TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s president said Wednesday that it will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water from its nuclear program, setting a 60-day deadline for new terms to its nuclear deal with world powers before it will resume higher uranium enrichment.
Hassan Rouhani’s address to the nation came on the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the atomic accord. Rouhani said Iran wanted to negotiate new terms with remaining partners in the deal, but acknowledged that the situation was dire.
“This surgery is to save the (deal), not destroy it,” Rouhani said.
The 2015 deal saw sanctions on Iran lifted in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. After the U.S. withdrew from the accord it restored crippling sanctions on Iran, exacerbating a severe economic crisis.
Iran sent letters Wednesday on its decision to the leaders of Britain, China, the European Union, France and Germany. All were signatories to the nuclear deal and continue to support it. A letter was also to go to Russia.
“If the five countries join negotiations and help Iran to reach its benefits in the field of oil and banking, Iran will return to its commitments according to the nuclear deal,” Rouhani said.
There was no immediate response from the U.S. However, the White House said Sunday it would dispatch an aircraft carrier and a bomber wing to the Persian Gulf over what it described as a new threat from Iran.
Under terms of the deal, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium. That’s compared to the 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds) of higher-enriched uranium it once had.
The U.S. last week ended deals allowing Iran to exchange its enriched uranium for unrefined yellowcake uranium with Russia, as well as it being able to sell its heavy water to Oman. The U.S. also has ended waivers for nations buying Iranian crude oil, a key source of revenue for Iran’s government.
Currently, the accord limits Iran to enriching uranium to 3.67%, which can fuel a commercial nuclear power plant. Weapons-grade uranium needs to be enriched to around 90%. However, once a country enriches uranium to around 20%, scientists say the time needed to reach 90% is halved. Iran has previously enriched to 20%.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.