Rouhani urges Europe to play ‘historic role’ to save nuclear deal
Iran said Monday it will surpass from June 27 its uranium stockpile limit set under the nuclear deal with world powers in response to the US withdrawal from the landmark pact last year.
"Today the countdown to pass the 300 kilograms reserve of enriched uranium has started and in 10 days time... we will pass this limit," Iran's Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at a press conference broadcast live.
The move "will be reversed once other parties live up to their commitments," he added, speaking from the Arak nuclear plant southwest of Tehran.
“Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate. And if it is important for them (Europe) to safeguard the accord, they should make their best efforts... As soon as they carry out their commitments, things will naturally go back to their original state.”
Iran has warned it would go even further in scaling down nuclear commitments by July 8 unless remaining partners to the deal – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – help it circumvent US sanctions and especially enable it to sell its oil.
Under the agreement, Iran pledged to reduce its nuclear capacities for several years and allow international inspectors inside the country to monitor its activities in return for relief from international sanctions.
The deal set a limit on the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges, and required Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, capping its stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent or its equivalent for 15 years.
It also called on Iran to export enriched uranium and heavy water to ensure that the country's reserves would stay within the production ceiling set by the agreement, yet recent US restrictions have made such exports virtually impossible.
A series of more intrusive inspections carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog said last month that Iran still remained within its stockpile limits. The Vienna-based agency declined to comment Monday on Iran’s announcement.
Kamalvandi also said Iran would continue to allow the UN to inspect its nuclear facilities for the time being.
He accused Europeans of “killing time” as the clock runs down. “If this condition continues, there will be no deal” anymore, he said.
If world powers do not step up to help Iran, Kamalvandi warned further steps could be taken.
"They range from going from 3.68 percent to any other percent according to the country's needs," he said.
"A point to Europeans: if the first step took time to be done, other steps, especially increasing enrichment... need no more than a day or two," Kamalvandi said.
He said Iran needs 5% enrichment for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it also needs 20% enrichment for a Tehran research reactor.
Kamalvandi added that authorities are still debating whether to "redesign or revive" Iran’s Arak heavy water nuclear reactor which has been reconfigured under the deal.
In January, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi told national TV that “despite pouring concrete in pipes within the core of the Arak reactor ... Iran had purchased pipes for replacement in case the West violated the deal.”
Salehi said that only he and Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has knowledge about the additional pipes.
On May 8, President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would stop observing restrictions on its stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water agreed under the 2015 nuclear deal.
He said the move was in retaliation for the unilateral US withdrawal from the accord a year earlier, which saw Washington reinstating tough economic sanctions on Tehran.
Tensions between Iran and the United States have escalated ever since, with Washington bolstering its military presence in the region and blacklisting Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps as a terrorist organization.
According to Rouhani, his ultimatum last month was intended to "save the (deal), not destroy it".
Urging European signatories to speed up their efforts to salvage the accord, Rouhani said Monday the deal’s collapse would not be in the interests of the region or the world.
“It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani said during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.
Europe so far has been unable to offer Iran a way around the US sanctions.
The three European parties to the accord created a trade mechanism meant to bypass US sanctions, but their attempt was dismissed by Ayatollah Khamenei as a "bitter joke."
Iran has repeatedly criticized delays in making the European mechanism operational.
Germany has acknowledged the economic benefits Tehran hoped for from the deal were now "more difficult to obtain", but has urged Iran to fully respect the "extraordinarily important" nuclear deal.
The German government on Monday urged Iran to uphold the nuclear pact after Kamalvandi’s announcement.
Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said on Monday the European Union wanted to stick to the Iran nuclear deal but that Iran needed to do the same.
“It’s very important to keep on verifying through the International Atomic agency whether Iran is still fulfilling the criteria,” he said on arrival to a regular meeting with EU counterparts in Luxembourg. “As long as Iran is fulfilling these criteria we should stick to this deal.”
AFP, Reuters and AP contributed to this story.