has denied being involved in the attacks, it laid mines in the 1980s to target oil tankers around the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of the world's crude oil passes.
With details murky and with no one owning up to the attacks, the Pentagon on Monday released several photographs that it said showed Iran's involvement more clearly than a grainy video released last week.
Europeans are largely skeptical of the U.S. claims. Of the European partners to the deal, only Britain so far has accepted that it is "almost certain" that Iran attached mines to the oil tankers last week.
The U.S. blames the mines on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy, which is under the direct control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran also has a separate navy under the control of the nation's political leaders.
Under terms of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 660 pounds of low-enriched uranium. Kamalvandi said that given Iran's recent decision to quadruple its production of low-enriched uranium, it would pass the 660-pound limit on June 27.
Trump has criticized the nuclear deal as a failure of President Barack Obama's administration, and he pulled America out of the deal in May 2018.
Pompeo has also derided the 2015 deal as fundamentally flawed. The secretary of state, who was a leading critic of the agreement while he was in Congress, has said that the issue was not whether Iran complies, but that negotiators gave Iran a deal that eases many limits on the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities over time.
The president has said that his pressure tactics are designed to get Iran to the negotiating table to forge a more favorable agreement. A similar tactic was used with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who was a target of escalating administration threats until the two agreed to a diplomatic path.
However, Iran has shown no willingness to negotiate another deal and has vowed not to enter into talks with the United States while the administration maintains its "maximum pressure" campaign of sanctions.
Iran's announcement Monday put the U.S. in the position of criticizing Iran for threatening to break a deal that the U.S. already left.
"We continue to call on the Iranian regime not to obtain a nuclear weapon, to abide by their commitments to the international community," State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus told reporters Monday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the international community should reinstate sanctions if Iran follows through on its threats, adding: "In any case, Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons."
Trump only made one tweet about the issue on Monday, and it was a statement, in quotes, referring to the 2015 deal: "Iran to defy Uranium Stockpile Limits."
Information for this article was contributed by Nasser Karimi, Jon Gambrell, Matthew Lee, Raf Casert and Frank Jordans of The Associated Press; by Karen DeYoung and Dan Lamothe of The Washington Post; and by Edward Wong, Helene Cooper and Megan Specia of The New York Times.
A Section on 06/18/2019
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