Diplomats: Europeans keen to avoid sending Iran nuclear case back to UN for now
Russia, China blame US for Iran move, call for restraint
Macron: France to ensure Iran gets deal’s ‘economic advantages’
"Seriously?" Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a message on social network Twitter, after a statement by White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham that said, "There is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms."
Iran’s announcement drew a warning from US President Donald Trump that Tehran was "playing with fire."
Trump, asked at the White House if he had a message for Iran, said, "No message to Iran. They know what they're doing. They know what they're playing with, and I think they're playing with fire. So, no message to Iran whatsoever."
The United States withdrew from the nuclear deal in May last year and hit Iran's crucial oil exports and financial transactions as well as other sectors with biting sanctions.
Iran, which has urged to pressure the remaining parties to save the deal, announced on May 8 it would no longer respect the limit set on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpiles.
It threatened to abandon further nuclear commitments unless the remaining partners – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – helped it circumvent sanctions, especially to sell its oil.
The move marked Iran's first major step since the United States pulled out of it. However, Zarif insisted Iran had done nothing wrong, arguing that Iran was exercising its right to respond to the US walkout.
"We have NOT violated the #JCPOA," he tweeted, referring to the deal.
He said Iran would "reverse" its decision "as soon as E3 abide by their obligations" – referring to the European parties to the deal: Britain, France and Germany.
Zarif's American counterpart Mike Pompeo accused Iran of using its nuclear program "to extort the international community and threaten regional security."
Iran’ step comes at a time when European countries are trying to pull the United States and Iran back from confrontation. It comes less than two weeks after Trump said he ordered airstrikes on Iran, only to cancel them minutes before impact.
Zarif said on Monday that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile has now passed the 300 kg limit.
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors Iran's nuclear program under the deal, confirmed in Vienna that Tehran had crossed the limit.
European powers urged Iran not to take further steps that would violate it. But they held off on declaring the agreement void or announcing sanctions of their own.
Two European diplomats said Europe will not for now trigger a dispute mechanism that could lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran.
“Not for now. We want to defuse the crisis,” said one European diplomat when asked about a possible move to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism enshrined in the nuclear accord with Iran.
The second diplomat said the three European powers would focus on bringing Iran back into compliance and that they wanted to gain more time for dialogue.
The White House charge that Iran probably was in violation of the nuclear deal before and after it was reached in 2015 sharply contrast with CIA director Gina Haspel’s testimony in January to the Senate Intelligence Committee saying, "At the moment, technically, they are in compliance.”
"It was a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level," Grisham said in a statement.
Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the White House charge was "illogical."
He pointed out that at the time the nuclear deal was concluded, Tehran and the IAEA agreed on a "roadmap" through which Iran is addressing the nuclear watchdog’s unanswered questions.
"The process is still underway," he said.
He also said there was no international standard prohibiting Iran from enriching uranium, as asserted by Pompeo. "That is not the case. That is an American position," he said.
The six UN Security Council resolutions that Pompeo asserted established that standard were superseded by Resolution 2231 enshrining the nuclear deal and allowing Iran to enrich uranium within the agreement's restrictions.
While Iran announced on Monday that it exceeded the deal's limit on storing more than 300 kg of low-enriched uranium, Kimball said the issue would be adjudicated through the accord’s dispute resolution mechanism.
It was the United States, he said, that first violated the deal when Trump withdrew from it while Iran still was in compliance and then reimposed harsh US sanctions that had been suspended by the nuclear agreement.
Iran’s first step is a political move aimed at pressuring the European Union, China and Russia to compensate Iran for the serious damage to its economy from US sanctions, he said.
Russia urged Iran Tuesday to fulfill its obligations under its nuclear deal with world powers while calling on Europe to offer relief from US sanctions.
“We call on our Iranian colleagues to show sangfroid, not to give in to emotions by any means and observe key provisions” of international nuclear agreements, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
Lavrov said that the US sanctions have effectively prevented Iran from selling the excess uranium it produces, contributing to its stockpiling.
Lavrov’s deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, said Iran's move was a cause for "regret" but also "a natural consequence of recent events" and a result of the "unprecedented pressure" from the US.
"One mustn't dramatize the situation," Ryabkov said.
China expressed “regret” over Iran's move but said Washington's pressure campaign is the root cause of tensions.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Tuesday that China remains committed to the agreement. He said all parties should exercise restraint and safeguard the agreement to "avoid escalating tensions."
"As we have repeatedly stressed, the US 'maximum pressure' is the root cause of the current tension on the Iranian nuclear issue," Geng said.
France’s ‘attachment’ to deal
In a statement, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “his attachment to the full respect of the 2015 nuclear accord and asks Iran to reverse without delay this excess, as well as to avoid all extra measures that would put into question its nuclear commitments.”
Macron said Tuesday that he "took note with concern" of Iran's announcement and asked Iran abstain from any other steps that would threaten the deal.
France strongly opposed President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the deal and reinstate new sanctions on Iran.
Macron said France will try to make sure Iran honors its commitments, as well as receives the "economic advantages of the accord."
Britain's Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter that London was "deeply worried" and urged Iran to "come back to compliance" with the nuclear deal.
Hunt, one of two contenders to replace Theresa May as prime minister, also told Sky News that Britain still supported the deal. But he warned that if Iran breaks the nuclear deal then Britain is out of it as well.
“We want to preserve that deal because we don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons but if Iran breaks that deal then we are out of it as well,” he said.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said it was "essential" that Iran stick to the deal.
AFP, Reuters and AP contributed to this story.