He said the decision to boost uranium enrichment levels was agreed on by “every component of the establishment” and was a reaction to Iran’s misfortunes after a U.S. withdrawal from the pact last year.
Last week, Iran announced it had bolstered its stockpile of enriched uranium beyond the 300-kilogram restriction prescribed by the deal. It currently enriches uranium at a rate of 3.67 percent — far below the 90 percent needed to produce a nuclear weapon.
Velayati did not say how much Iran planned to increase enrichment, but he mentioned a level of 5 percent that he said was necessary for electricity generation at the Bushehr power plant, Iran’s only nuclear reactor.
Experts say that the measures would accelerate the breakout time Iran needs to potentially manufacture enough weapons-grade uranium to assemble a nuclear bomb. Iran’s leaders have repeatedly insisted that they do not seek nuclear arms.
Under the 2015 agreement, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear energy activities in exchange for widespread sanctions relief. The United States abandoned the accord and reimposed a near-total embargo on Iran, and European nations have struggled to maintain the economic benefits promised to Tehran under the deal.
Velayati said Iran would reverse its decision to breach elements of the accord if Europe and the United States “go back to fulfilling their commitments.”
Iranian officials said Tehran’s actions do not violate the deal, which calls on the United States to “make best efforts in good faith” to sustain the accord and to “refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing the sanctions.” The deal allows Tehran and other participants to cease their commitments if they believe any or all of the other signatories are failing to uphold the deal.
In a reflection of rising worries in the West, French President Emmanuel Macron said he planned to keep channels open with Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, to seek a “de-escalation of tensions.” France is one of the signatories of the nuclear accord.
The activities at the Bushehr reactor would be part of a “completely peaceful goal of producing electricity and meeting needs in other industries,” Velayati said. However, he warned that Iran would continue to reduce its commitments under the accord if European nations failed to deliver concessions.
Iran’s moves to increase its nuclear energy activities come as tensions have spiked between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf region. In recent weeks, a spate of attacks on commercial tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway for global oil shipments, raised fears of a wider military confrontation. The United States blamed Iran for the attacks, for which Iranian officials deny culpability.
Iran on Saturday denied reports that its forces had seized a British-flagged tanker after it came to a halt in the Persian Gulf, the state-run IRIB news agency reported.
An Iranian commander had threatened to retaliate against British shipping assets in the gulf following the British navy’s seizure of a tanker transporting Iranian oil through the Mediterranean.