Iran threatens to abandon nuclear deal commitments, putting agreement at risk

Photo made available by the Iranian Presidency Office shows Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaking during a government meeting in Tehran, Iran, 08 May 2019. [EPA-EFE/IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES]

Iran will abandon two of its commitments under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The announcement on Wednesday (8 May) comes exactly one year after the Trump administration pulled out of the landmark accord and leaves most of the international community worried.

Iran agreed to limits on its disputed nuclear programme in return for the lifting of economic sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed with Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the US, before President Trump took office.

President Hassan Rouhani wants to scrap US economic sanctions against Iran described by hardliners as “economic terrorism.”

“We felt [the deal] needed surgery and that the year-long sedatives have not delivered any result. This surgery is meant to save [the deal], not destroy it,” Rouhani said during a cabinet meeting broadcast live on state TV.

“The path we have chosen today is not the path of war, it is the path of diplomacy,” he said. “But diplomacy with a new language and a new logic.”

According to Rouhani, within the next two months Iran plans to proceed with plans to start building up its stockpiles of low enriched uranium and heavy water used in nuclear reactors – suitable for civilian nuclear power generation – allowed under the deal. Both, according to experts, however, could be used as potential source for bomb-grade plutonium.

Experts said these were calculated to ensure Tehran avoids triggering the deal’s sanction mechanism.

Rouhani also indicated the country could resume construction of the Arak nuclear reactor (IR-40), which has been shut down under the deal on 14 January 2016, if countries did not mitigate against US sanctions targeting the oil and banking sectors.

Rouhani’s message came as Washington stepped up its rhetoric against Tehran, accusing it of planning ‘imminent’ attacks and deploying an aircraft carrier strike group with several nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the region, Agence France-Presse reported.

In response, the United States said it was not finished imposing sanctions, and was planning more punitive steps “very soon”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described Tehran’s actions as “intentionally ambiguous”.

“We’ll have to wait and see what Iran’s actions actually are” before deciding the US response, he said in London, following an unannounced visit to Iraq where he set out  US security concerns amid rising tension with Iran.

“For now, nothing changes, but this could be a ticking time bomb,” a European diplomat told Reuters.

The European Union, one of the main facilitators of the nuclear talks, has critisised Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal and tried to find ways to mitigate the economic impact of new US sanctions on the country.

France, Britain and Germany, the European signatories to the deal, said they wanted to keep the nuclear deal alive, and warned Iran not to violate it.

“The assessment of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is and remains and has so far certified Iran its full implementation. It is also clear that we do not need an escalation in the region,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin.

“Our position remains that we want to stick by the agreement, especially to prevent Iran from gaining possession of a nuclear weapon,” Maas said, stressing the pact was crucial for European security.

Work on setting up a special purpose vehicle for business with Iran is taking longer than expected, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference in Berlin.

“Currently, the last steps need to be taken for this corporation to be able to operate – that includes Iran making the necessary preparations on its side,” the German spokesman said.

“Should Iran cease meeting its nuclear commitments, there would of course be consequences,” foreign office minister Mark Field told the House of Commons.

Paris also indicated it is losing patience and warned Tehran that if it were to not keep to its commitments then the question of triggering a mechanism that could lead to sanctions would be on the table.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly told BFM TV/RMC radio that the agreement to control Iran’s nuclear activities had been undermined for several months and “nothing would be worse than Iran, itself, leaving this agreement.”

Asked whether the EU would be ready to back sanctions on Iran in the near future, a senior EU official told reporters in Brussels the EU is currently “in the middle of an assessment phase among the E3 and Russia and China” but did not rule out additional measures.

EU foreign ministers are likely to address the topic at a meeting in Brussels on Monday (13 May).

Meanwhile, the Kremlin accused Washington of deliberately provoking Iran into retaliating.

Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had predicted consequences from the “unthought-out steps” of US withdrawal. “Now we are seeing those consequences.”

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia expects the European signatories to fulfil their obligations under the pact, after holding talks in Moscow with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday.

China states that the all sides should continue to stick to their commitments under the deal.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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