0253 GMT January 20, 2020
Russia supports restoration of balance within JCPOA
Iran took the third step in reduction of its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal, injecting gas into advanced centrifuges to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said on Saturday.
The AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told a news conference in Tehran that Iran has started up advanced centrifuges to boost the country's stockpile of enriched uranium, warning remaining signatories of the nuclear deal that the clock is ticking for them to salvage the landmark agreement in the face of pressure by the United States.
Kamalvandi said the organization has activated 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges for research and development purposes.
"The capacity of these machines is many times more than the previous machines. This started as of yesterday (Friday)," he said.
He added that Iran is now capable of raising uranium enrichment past the 20% level and, while it had no immediate plans to do, so the clock was ticking toward the point where the nuclear deal could not be salvaged.
Since May, Iran has begun to scale back its commitments to the pact following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal last year and Europe’s failure to fulfill their obligations set out in the deal.
The third step was taken after the Europeans failed to meet a 60-day deadline to provide Iran with meaningful economic incentives as required under the nuclear accord despite expressing vocal support for the deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani first announced the decision to expand research and development (R&D) work beyond JCPOA limits on Tuesday. He gave the other side 60 more days to fulfill its commitments.
Iran’s measures reversible
Iran says its retaliatory measures will be reversible as soon as Europe finds practical ways to shield the mutual trade from US sanctions, which were reimposed last year when withdrew from the deal – agreed on by Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the US.
As a last-ditch effort to save the deal, French President Emmanuel Macron floated a proposal to give Iran a $15 billion line of credit. The line of credit would be guaranteed by Iran’s oil revenues and would require the US administration to ease US sanctions aimed at barring Iran from selling its oil, France’s foreign minister told reporters earlier this week.
But Trump administration officials flatly reject the possibility of easing sanctions on Iran.
Trump administration has launched "maximum pressure" sanctions campaign on Tehran to force it to renegotiate a new deal that addresses its ballistic missile program and regional influence as well.
As part of its previous response to the non-compliance by other parties, Iran has already increased its enriched uranium stockpile beyond the 300 kilogram cap set by the JCPOA and begun enriching uranium to purity rates beyond the limit of 3.67 percent.
The reductions are in accordance with Tehran’s legal rights under Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA.
Kamalvandi said that the countermeasures seek to create a balance between its accorded rights and its commitments in a bid to force other signatories to implement the deal and “respect Iran’s rights”.
The spokesman added that with the third step, Iran has effectively cut back on half of its total JCPOA commitments.
Kamalvandi stressed that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been informed about Iran's new nuclear steps which it will continue to monitor.
IAEA chief in Tehran
The Acting Director General of the IAEA Cornel Feruta is scheduled to hold talks with high-level Iranian officials during a visit to Tehran today, the IAEA said in a statement.
"The visit is part of ongoing interactions between the IAEA and Iran," the IAEA said in a statement on Friday, adding that this included "the IAEA's verification and monitoring in Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)".
Reactions to Iran’s move
Russia's Permanent Representative to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov said Iran’s recent decision to activate its advanced centrifuges “should not be over-dramatized”, adding that balance within the nuclear deal must be restored.
“Decision of #Iran to use more advanced centrifuges shouldn’t be over-dramatized. Yes, it’s another deviation from #JCPOA, but new activities will remain verifiable by #IAEA and reversible. No proliferation threat. Just a strong signal that balance within the JCPOA must be restored,” Ulyanov tweeted on Saturday.
However, the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he was "not surprised that Iran has announced that it's going to violate the JCPOA".
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that Iran’s latest reduction in commitments to a nuclear deal was “unacceptable.”
On Saturday, Britain called Iran's move "particularly disappointing at a time when we and our European and international partners are working hard to de-escalate tensions".
Iran's latest move comes against a backdrop of heightened tensions with the US in the wake of Trump's withdrawal from the deal.
Tensions between the two nations deteriorated after Iran shot down a US surveillance drone on June 20 following its violation of Iranian airspace.
Several oil tankers were also targeted near the Persian Gulf last month, with Washington quickly blaming Iran for the suspicious attacks.
Tehran has rejected the accusations of its involvement as baseless, saying the incidents in the Sea of Oman appear to be false flags meant to frame the Islamic Republic.
The United States has engaged in significant regional military buildup, including by sending an aircraft carrier, a bomber task force, an assault ship, and around 1,500 additional forces to the Middle East.
Reuters, AFP, IRNA and Press TV contributed to this story.