Iran has quadrupled its uranium enrichment capacity after a long period of rising tensions with the U.S.
In an official announcement, Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67 percent limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal from the Obama era known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This material will be usable for a power plant but far below what’s needed for an atomic weapon.
Still, there is no doubt as to what message this move by Iran means. By increasing production, Iran soon will exceed the stockpile limitations set by the JCPOA accord. Furthermore, Tehran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to set new terms for the deal, or it will enrich closer to weapons-grade levels. The Iranian government has warned it will enrich to medical-grade levels of 20 percent, closer to the 60 percent needed for a dirty bomb or the 90 percent for a full-fledged nuclear warhead, if no deal is reached.
And this has not been the only way in which Iran is lashing out. Already this month, officials in the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers in the Persian Gulf were sabotaged. Yemeni rebels allied with Iran launched a drone attack on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia. Some U.S. diplomats also recently warned of the possibility commercial airlines could be misidentified by Iran and attacked mid-flight over the Middle East.
With this rather high-handed series of moves, Iran is taking a gamble. It is hoping that it can manipulate the Europeans who have for long been adamant supporters of compromise with the Islamic state, bending over backwards to ensure JCPOA could be maintained even after the Americans pulled out of the deal. Iran is hoping it can manipulate the European signatories into a better deal with these threats. But Europe also has its red lines. Earlier this month, a source within the French presidency stated that their government along with other European signatories of JCPOA would be “obliged to re-impose sanctions” in the event Iran increased uranium production.