Iran said on Monday it would breach internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium in 10 days -- a move likely to strain already high tensions with Washington -- but it added European nations still had time to save a landmark nuclear deal.
US-Iran tensions are worsening following accusations by the administration of US President Donald Trump that Tehran carried out attacks last Thursday on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil shipping route. Iran has denied having any role.
"We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit," Iran's Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on state TV. "There is still time ... if European countries act."
"Iran's reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate. And if it is important for them (Europe) to safeguard the accord, they should make their best efforts... As soon as they carry out their commitments, things will naturally go back to their original state."
Tehran said in May it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact it agreed with world powers in 2015, in protest at the United States’ decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions last year.
The deal required Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity to head off any pathway to developing a nuclear bomb, in return for the removal of most international sanctions.
A series of more intrusive UN inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments.
The accord caps Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent or its equivalent for 15 years.
UN WATCHDOG CHIEF WORRIED
Kamalvandi added: "There is still time for the Europeans... But the Europeans have expressed indirectly their inability to act. They should not think that after 60 days (deadline set in May by Iran), they will have another 60-day opportunity."
The west European signatories to the deal - France, Britain and Germany - have defended the nuclear accord as the best way to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium.
Iran has repeatedly criticised delays in setting up a European mechanism that would shield trade with Iran from US sanctions in an effort to save the nuclear deal.
The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency believe Iran had a nuclear weapons programme that it abandoned. Tehran denies ever having had one.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States did not want to go to war with Iran but would take every action necessary, including diplomacy, to guarantee safe navigation through vital shipping lanes in the Middle East.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. atomic watchdog, declined to comment. Its chief Yukiya Amano said last week that he was worried about rising tensions around Iran’s nuclear programme and that he hoped they could be resolved through dialogue.
China's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Britain's Foreign Office had no immediate comment. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said on Monday the European Union wanted to stick to the Iran nuclear deal but that Iran needed to do the same.
"It's very important to keep on verifying through the International Atomic agency whether Iran is still fulfilling the criteria," he said on arrival to a regular meeting with EU counterparts in Luxembourg. "As long as Iran is fulfilling these criteria we should stick to this deal."