Zarif: Measures to reduce commitment ‘reversible’
Araqchi: Doors of diplomacy are open
Iran announced Sunday it will increase its uranium enrichment to an unspecified level beyond the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, scaling down another commitment to the accord in response to the withdrawal of the US from the international agreement and the reimposition of sanctions.
Setting another 60-day deadline for the deal, Iran took further steps while urging further diplomacy to save a faltering agreement – known as the JCPOA – that US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US from a year ago.
In Sunday's news conference, Iranian officials said the new level of uranium enrichment would be reached later in the day, but did not provide a percentage. Under the nuclear deal, the cap for enrichment was set at 3.67%, a percentage closely monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog.
"Within hours, the technical tasks will be done and enrichment above 3.67% will begin," Iran nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. "We predict that the IAEA measurements early tomorrow morning will show that we have gone beyond 3.67%."
The IAEA said it was aware of Iran's comments and "inspectors in Iran will report to our headquarters as soon as they verify the announced development."
Iran's recent measures come as the European signatories have been unable to offer it any effective way around US sanctions that block the country’s oil sales abroad and target its banking system and top officials. But the measures could be easily reversible if Europeans offer Iran the sanctions relief it seeks.
Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day or less in late June, industry sources said, a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.
Ali Akbar Velayati, an aide to Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, made remarks Saturday about Iran's need for 5% enrichment. Bushehr, Iran's only nuclear power plant, is now running on imported fuel from Russia that's enriched around 5%.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sent a letter to EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini outlining the steps it had taken, said Abbas Araqchi, a deputy foreign minister. Discussions with European powers are continuing and ministerial-level talks are planned later this month, he said.
"We will give another 60-day period, and then we will resume the reduction of our commitments," Araqchi said, without elaborating.
Iran has expressed frustration over the failure of parties to the agreement to salvage the pact – signed along with Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – by protecting Iran’s economic interests from US sanctions.
“European countries have failed to uphold their commitments and they are also responsible,” Araqchi, said.
“The doors of diplomacy are open but what matters are new initiatives which are required.”
"We hope we can reach a solution otherwise after 60 days we will take the third step as well," Araqchi said, adding that Tehran would give further details at an "opportune moment".
Iran has previously threatened to also resume building as of July 7 a heavy water reactor – capable of one day producing plutonium – in Arak in central Iran, a project that had been mothballed under the agreement.
However since Iran delivered its ultimatum on the Arak reactor "good technical progress" had been made with parties to the deal on modernizing the reactor, convincing Iran to postpone its decision, Araqchi said.
But Iran said it was willing to show flexibility.
Zarif tweeted on Sunday that all measures taken by Iran to scale back its commitments are "reversible" if the European signatories of the pact fulfilled their obligations.
"Today, Iran is taking its second round of remedial steps under Para 36 of the JCPOA. We reserve the right to continue to exercise legal remedies within JCPOA to protect our interests in the face of US #EconomicTerrorism. All such steps are reversible only through E3 compliance," Zarif tweeted.
Kamalvandi also stressed that Iran will continue to use only slower, first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to increase enrichment, as well as keep the number of centrifuges in use under the 5,060-limit set by the nuclear deal. Iran has the technical ability to build and operate advanced centrifuges that work faster, but is barred from doing so under the deal.
"For the enrichment we are using the same machines with some more pressure and some special technical work," he said. "So we don't have an increase in the number of centrifuges for this purpose."
But Kamalvandi stressed that Iran is able to continue enrichment "at any speed, any amount and any level."
Sunday's announcement about uranium enrichment came a year after Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal. Iran has repeatedly warned Europe in recent weeks that it would begin walking away from an accord neutered by a maximalist American campaign of sanctions.
The decision to ramp up uranium enrichment came less than a week after Iran announced it had crossed the deal's 300-kilogram (661-pound) limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile.
Enriched uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons.
Calls to roll back
International reaction came swiftly.
A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office said on Sunday Iran has broken the terms of its nuclear deal and must immediately stop and reverse its activities.
“Iran has broken the terms of the JCPOA,” the Foreign Office spokesman said.
“While the UK remains fully committed to the deal, Iran must immediately stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its obligations. We are coordinating with other JCPOA participants regarding the next steps under the terms of the deal, including a Joint Commission.”
Germany also urged Iran to stop taking measures that undermined the deal.
“We are extremely concerned at Iran’s announcement that it has started uranium enrichment above the limit of 3.67%,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
“We strongly urge Iran to stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its commitments.”
The spokesman added that Germany was in touch with other European participants in the deal to decide on the next steps.
AP, AFP and Reuters contributed to this story.