DUBAI • French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Iran to reverse its decision to exceed the limit for low-enriched uranium laid out in a 2015 nuclear deal and refrain from taking "extra measures" that would cast doubt on commitments.
The statement yesterday calling on Iran to act "without delay" came a day after Teheran announced that it has surpassed the accord's 300kg stockpile limit for low-enriched uranium, with the United Nations' nuclear watchdog confirming the breach.
United States President Donald Trump and Mr Macron spoke about the breach by telephone on Monday night, said the White House.
Uranium has to go through a process of enrichment to be used to produce energy in a nuclear reactor. That level is fairly low for reactor fuel but if uranium is enriched to much higher levels, it can be turned into fissile material for a nuclear weapon. The nuclear deal with Iran was meant to head off such a development.
Teheran, meanwhile, remained defiant. Mr Trump has misread Iran, said Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani yesterday.
"Mr Trump needs to know that as long as he speaks the language of coercion with a civilised nation, they will only grow closer and more unified," he said.
The "errors, mistakes and paradoxical comments" from Washington have increased during the tenure of the "current weird President" of the US, he added.
Mr Trump on Monday accused Teheran of "playing with fire" in breaching the deal that he himself repeatedly criticised and withdrew from last year.
Since then, the US has ratcheted up sanctions, which Teheran said meant that it cannot get any of the economic benefits from curbing its nuclear programme that are outlined in the deal.
It argued that the remaining signatories are not holding up their side of the accord, as Europe has struggled to find a workaround that will allow European trade with Iran to continue without companies falling afoul of US sanctions.
European signatories to the deal with Iran have sought to pull Washington and Teheran back from direct confrontation, and wanted to avoid escalating the diplomatic stand-off to the UN.
"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 he deal.
China, like France a signatory to the deal, said it regretted Iran's move, but urged all parties to exercise restraint and said the US policy of increasing pressure on Iran was the "root cause of the current tensions".
The deal lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear work. It aimed to extend the time Teheran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly two to three months to a year.
European diplomats have noted that increasing the stockpile limits of uranium enriched to 3.67 per cent does not put Teheran significantly closer to nuclear weapons and falls far short of the weapon-grade enrichment level of more than 90 per cent needed for a nuclear bomb.
But Iran has said it may go further by enriching uranium to a grade of as much as 20 per cent if it does not see sanctions relief by the Sunday deadline.
The US has been trying to persuade Europe to join its tactic of "maximum pressure" against Teheran, but European nations see the deal as key to maintaining regional security.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS