Though we're still a good distance away from the 90% uranium enrichment level it takes to build nuclear weapons, at this rate Iran will get there fast. After confirming Iran has broken past the cap placed by the JCPOA, nearing 5% Monday, Iranian nuclear officials are now threatening to boost enrichment to 20% purity, reports Bloomberg, citing state sources.
"Earlier today, the level of enrichment reached 4.5%,” confirmed the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Behrouz Kamalvandi, to state-run ISNA on Monday. He separately told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that 20% purity levels are “among the options considered,” which would require activating more advanced centrifuges.
Confirming that Monday's announcement was no mere empty threat, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that Iran surpassed the enrichment threshold. The UN-linked Vienna-based nuclear watchdog stated "that Iran is enriching uranium above 3.67%," but without saying how far past the threshold they'd gone. Previously Iranian officials said it would be enough to help power the country's only nuclear power plant, the Bushehr reactor.
"We have no hope nor trust in anyone, nor any country, but the door of diplomacy is open," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Monday. This follows a new 60-day deadline that Iran set Sunday for Europe to save the deal which Washington quit in May of 2018.
At that point in September Iran warns it will take a third step away from the deal, but without specifying the nature of that would entail. However, clearly at that point it would bring the world much closer to witnessing a nuclear Iran.
"If the remaining countries in the deal, especially the Europeans, do not fulfill their commitments seriously, and not do anything more than talk, Iran's third step will be harder, more steadfast and somehow stunning," the foreign ministry spokesman said.
Late Sunday after Iran announced it would bust through the cap, President Trump said Iran "better be careful" — something unlikely to give Tehran's leaders pause, especially given that the US president's prior rhetoric was much more aggressive and bellicose.
Iran’s latest expansion of its nuclear program will lead to further isolation and sanctions. Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the world.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 7, 2019
And even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's response lacked the warmongering bluster and bravado which characterize prior administration statements in the days leading up to Iran's shoot down of a US drone last month.
All of this shows Iran has definitely moved closer to a place where it feels it has nothing to lose, now brazenly using its only leverage in the form of its centrifuges while inundating the West with threats of ramping up enrichment levels.
Multiple analysts have noted that Iran appears to now be waging its own "counter-pressure" campaign against the White House as its economy continues to be crippled by sanctions, and as its oil tankers are under threat of seizure on the high seas. But with each new uranium threshold passed it's now firmly in the driver's seat compared to a mere three weeks ago.