DUBAI: Iran said on Wednesday it could enrich uranium to 90% purity – military grade – if its nuclear reactors needed it, but added it was still seeking revival of a 2015 agreement that would limit its atomic program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani’s remark is his second public comment this year on 90% enrichment – an appropriate level for a nuclear bomb – underscoring Iran’s determination to continue breaking the deal in the absence of any agreement to relaunch it.

The biggest obstacle to the production of nuclear weapons is obtaining enough fissile material – military-grade highly enriched uranium or plutonium – for the bomb core.

Iran says it has never looked for nuclear weapons.

“The Iranian Atomic Energy Organization can enrich uranium by 20% and 60% and if one day our reactors need it, it can enrich uranium to 90% purity,” Rouhani said during a cabinet meeting, Iranian state media reported.

The nuclear deal caps the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67%, well below the 20% reached before the pact and well below the 90% appropriate for a nuclear weapon.

Iran broke the deal in several ways after the United States pulled out of the deal in 2018, including producing 20% ​​and 60% enriched uranium.

Rouhani, who will hand over the presidency to radical cleric Ebrahim Raisi on August 5, implicitly criticized key Iranian decision-makers for “not allowing” his government to restore the nuclear deal during his tenure.

“They took away from this government the opportunity to reach an agreement. We deeply regret having missed this opportunity,” said the official IRNA news agency, quoting Rohani.

The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not the president, has the final say on all state matters such as nuclear policy.

Like Khamenei, Raisi has supported indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at bringing sworn enemies back into full compliance with the deal. Former US President Donald Trump backed out of the deal three years ago, saying it was biased in favor of Iran and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran.

The sixth round of nuclear talks in Vienna was postponed on June 20. The next round of talks has yet to be scheduled, and Iranian and Western officials have said significant gaps remain to be resolved.

Two senior Iranian officials told Reuters that President-elect Raisi planned to take “a harder line” in talks after taking office, adding that the next round could resume in late September or early October.

One of the officials said many members of the Iranian nuclear team could be replaced by hard-line officials, but chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi would remain “at least for a while”.

The second official said Raisi plans to show “less flexibility and demand more concessions” from Washington, such as keeping a chain of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in place and insisting on the removal of US sanctions. related to human rights and terrorism.

Trump has blacklisted dozens of institutions vital to the Iranian economy using laws designed to punish foreign actors for supporting terrorism or the proliferation of arms.

The abolition of oil and financial sanctions are essential if Iran wants to export its oil, the first price for Tehran for the respect of the nuclear agreement and the control of its atomic program.