Zarif calls US Treasury a ‘jail warden’
Iran details its latest cut to commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal on today, in response to US sanctions and inaction by other parties to save the accord.
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi will hold a news conference on Tehran's third round of cuts in its nuclear commitments since May.
Iran and three European countries – Britain, France and Germany – have been engaged in talks to reduce tensions and rescue the multiparty deal, which has been unraveling since the US withdrew in May last year.
But with no apparent agreement in sight, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday made good on a promise to take another step away from the deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council powers, plus Germany (P5+1).
"The Atomic Energy Organization (of Iran) is ordered to immediately start whatever is needed in the field of research and development, and abandon all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development," said Rouhani, without elaborating.
The crisis stems from President Donald Trump's pullout from the accord and the imposition of escalated US sanctions on Tehran that have choked off Iran's ability to sell its crude oil abroad, a crucial source of government revenue.
Calls for reverse
The EU on Thursday urged Iran to backtrack on moves to drop its commitments under the deal, known as the JCPOA.
"These activities we consider are inconsistent with the JCPOA," said European Commission spokesman Carlos Martin Ruiz de Gordejuela.
"We urge Iran to reverse these steps and refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal."
French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muehll echoed this saying: "Iran must abstain from any concrete action that does not conform with its commitments (and which) could impede de-escalation moves."
Germany said on Friday it was not too late for Iran to change course.
“We urge Iran not to aggravate the situation further,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman told a regular news conference in Berlin on Friday. “It is not too late for Iran to leave the wrong path it has gone down.”
Talks with Iran
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Friday his country will help the United States along a path to talks with Iran if a deal can be made.
“Actions speak louder than words, so I think we’ll take them (Iran) at their actions rather than their words,” Wallace said at a news conference in London with his US counterpart Mark Esper.
“But if there is a deal to be made, we will of course always help the United States along that path, because I think peace and stability in that region is the most important thing,” Wallace added.
Earlier in the day, Esper said Iran was apparently “inching” toward a place where talks could be held, days after US President Donald Trump left the door open to a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York.
“It seems in some ways that Iran is inching toward that place where we could have talks and hopefully it’ll play out that way,” Esper said at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London.
A senior US official on Wednesday ruled out any sanctions exemptions that would permit a French-proposed credit line, which Tehran says could bring it back to full compliance with the deal.
"We can't make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers," Brian Hook, the State Department coordinator on Iran, told reporters.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded by tweeting that the US Treasury was "nothing more than a JAIL WARDEN."
"Ask for reprieve (waiver), get thrown in solitary for the audacity. Ask again and you might end up in the gallows," he tweeted.
Also on Friday, Zarif defended Iran’s plan to roll back its nuclear activities.
Zarif did not say what exact steps his country would take as he met with his Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.
Zarif described the US sanctions as "illegal restrictions on Iran, which we call economic terrorism ... because they target ordinary Iranian citizens, the civilians."
He insisted Iran's nuclear program remained peaceful and lashed out at the US.
"Unfortunately, the US not only doesn't normalize economic relations with Iran, but punishes others for normalizing economic relations with Iran, which is totally unacceptable," Zarif said.
Marsudi said Indonesia would like to see the nuclear deal "implemented fully and effectively."
Iran has expressed mounting frustration at Europe's failure to offset the effects of renewed US sanctions in return for its continued compliance with the agreement.
A last-minute French proposal offering a $15-billion line of credit to compensate Iran over the choked off crude sales looked increasingly unlikely.
Tehran had already hit back twice with countermeasures in response to the US withdrawal from the deal.
On July 1, Iran said it had increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to beyond the 300-kilogram limit set by the agreement.
A week later, it announced it had exceeded the deal's uranium enrichment limit of 3.67 percent.
The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on August 30 that Iran's uranium stockpile stood at about 360 kilograms, of which just over 10 percent was enriched to 4.5 percent.
Rouhani has stressed that the countermeasures Iran has adopted are all readily reversible if the remaining parties to the deal honor their undertakings to provide sanctions relief.
The Iranian president on Wednesday gave Europe a 60-day ultimatum before Iran drops another commitment.
Francois Nicoullaud, France’s former ambassador to Iran, said the moves to be detailed today would likely focus on bringing on line new centrifuges for enriching uranium – and would be "only partially reversible."
"Even if research is stopped, the intellectual gains are forever," he said.
AFP, Reuters and AP contributed to this story.