Iran faces tough US response once it breaches uranium cap

France, Germany and UK voice concern as Iran vows to keep reducing its deal commitments

DUBAI • Iran announced yesterday it will shortly boost its uranium enrichment above a cap set by a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, a major breach likely to draw a tougher reaction from US President Donald Trump, who has pressured Teheran to renegotiate the pact.

In a sign of heightening tensions, France, Germany and Britain - all parties to the deal - expressed concerns over Teheran's decision.

In a live news conference, senior Iranian officials said Teheran would keep reducing its commitments every 60 days unless European signatories of the pact protect it from United States sanctions imposed by Mr Trump.

"We are fully prepared to enrich uranium at any level and with any amount," said Mr Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation.

"In a few hours, the technical process will come to an end and the enrichment beyond 3.67 per cent will begin," he said, referring to the limit set in the 2015 agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the step was extremely dangerous, and again called on Europe to impose punitive sanctions on Teheran, raising the prospect of fresh regional tensions.

Teheran showed no sign of caving in to pressure from Mr Trump in a confrontation that has taken on a military dimension, with Washington blaming Teheran for attacks on oil tankers and Iran shooting down a US drone, prompting aborted US air strikes.

 
 
 

The Europeans, who object to Mr Trump's withdrawal from the deal last year, have so far failed to salvage the pact by shielding Iran's limping economy from US sanctions.

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Iran's decision as a violation of the pact which the US pulled out of last year.

A source said the French government will not trigger the Iran nuclear deal's dispute resolution mechanism for now, instead giving itself one week to try to get all parties talking again.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office said yesterday that Iran has broken the terms of the deal and must immediately reverse its activities. A German Foreign Ministry spokesman gave a similar response.

Iran did leave some room for negotiations. All measures taken by Iran to scale back its commitments to the nuclear deal were reversible if the European signatories of the pact fulfilled their obligations, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted yesterday.

Inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog who are in Iran will report back once they have checked that Teheran has enriched uranium to a higher level of purity than that allowed under its nuclear deal, the agency said.

Under the pact, Iran can enrich uranium to 3.67 per cent fissile material, well below the 20 per cent it was reaching before the deal and the roughly 90 per cent suitable for a nuclear weapon.

Long-tense relations between Teheran and Washington deteriorated in May last year when Mr Trump withdrew from the deal reached before he took office, and reimposed sanctions - saying the agreement did not go far enough.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2019, with the headline 'Iran faces tough US response once it breaches uranium cap'. Print Edition | Subscribe