The State Department accused Iran of "nuclear extortion" in the wake of new moves by Tehran to significantly increase its production of enriched uranium, a key nuclear component that the Islamic Republic is barred from producing.
Iran declared this week that it would "continue its uranium enrichment" until the United States and European nations scale back economic sanctions and provide Tehran with access to cash. Iran has been steadily increasing its production of uranium during the past several months and is now threatening to vastly increase its in-country stockpile of the nuclear substance.
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At the same time, Tehran has taken steps to renovate its Arak heavy water facility, a contested nuclear site that could be used to provide Iran with an alternate plutonium-based pathway to a nuclear weapon.
The State Department said it is closely monitoring Iran's continued enrichment efforts and will be taking steps to hold Tehran accountable for its "nuclear extortion."
"Unfortunately, Iran's continued expansion of uranium enrichment activities comes as no surprise," a State Department official told the Washington Free Beacon on Thursday. "This is something that they threaten regularly in a transparent attempt at nuclear extortion."
The State Department said the United States would not stand by as Iran violates international accords and marches closer to a nuclear weapon.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "has made clear that the right amount of uranium enrichment for the world's top sponsor of terrorism is zero," the State Department official said. "We will continue to impose maximum pressure on the regime until it abandons its destabilizing behavior, including proliferation-sensitive work."
Iran's parliament on Wednesday issued a new report signaling it would be pushing forward with an even greater uranium enrichment effort. Tehran said European nations still upholding the landmark nuclear accord have not provided nearly enough sanctions relief.
As the coronavirus pandemic ravages Iran, the regime has lobbied for full-scale sanctions relief, which could potentially provide it billions in cash assets. The United States maintains this money will not be used on humanitarian relief but on Iran's regional terrorism enterprise, which has continued despite the coronavirus outbreak. This includes recent attacks on American outposts in Iraq by Iranian-armed militias.
Iranian leaders have repeatedly claimed U.S. sanctions are preventing the country from obtaining medicine and other humanitarian goods—claims that have been amplified by the U.S. media and the regime's American allies, including former Obama administration officials.
The Trump administration has made clear that humanitarian channels have never been subject to American sanctions and will continue to remain open to Iran. The administration also signaled that it would not be loosening sanctions due to the coronavirus.
"Neither Europe nor the U.S. has paid any price for Trump's decision of pulling out from the deal and Germany, France, and [the] U.K. have applied a double-standard policy towards the U.S. withdrawal" from the nuclear accord, Iran's parliament said in its latest call for increased uranium enrichment, according to reports in the country's state-controlled press.
"Europe must guarantee Iran's access to its exports and oil revenues," the report said.
U.S. officials said the Trump administration is prepared to fight Tehran's demands and continue issuing tough sanctions meant to prevent the regime from accessing cash windfalls.
"We have made clear that Iran’s expansion of uranium enrichment activities in defiance of key nuclear commitments is a big step in the wrong direction, and underscores the continuing challenge Iran poses to international peace and security," the State Department official said. "The international community must remain united on this issue and hold the Iranian regime accountable for its threats to expand its nuclear program."
The State Department, in defending its sanctions on Iran, alleged the regime stole more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid last year that could have been used to fight the coronavirus.