Iran said Wednesday it will stop respecting limits on its nuclear activities agreed under a landmark 2015 deal unless other powers help Tehran bypass renewed US sanctions, amid rising tensions with Washington.
The move was part of a package of measures announced by Iran in response to the sweeping unilateral sanctions reimposed by Washington in the 12 months since it quit the agreement, which have had a severe effect on the Iranian economy.
They came as Washington stepped up its war of words against Tehran, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making a hastily organised visit to neighbouring Iraq where he accused Iran of planning “imminent” attacks.
Adding to the tensions, Washington announced it was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group with several nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the Middle East and national security adviser John Bolton warned Washington would respond with “unrelenting force” to any attack by Tehran.
Under the landmark deal agreed by US President Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, the six parties to the agreement were supposed to lift nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in return for it reining in its nuclear activities to ease fears it was seeking the capability to produce an atomic bomb.
But the promised sanctions relief has failed to materialise as European and Asian banks and oil companies have moved swiftly to abide by the renewed US sanctions for fear of financial or commercial repercussions.
– 60-day ultimatum –
Iran warned that if the five other parties to the agreement – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — failed to deliver on their commitments within 60 days to help Tehran benefit from the deal despite the US sanctions, it would suspend other key limits set by the deal.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said the measures were necessary to “secure its rights and bring back balance” after the unilateral moves by the Trump administration.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran does not at the current stage consider itself committed to observing restrictions regarding storing enriched uranium stocks and heavy water stocks,” the Supreme National Security Council said.
“The remaining parties to the (deal) are given 60 days to implement their commitments, in particular in the fields of banking and oil,” the council added.
“In the next stage Iran will also stop observing restrictions on the level of uranium enrichment and measures regarding modernising Arak heavy water reactor.”
Uranium enriched to much higher levels than Iran’s current stocks can be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, while heavy water is a source of plutonium which can be used an alternative way to produce a warhead.
The deal restricted Iran from enriching uranium to more than 3.67 percent, the level commonly used in power generation, and barred it from building additional heavy water reactors or accumulating stocks of more than 130 tonnes of heavy water.
– Small ‘window for diplomacy’ –
Iran will resume implementing its commitments “in the same level” as the other parties to the deal respect theirs, the council said.
It called for swift action by the five governments, warning that time was running out to rescue the deal.
“The window which is now open for diplomacy will not remain so for long, and the responsibility of the (deal) failing and any possibile consequences are completely on the US and the remaining parties,” it said.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is on an official visit to Moscow, stressed Iran’s actions were not in breach of the nuclear deal, which UN inspectors have repeatedly certified its compliance with.
“The Islamic republic has seen it suitable to stop acting on some of its commitments and measures it voluntarily undertook” under the nuclear deal, Zarif told state television.
Emphasising that “Iran will not withdraw” from the deal, Zarif said “this right has been set for Iran in the JCPOA (nuclear deal); we are not operating outside of the JCPOA but are in fact working in its framework.”