Iran prepares to violate uranium limit in nuclear deal
The Islamic Republic has signalled its intention to exceed limits on uranium enrichment under the deal. Iranian officials said European guarantors still have time to save the accord before it surpasses “the 300 kg limit.”
Iran will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days, the spokesman for the country’s atomic agency said Monday while also warning that Iran could enrich uranium up to 20% — just a step away from weapons-grade levels.
The announcement by Behrouz Kamalvandi, timed for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, puts more pressure on Europe to come up with new terms for Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
The deal steadily has unravelled since the Trump administration pulled America out of the accord last year and re-imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, deeply cutting into its sale of crude oil abroad and sending its economy into freefall. Europe so far has been unable to offer Iran a way around the U.S. sanctions.
The development comes in the wake of apparent attacks on oil tankers last week in the Mideast, assaults that Washington has blamed on Iran. While Iran has denied being involved, it has used mines in the past against commercial traffic around the crucial Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s crude oil passes.
Kamalvandi accused Europeans of “killing time” as the clock runs down. Kamalvandi said:
IF THIS CONDITION CONTINUES, THERE WILL BE NO DEAL ANYMORE,
Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium. Kamalvandi said that given Iran’s recent decision to quadruple its production of low-enriched uranium, it would pass the 300-kilogram limit on Thursday, July 27.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last month that Iran still remained within its stockpile limits. The Vienna-based agency declined to comment Monday on Iran’s announcement.
Kamalvandi said Iran needs 5% enrichment for its nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it also needs 20% enrichment for a Tehran research reactor.
Iranian officials have urged European guarantors of the nuclear deal — including Germany, France and the UK — to save the deal with signatories China and Russia after US President Donald Trump withdrew American support for the accord.
However, European attempts to circumvent US sanctions by establishing a trade mechanism have failed to gain traction in Tehran, with Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling it a
“Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate. If it is important for (Europe) to safeguard the accord, they should make their best efforts,” Kamalvandi said. “As soon as they carry out their commitments, things will naturally go back to their original state.”
Washington has pressured its European allies to do the same to further isolate Tehran. But European signatories have resisted, arguing that the Iranian government has continued to follow the agreement.
End of nuclear deal?
Considered a masterpiece of 21st century diplomacy, the international accord with Iran curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of paralysing sanctions, which were imposed amid fears that it was seeking to develop a nuclear arsenal.
Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that within 60 days, Iran would resume high-level uranium enrichment if signatories to the nuclear failed to protect Iran’s oil and banking sectors from sanctions.
On Monday, Rouhani said European guarantors still had time to save the deal. “It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play a historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani said while meeting with the French ambassador to Iran.
Kamalvandi spoke to Iranian journalists in a news conference at the country’s Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. Such reactors produce plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons. Iran, under the nuclear deal, had reconfigured the facility to address Western concerns on that issue.
However, Kamalvandi said the country could rebuild the facility to make it produce plutonium. He also said Iran would continue to allow the U.N. to inspect its nuclear facilities for the time being.
The U.S. alleges Iran used limpet mines to target two tankers last Thursday, pointing to black-and-white footage it captured that American officials describe as an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel removing an unexploded mine from the Japanese-operated tanker Kokuka Courageous, one of the two ships that were targeted.
The Japanese tanker’s owner said its crew described “flying objects” as having targeted the vessel.
In Brussels on Monday, European Union foreign ministers said they were still looking for more information on who might be behind the incident involving the tankers. Germany and others insisted they need a clearer picture before wading into a diplomatic conflict which could have serious implications in the Middle East.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that U.S. and British intelligence needs to be compared with other information from allies.“We have to be very careful,” he said.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said it was not a time to jump to action without proper information. “The maximum restraint and wisdom should be applied,” she said ahead of the monthly foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.