Iran to bypass uranium enrichment maximum despite calls for rethink

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Tehran – Iran ignored US and EU warnings Wednesday and vowed to exceed within days the maximum uranium enrichment level it agreed to in the landmark 2015 nuclear accord.

Iran is acting on its May 8 threat to suspend parts of the agreement in response to US President Donald Trump’s reimposition of crippling sanctions after withdrawing from it in May last year.

President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday’s decision was in response to failure by other parties to the deal to keep up their promises and provide Iran relief from the US sanctions.

“On July 7, our enrichment level will no longer be 3.67 percent. We will put aside this commitment. We will increase (the enrichment level) beyond 3.67 percent to as much as we want, as much as is necessary, as much as we need,” Rouhani told a cabinet meeting.

The enrichment maximum set in the agreement is sufficient for power generation but far below the more than 90 percent level required for a nuclear warhead.

“Be careful with the threats, Iran. They can come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before!” Trump tweeted in response to the announcement.

France warned Tehran that it would “gain nothing” by leaving the deal and said “challenging the agreement would only increase tensions already high” in the Middle East.

Iran insists 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.

Rouhani stressed that Iran’s action would be reversed if the other parties to the nuclear deal made good on their side of the bargain — relief from sanctions.

“We will remain committed to the (nuclear deal) as long as the other parties are committed,” he said.

“We will act on the JCPOA 100 percent the day that the other party acts 100 percent (too),” he added using the deal’s acronym.

Iran has sought to pressure the other parties — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — to save the deal.

– ‘Playing with fire’ –

On May 8, Iran announced it would no longer respect the limits set on the size of its stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water, and threatened to abandon further nuclear commitments, including exceeding the agreed uranium enrichment maximum from July 7.

Rouhani said Iran will also deliver on its threat to resume construction of a heavy water reactor after July 7 and will bring it to the condition that “according to you, is dangerous and can produce plutonium”.

But all these measures can be reversed in “hours” if the other parties “live up to their commitments”, he said.

Trump warned Monday that Iran is “playing with fire” after Tehran said it had exceeded the limit set on its enriched uranium stockpile.

Rouhani said it was the US that started the fire and Washington has to “put it out” by returning to the nuclear deal.

His adviser, Hesamodin Ashena, warned Trump against listening to hawks in his administration, hinting aggression against Iran could make him a “one-term president”.

“We have unseated an American president in the past, we can do it again,” he tweeted, referring to Jimmy Carter, whose bid for a second term was marred by the Iran hostage crisis in 1980.

Israel urged European states to impose sanctions on Iran for abandoning its nuclear commitments.

Russia voiced regret but said the move was a consequence of US pressure, which has pushed the deal towards collapse.

The diplomatic chiefs of Britain, France, Germany and the EU said they were “extremely concerned” and urged Iran to reverse its decision.

Europe has sought to save the nuclear deal by setting up a payment mechanism known as INSTEX which is meant to help Iran skirt the US sanctions.

Rouhani dismissed the mechanism as “hollow”, saying it was useless to Iran because it failed to provide for financing of purchases of Iranian oil.

He took issue with the EU for calling on Iran to stay committed to the deal.

The deal “is either good or bad. If it’s good, everyone should stay committed to it,” not just Iran, Rouhani said.

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