Iran on Monday began enriching uranium to 4.5%, just breaking the limit set by its nuclear deal with world powers, while it is still seeking a way for Europe to help it bypass US sanctions amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington. The acknowledgement by the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to the AP shows that the Islamic Republic is trying to increase pressure on those still in the 2015 nuclear deal. It also comes just days after Iran acknowledged breaking the 661-pound limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile, another term of the accord. Under the deal, Iran has been closely monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, which on Monday verified "that Iran is enriching uranium above 3.67%." The Vienna-based agency did not specify how much beyond the threshold Iran has gone.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran's nuclear agency, confirmed the increased enrichment to the AP. Kamalvandi separately hinted in a state TV interview broadcast Monday that Iran might consider going to 20% enrichment or higher as a third step, if the material is needed and the country still hasn't gotten what it wants from Europe. That would worry nuclear nonproliferation experts because 20% is a short technical step away from reaching weapons-grade levels of 90%. Kamalvandi also suggested using new or more centrifuges, which are limited by the deal. Experts warn that higher enrichment and a growing stockpile could begin to narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic weapon, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented. On Sunday, President Trump warned that "Iran better be careful." He didn't elaborate on what actions the US might consider but told reporters: "Iran's doing a lot of bad things." (More on what this could mean here.)