NEW YORK • Iran's President declared yesterday that the country would stop complying with two of its commitments under the Iranian nuclear deal, pushing the growing confrontation between Washington and Teheran into new and potentially dangerous territory.
The announcement by President Hassan Rouhani came exactly a year after United States President Donald Trump withdrew entirely from the 2015 agreement, which limited Iran's capacity to produce nuclear fuel for 15 years.
But Mr Rouhani did not follow Mr Trump's path and renounce the entire agreement. Instead, he notified European nations that he was taking some carefully calibrated steps and that he would give Europe 60 days to choose between following Mr Trump or saving the deal by engaging in oil trade with Iran in violation of the unilateral US sanctions.
"The path we have chosen today is not the path of war, it is the path of diplomacy," he said in a nationally broadcast speech, adding that it would be diplomacy with "a new language and a new logic".
Starting yesterday, he said, Iran would begin to build up its stockpiles of low enriched uranium as well as heavy water, which is used in nuclear reactors - including one that could give Iran a source of bomb-grade plutonium.
If the Europeans fail to compensate for the unilateral US sanctions, he said, Iran will resume construction of the Arak nuclear reactor, which had its facility shut down and its key components dismantled under the deal.
Mr Rouhani then threatened a potentially more severe step. If the Europeans did not find a way to help Iran "reap (its) benefits" within 60 days - especially in petroleum exports and banking transactions -Iran would end the limits on the enrichment of uranium, he said.
Currently, Iran is enriching small amounts to a level of 3.67 per cent, which is suitable for nuclear power plants but not nuclear weapons.
China, a signatory to the accord, urged restraint on all sides but blamed the confrontation squarely on Washington, which it said had escalated tensions.
At a press briefing, Mr Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, praised Iran for adhering to the nuclear agreement and reiterated Beijing's endorsement of the agreement and opposition to US sanctions against Iran.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at a meeting in Moscow with his Iranian counterpart, Mr Javad Zarif, complained about the "unacceptable situation" created by the "irresponsible behaviour of the United States", but did not respond directly to Mr Rouhani's comments.
If Iran begins carrying out Mr Rouhani's threats in early July, it could put the country on the pathway to a bomb, essentially resuming activity that the 2015 nuclear accord pushed off to 2030.
That would almost certainly revive debate in the US over military action or a resumption of covert action, like the cyber attack on Iran's centrifuges a decade ago by the US and Israel.
None of the actions that Mr Rouhani has threatened will get Iran to a nuclear weapon any time soon. But they may resume a slow, steady march that the 2015 agreement temporarily stopped.
Mr Zarif said in an interview during a recent visit to New York that Iran's leadership was under growing pressure to respond to Mr Trump's effort to strangle its revenue.
European officials say they remain mystified as to why Mr Trump did not take on the Iranians for their alleged support of terrorist groups while remaining within the deal. The result, they say, could well be a resumed nuclear crisis as the Iranians seek to raise the pressure.