Iran quadruples production of enriched uranium, reports say

Iran has quadrupled its production of enriched uranium amid tensions with the U.S. over Tehran's unravelling nuclear accord, two semi-official news agencies reported Monday.

News prompts threats from U.S. and Iranian presidents

The spokesperson for Iran's nuclear agency was cited by two semi-official news agencies as saying that Iran has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium. (IRIB via Associated Press)

Iran has quadrupled its production of enriched uranium amid tensions with the U.S. over Tehran's unravelling nuclear accord, two semi-official news agencies reported Monday, an announcement that came just after U.S. President Donald Trump and Iran's foreign minister traded threats and taunts.

The reports said the production is of uranium enriched only to the 3.67 per cent limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran reached with world powers, but it means Iran soon will go beyond the stockpile limitations established by the accord.

Both the semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported on the quadrupled production quoting Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesperson for Iran's nuclear agency. He said the increase in production of 3.67 per cent enriched uranium does not mean Iran increased the number of centrifuges it has in use, another requirement of the deal.

He said Iran would reach the 300-kilogram limit set by the nuclear deal "in weeks."

Kamalvandi said Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency about its move. The IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Trump threatens to use 'great force' on Iran

This follows a warning from Trump that Iran would face its "official end" if it threatened the U.S. again, and comes after days of heightened tensions sparked by the Trump administration's deployment of bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf over still unspecified threats from Iran.

On Monday, the U.S. president again threatened Iran, warning the country would be met with "great force" if it attempted anything against U.S. interests in the Middle East, although he admitted "we have no indication that they will."

He described Tehran as hostile toward Washington and told reporters as he departed the White House that he was still willing to have talks with Iran "when they're ready."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he favours talks and diplomacy but not under the current conditions, state news agency IRNA said late on Monday.

"Today's situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only" IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying.

While Trump's duelling approach of flattery and threats has become a hallmark of his foreign policy, the risks have only grown in dealing with Iran, where mistrust between Tehran and Washington stretch back four decades.

Tanker A. Michel is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, on May 13. The U.A.E says it was one of four shipping vessels recently targeted in a sabotage attack. (Satish Kumar/Reuters)

So far this month, officials in the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers sustained damage in a sabotage attack; Yemeni rebels allied with Iran launched a drone attack on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia; and U.S. diplomats relayed a warning that commercial airlines could be misidentified by Iran and attacked, something dismissed by Tehran.

All these tensions are the culmination of Trump's decision a year ago to pull the U.S. out of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. Both Washington and Tehran say they don't seek war, but many worry any miscalculation could spiral out of control.

Trump campaigned on pulling the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since the withdrawal, the U.S. has reimposed previous sanctions and come up with new ones, as well as warned other nations they would be subject to sanctions if they import Iranian oil.

Iran has said it would begin backing away from terms of the deal, setting a July 7 deadline for Europe to come up with new terms or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels. Tehran has long insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build them.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told journalists in Geneva that Iran should not doubt the U.S. resolve, warning that "if American interests are attacked, they will retaliate."

"We want the situation to de-escalate because this is a part of the world where things can get triggered accidentally," Hunt said.

With files from Reuters