Rouhani: Iran to start enriching uranium at higher levels

Iran said earlier it had exceeded stockpile limits

By Nada Altaher and Tamara Qiblawi, CNN
Michael Gruber/Getty Images

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

(CNN) - Iran will begin enriching uranium at a higher level than what is allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal within days, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday.

The announcement comes two days after Iran announced it had exceeded limits on its low-enriched uranium stockpiles. Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to slash its stockpile of enriched uranium by 90%, and cap uranium enrichment at 3.67%. The agreement also reduced the number of its centrifuges by two-thirds.

Rouhani said the enrichment limits would be surpassed after Sunday. He has also vowed to revive work on the Arak heavy-water reactor, which had been suspended under the nuclear deal.

"We will raise the level of enrichment to the amount we want and need," Rouhani said at a government meeting according to semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

He urged the Americans and the Europeans to "go back to their commitments in the nuclear deal."

"If you do not do so, the Arak reactor will go back to its previous state, starting from July 7," he said.

Iran's partial withdrawal from the nuclear deal -- known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- follows US President Donald Trump's pull-out from the agreement in May 2018. Trump has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, prompting an exodus of foreign companies from the country, causing inflation to skyrocket and the economy to contract.

After Monday's announcement, Trump said Iran was "playing with fire."

"They know what they're doing. They know what they're playing with. And I think they're playing with fire," he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron "noted with concern" Iran's move to increase its stockpile of uranium, and urged the country to reverse it.

But Iranian officials say they have not breached the agreement. "We have NOT violated the #JCPOA," Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a post on Twitter, sharing the text of paragraph 36 of the deal, which provides a dispute resolution mechanism when parties believe that other signatories aren't meeting their commitments.

Zarif added that Iran took steps to exceed uranium caps 60 days after Trump pulled out of the deal. "As soon as E3 abide by their obligations, we'll reverse," Zarif said. The E3 refers to Germany, Britain and France, countries that Tehran accuses of failing to uphold its commitments to the deal.

CNN's Henrik Pettersson and Sheena McKenzie contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.