Iran suspends nuclear curbs in response to US sanctions
Russia: US ‘irresponsible behavior’ endangering Iran deal
President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday gave world powers 60 days to negotiate new terms for the 2015 nuclear deal and find a way to bypass renewed US sanctions a year after Washington withdrew from the accord.
In a televised address, Rouhani announced that Iran has suspended two curbs to its nuclear program under the deal and warned of more actions if the remaining parties to the agreement – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – fail to start delivering on their commitments and shield the country from US sanctions within 60 days.
Rouhani said that Iran would stop exporting excess uranium and heavy water from its nuclear program, two requirements of the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Under the 2015 deal, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium and 130 tons of heavy water, a coolant used in nuclear reactors. That’s compared to the 10,000 kilograms of higher-enriched uranium it once had.
Currently, the accord limits Iran to enriching uranium to 3.67 percent, which can fuel a commercial nuclear power plant.
The US last week ended deals allowing Iran to exchange its enriched uranium for unrefined yellowcake uranium with Russia, and to sell its heavy water to Oman. The US also has ended waivers for nations buying Iranian crude oil, a key source of revenue for Iran’s government.
The UN’s atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, repeatedly has verified Iran compliance with terms of the deal.
Rouhani said Iran’s new measures are in response to the sweeping unilateral sanctions the US has reimposed since it quit the agreement.
He also said if the 60 days pass without action, Iran would resume enrichment of uranium beyond the low level permitted under the deal, and halt a Chinese-led effort to redesign its Arak heavy water nuclear reactor.
"If the five countries came to the negotiating table and we reached an agreement, and if they could protect our interests in the oil and banking sectors, we will go back to square one," Rouhani said.
The president underlined that the ultimatum was intended to rescue the nuclear deal from his US counterpart Donald Trump, who has repeatedly called for it to be scrapped since he pulled out on May 8, 2018.
"We felt the JCPOA needed surgery and that the yearlong sedatives have not delivered any result. This surgery is meant to save the JCPOA, not destroy it," Rouhani said at a cabinet meeting broadcast live on national television.
"The Iranian people and the world should know that today is not the end of the JCPOA," he said. "These are actions in line with the JCPOA."
‘Very strong measure’
Rouhani warned of a “very strong measure” if European parties instead sought to impose more sanctions on Iran by referring the country to the UN Security Council. He did not elaborate.
That Iran chose to keep its excess uranium and heavy water first, rather than abandon the accord in its entirety, indicates it still hopes to secure a deal.
Under the landmark deal agreed by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, the parties to the agreement were supposed to lift nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in return for it reining in its nuclear work.
But the promised sanctions relief has failed to materialize as European and Asian banks and oil companies have moved swiftly to abide by the renewed US sanctions for fear of financial or commercial repercussions.
Rouhani slammed European countries for seeing the US as chief of the world and said this keeps them from making "firm decisions for their own national interests."
"You have responsibilities, too ... for keeping your youth away from drugs, the flood of immigrants and other cooperation Iran has had with you so far. If this trend continues, the cooperation will cease."
The three European signatories to the deal opposed Trump's decision to pull out and have tried to save the accord with a trade mechanism meant to bypass reimposed US sanctions, in the hope of persuading Tehran to continue to abide by it.
However, their efforts have largely failed, with all major European companies abandoning plans to do business with Iran for fear of US punishment.
There was no immediate response from the US. However, the White House said Sunday it dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf over what it described as a new threat from Iran.
Russia said it remained committed to the nuclear deal and denounced what it called "unreasonable pressure" on Iran.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the situation surrounding the fate of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord has been complicated by “irresponsible behavior” from Washington.
Lavrov said the “unacceptable situation” has been exacerbated by the United States.
The Kremlin blamed Washington for provoking Iran's move. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had predicted consequences from the “ill-advised steps" of US withdrawal. "Now we are seeing those consequences."
China underlined that it "resolutely opposes" the unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran but called on all parties to uphold the nuclear deal.
"We call on all relevant parties to exercise restraint, strengthen dialogue and avoid escalating tensions," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
France's defense minister said she wanted to keep the deal alive, but warned Iran 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.
Defense Minister Florence Parly told BFM TV/RMC radio that the nuclear agreement had been undermined for several months.
“Today nothing would be worse than Iran, itself, leaving this agreement,” she said.
She said that France, Britain and Germany, the European signatories to the deal, were doing all they could to keep it alive by putting together initiatives to help Iran’s economy despite tough US sanctions.
However, she warned that there would be consequences and possibly sanctions if Iran breached the deal.
“This is probably one of the things that will be examined. There are no sanctions today from Europe because Iran has so far always respected the commitments it has taken,” she said.
“If these commitments were not respected, naturally this question would be asked.”
Germany urged Iran not to take any aggressive steps. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Germany wants to keep the Iran nuclear deal, and said Berlin would fully stick to its commitments as long as Iran does the same.
Britain said it was extremely concerned about Iran’s announcement and said that Tehran would face consequences if it backed away from its nuclear deal.
“We are extremely concerned about this announcement and urge Iran to continue to meet its commitments under the deal and not to take escalatory steps,” Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said.
“This deal is a crucial agreement which makes the world safer and we will ensure it remains in place for as long as Iran upholds these commitments.”
Junior Foreign Office Minister Mark Field told Britain’s Parliament that the nuclear deal was the “only game in town” and that Britain and other European powers wanted it to succeed.
“We are not at this stage talking about reimposing sanctions, but one has to remember that they were of course lifted in exchange for the nuclear restrictions,” he said.
“Should Iran cease meeting its nuclear commitments, there would of course be consequences. But for so long as Iran keeps to its commitments, then so too will the United Kingdom.”
AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this story.