TEHRAN: Iran said yesterday it was set to breach the uranium enrichment cap set by an endangered nuclear deal within hours as it seeks to press other parties into keeping their side of the bargain. The Islamic republic also threatened to abandon more commitments unless a solution is found with parties to the landmark 2015 agreement. London said Iran had “broken the terms” of the accord and along with Berlin urged Tehran to halt its advance towards breaching the cap.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Tehran could further scale back its commitments, but “all such steps are reversible” if European countries deliver on their part. The move to start enriching uranium above the agreed maximum purification level of 3.67 percent comes despite opposition from the European Union and the United States, which has quit the deal. President Hassan Rouhani’s order to exceed the threshold would be implemented “in a few hours” after the last technical details were sorted, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said live on state television.
Rouhani initially flagged Tehran’s intentions on May 8, exactly a year on from US President Donald Trump abandoning the multilateral deal. The Iranian president has said the move is in response to a failure by remaining parties to help Iran work around biting sanctions reimposed by the US. The arch-rivals have been locked in an escalating war of words with Washington blaming Iran for a series of attacks on tanker ships and Tehran shooting down an American surveillance drone, raising fears of a conflict that both sides have said they want to avoid.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi yesterday singled out Iran’s declining oil sales and the effect of financial sanctions as the main issues that needed to be solved, or Tehran would further step back from its nuclear commitments. “We hope we can reach a solution otherwise after 60 days we will take the third step as well,” he said, adding that Tehran would give further details at an “opportune moment”.
Iran has previously threatened to also resume building as of July 7 a heavy water reactor – capable of one day producing plutonium – in Arak in central Iran, a project that had been mothballed under the agreement. However since Iran delivered its ultimatum on the Arak reactor “good technical progress” had been made with parties to the deal on modernizing the reactor, convincing Iran to postpone its decision, Araghchi said.
The 2015 deal was reached between Iran and six world powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, the United States and Russia – and saw Tehran agree to drastically scale down its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Washington began reimposing sanctions in August 2018 and has targeted crucial sectors including oil exports and the banking system, fuelling a deep recession. Kamalvandi said Sunday that Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation was fully ready to enrich uranium “at any amount and at any level” if ordered to do so.
A top advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hinted Friday it could reach five percent. The 3.67 percent enrichment limit set in the agreement is far below the more than 90 percent level required for a nuclear warhead. Iran says that it is not violating the deal, citing terms of the agreement allowing one side to temporarily abandon some of commitments if it deems the other side is not respecting its part of the accord.
Britain and Germany said Sunday they were coordinating with other partners to the deal. In separate statements, their foreign ministries called on Iran to “stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its commitments”. French President Emmanuel Macron told Rouhani of his “strong concern” over the risk of weakening the nuclear agreement during a telephone call Saturday, according to a statement from the Elysee Palace. However, Macron pledged to “explore by July 15 the conditions for a resumption of dialogue between all parties”.
Iran says it exercised “strategic patience” for a year after the US withdrawal, waiting for the remaining partners to make good on promised economic benefits. Trump has warned Iran that it is “playing with fire” by scrapping limits set by the accord. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday’s announcement was a “very dangerous step” and called on France, Britain and Germany to impose “harsh sanctions” on Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency has scheduled a special meeting on Iran’s nuclear program for July 10. – AFP