Awaiting IAEA report, EU admits preserving Iran nuclear deal ‘increasingly difficult’

A handout photo made available by the Iranian Presidential Office shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking during a ceremony at the Noavari factory in Tehran, Iran, 5 November 2019. [Handout photo/EPA/EFE]

President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday (5 November) that Iran would resume uranium enrichment at an underground plant south of Tehran in its latest step back from a troubled 2015 agreement with major powers.

The suspension of all enrichment at the Fordow plant in the mountains near the Shiite holy city of Qom was one of the restrictions on its nuclear activities that Iran accepted in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

But Washington’s abandonment of the deal in May last year followed by its reimposition of crippling sanctions prompted Iran to begin a phased suspension of its own commitments in May this year.

Rouhani recalled that under the terms of the agreement Iran had retained more than 1,000 centrifuges at the plant which had been running empty since it went into effect.

“Starting from tomorrow (Wednesday), we will begin injecting (uranium hexafluoride) gas at Fordo,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast by state television.

Iran said the whole process would be carried out transparently witnessed by inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The move is the fourth announced by Iran since it began responding to Washington’s abandonment of its commitments, and the second in just one week.

Germany decries Iran's move to speed up nuclear work, urges return to accord

Iran’s announcement that it has developed advanced machines to speed up uranium enrichment jeopardises a 2015 accord with world powers, Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday (4 November), urging Tehran to return to the pact.

Iran has repeatedly warned the remaining parties to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — that the agreement can only be rescued if they help it circumvent US sanctions.

European governments have strived to come up with a mechanism that would allow foreign firms to continue to do business with Iran without incurring US penalties. The Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) was established last February and is based in Paris.

Europeans open new trade channel to Iran, bypassing US sanctions

Britain, France and Germany on Thursday (31 January) launched a trade mechanism to bypass US sanctions on Iran, drawing praise from Tehran – and a warning from Washington.

But to Iran’s mounting frustration, their efforts have so far failed to have any significant impact.

Asked to comment on Tuesday, Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, said the EU was concerned by President Rouhani’s announcement earlier in the day to further reduce Iran’s commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“We urge Iran to reverse all activities that are inconsistent with its commitments under JCPOA and to refrain from any further measures that would undermine the preservation and full implementation of the nuclear deal”, Kocijancic added.

She also reiterated the Commission’s support for the International Atomic Agency (IAEA) as the only body responsible for monitoring Iran’s commitments.

Kocijancic reminded that the EU had remained supportive of JCPOA even after the US withdrawal and the sanctions imposed by Washington, but quoted Mogherini, who said it was becoming increasingly difficult to preserve JCPOA. She said the EU was still awaiting for the IAEA position.

“It is true that the preservation of the agreement is increasingly difficult, but we do everything we can to preserve it”, she said.

Asked about the failure of Instex, the EU mechanism aimed at bypassing US sanctions, she avoided a direct answer, calling on journalists to contact this institution directly.

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