WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Iran will formally notify signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal of plans to scale down its commitments in response to a year of bruising US sanctions, a move that could escalate tensions after the Trump administration sent an aircraft carrier to the Gulf.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won't follow Donald Trump in abandoning the landmark agreement that saw the Islamic Republic limit its nuclear program in return for an end to most international sanctions, but is expected to unveil on Wednesday (May 8) minor changes to its pledges.
State-run Iranian Student's News Agency cited an unnamed official as saying that Foreign Minister Javad Zarif would include technical details of the plans in a letter to the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and dispatch letters to the Teheran ambassadors of the remaining signatories. The report gave no details of what the plans would involve.
The nuclear accord was reached after years of painstaking multilateral negotiations led by the US but Trump withdrew a year ago and has since reimposed sanctions that have squeezed Iran's economy - hitting its currency, fuelling inflation and discouraging investment.
Any indication that Iran is backsliding on its commitments or resuming nuclear activities would likely be interpreted as a breach of the agreement by senior Trump administration officials who have made confronting Iran and curbing its regional influence a cornerstone of US foreign policy.
The US ratcheted up the economic pressure early this month by letting waivers allowing eight governments to import Iranian oil expire, in its drive to cut Iran's oil exports to zero and force the country to end its support for groups such as Yemen's Houthis and Lebanon's Hezbollah, considered by the US and others a terrorist organisation.
On Sunday, the US said it was deploying the aircraft carrier strike group in an "unmistakable message" to Iran that it would meet any aggression with "unrelenting force". Iran is taking a significant risk as some members of the Trump administration who've taken a hard line against Teheran have been "waiting for this moment", said Sanam Vakil, senior research fellow at Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa Program.
Iranian leaders are making the calculation that the US isn't looking for another war but they could undermine their relations with European partners; "they are rolling the dice", she said.
European signatories have continued to back the deal, pledging to find ways to ease the impact of punitive US actions and ensure Iran benefits from its continuing compliance. Efforts to minimise the impact of sanctions have so far proven inconclusive, however.
For months, Iranian officials have signalled that they're losing patience with a deal that's providing very few of the promised economic benefits. In its report on Monday, ISNA said its steps were justified by clauses in the deal that allow it to scale back its pledges if the US imposes new sanctions or European signatories fail to meet their own commitments.
Representatives of the EU, the French, German and British governments and Iran met in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss how to implement Instex, a European mechanism designed to facilitate trade with Teheran, according to an official from the bloc. Iran's planned announcement was not discussed as the meeting was technical.
Teheran will be messaging Europe, China and Russia that "Iranian compliance shouldn't be taken at face value", Vakil said. "They either have to step up or this deal is definitely going to unravel."