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Iran Threatens to Violate Nuclear Deal’s Limits on Uranium Enrichment

LONDON — Iran announced on Monday that it would soon exceed the limits on the nuclear fuel it is permitted to possess under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States withdrew from last year, leaving the door open to an “unlimited rise” in Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium and potentially triggering another flashpoint with Washington.

The announcement by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization was the country’s latest signal that it will abandon the pact unless the other signatories to the deal help Iran circumvent punishing United States economic sanctions imposed by President Trump. The threat seemed aimed primarily at the European signatories, to convince them to break with Washington and swiftly restore some of the economic benefits of the deal to Tehran.

After the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, the Trump administration imposed severe economic sanctions that have discouraged any outside companies from doing business with Iran. More recently, it followed that up with measures to all but cut off Iran’s revenues from oil sales, the lifeblood of its economy.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the organization, said that Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile would surpass a limit set in the agreement within the next 10 days, the semiofficial news agency Tasnim reported. Low-enriched uranium can be used in a nuclear reactor, but not in an atomic bomb.

He said, however, that Iran would stay within the limits if Britain, France, Germany and the full European Union — all of which are signatories to the nuclear deal — followed through on plans to give Iran access to international financial systems, sidestepping American sanctions, and also made up for lost oil revenue.

“As long as they comply by their commitments, these will go back,” Mr. Kamalvandi said in a televised news conference at the country’s Arak nuclear plant.

In early May, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said his country would reduce compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and take several steps to resume the production of nuclear centrifuges and begin accumulating more nuclear material if Europe did not implement a barter system to ease the effects of American sanctions.

Germany, Britain and France have worked to set up a system to allow European companies to take part in a kind of barter trade with Iran.

The mechanism, called Instex or “Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges,” is still in its early stages and relies on Iran to set up a similar system internally. But, at best, it is only a way to trade in goods not currently covered by the sanctions — including medical goods, food and humanitarian supplies.

At the time, Mr. Rouhani set a 60-day deadline for the Europeans, who hope to salvage the deal despite Mr. Trump’s opposition, to make good on promises to help preserve Iran’s oil and banking sectors. That deadline expires early next month.

But Mr. Rouhani was careful to maintain that while Iran would retain its enriched uranium and heavy water rather than selling them to other nations, the country, for the time being, would stay within the limits set by the nuclear deal.

Monday’s announcement was the first time Iran’s government had said explicitly that it would step beyond the pact. It comes as tensions between the United States and Iran continue to ratchet up, with the most recent confrontation coming over explosions on two tankers last week in the Strait of Hormuz.

President Trump called the incident a deliberate attack by Iran, and the United States released a video that it said showed an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps patrol boat pulling up alongside one of the stricken ships after the initial explosion and removing an unexploded limpet mine.

Iran called those accusations “warmongering” and part of a campaign of disinformation from the Americans.

A key Democrat, Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has endorsed the conclusion that Iran attacked the tankers, but said the Trump administration’s escalating pressure campaign was backfiring.

“There’s no question that Iran is behind the attacks,” Mr. Schiff said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation. “I think the evidence is very strong and compelling.”

American allies and intelligence agencies warned “that this kind of Iranian reaction was a likely result of a policy of withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement,” he added, and the administration’s approach has “only heightened the risk of conflict.”

Britain’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, wrote on Twitter on Friday, “U.K.’s assessment concludes that responsibility for the attacks almost certainly lies with Iran.”

If Iran did fall out of compliance with the agreement, it would put pressure on all of the remaining signatories, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, to join the United States in reimposing economic sanctions on Iran, which is hardly what Tehran wants to happen.

On Sunday, Helga Schmid, a senior Europe Union diplomat, visited Tehran for meetings on the nuclear deal. Ms. Schmid, who helped negotiate the 2015 agreement, reiterated her support for the deal, according to Reuters, and discussed options to enable trade between the bloc and Iran.

Source: NYT > World

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