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

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto (R) and his German counterpart Heiko Mass hold a joint press conference after their meeting in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Budapest, Hungary, 4 November 2019. [Zoltan Mathe/EPA/EFE]

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 been gradually shedding commitments under the deal since the United States withdrew from it last year and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, blocking its oil exports to try to force it into negotiating stricter limits on its nuclear programme.

Under the agreement between Iran and world powers, Tehran is only allowed to enrich uranium with just over 5,000 of its first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, widely seen as antiquated. The new IR-6 machines can refine uranium 10 times faster.

“Iran has built very advanced centrifuges, which do not comply with the agreement,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told a news conference in response to a question.

“They have announced in early September that they would not comply with the nuclear accord in the area of research and development and we think this is unacceptable,” he said alongside Hungarian counterpart Péter Szijjártó.

Iranian nuclear agency chief Ali Akbar Salehi told state television earlier on Monday that Tehran was now operating 60 IR-6 advanced centrifuges and its scientists were developing an IR-9 able to enrich 50 times faster than IR-1s.

The nuclear deal, under which international sanctions against Iran were lifted, was tailored to extending the time Iran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if it sought one – something sometimes referred to as “breakout time” – to about a year from 2-3 months. Tehran denies ever having sought to build a nuclear bomb.

At the news conference, Maas also addressed tensions with NATO ally Turkey over its incursion into Syria on 9 October to attack the Kurdish YPG militia after President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of US forces there.

Turkey moves to ‘clean’ northeastern Syria from Kurds, plans to re-settle 2 million refugees

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Donald Trump discussed Turkey’s plans to establish a “safe zone” east of the Euphrates River in Syria in a phone call on Sunday (6 October), but the White House said US forces would not be involved.

Maas said Turkey was an important NATO member but Berlin expected it to act as a NATO partner. He said Germany would uphold its ban on the export of arms to Turkey that could be used in Syria.

He also said the European Union should speak with a common voice on issues related to the United States, China or Turkey, whose President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is due to visit Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Thursday.

“I consider this very important and we would like to strengthen dialogue with Hungary and we are working on that,” Maas said. “It is very important for Germany to continue the dialogue with our Central European partners and make it clear that there is one EU and one Europe.”

Erdogan thanks Orban for ‘support at the international stage’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met in Baku on Tuesday (15 October), on the fringes of the Turkic Council, a group of countries speaking the same family of languages, which Hungary wants to join.

Szijjarto said however that Hungary would continue defence cooperation with Turkey. “Turkey commands the second-largest military within NATO. Turkey is our NATO ally and it is natural that we cooperate in the field of military industry and we will continue to do so in the future.”

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