Trump speaks to the press after signing a bill for border funding legislation in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Monday. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm
US President Donald Trump warned on Monday that Iran is “playing with fire” after Tehran said it exceeded a limit on enriched uranium reserves under a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by Washington.
Israel urged European states to sanction Iran, while Russia voiced regret but said the move was a consequence of US pressure, which has pushed the deal towards collapse.
Britain called on Tehran “to avoid any further steps away” from the landmark deal, and the UN said Iran must stick to its commitments under the accord.
“Iran has crossed the 300-kilogram limit based on its plan” announced in May, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told semi-official news agency ISNA.
But he also said the move could be reversed.
“They know what they’re doing. They know what they’re playing with and I think they’re playing with fire,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about Iran.
The United States withdrew from the nuclear deal last year and hit Iran’s crucial oil exports and financial transactions as well as other sectors with biting sanctions.
Tehran, which has sought to pressure the remaining parties to save the deal, announced on May 8 it would no longer respect the limit set on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpiles.
It threatened to abandon further nuclear commitments unless the remaining partners — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — helped it circumvent sanctions, especially to sell its oil.
The White House had earlier said “the United States and its allies will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons,” vowing to continue exerting “maximum pressure” on the regime.
“It was a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
The statement added that “even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms,” to which Zarif reacted on Tuesday by tweeting “seriously?”
One mustn’t dramatize
Zarif insisted Iran had done nothing wrong. “We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” he tweeted, referring to the deal.
He said Iran would “reverse” its decision “as soon as E3 abide by their obligations” — referring to the European parties to the deal: Britain, France and Germany.
Zarif’s USn counterpart Mike Pompeo accused Iran of using its nuclear program “to extort the international community and threaten regional security.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran had exceeded the limit that the deal imposed on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU).
A diplomat in Vienna, where the UN’s nuclear watchdog is based, told AFP that Iran had exceeded the 300 kilogram (661 pound) limit by two kilograms.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Iran’s move was a cause for “regret” but also “a natural consequence of recent events” and a result of the “unprecedented pressure” from the US.
“One mustn’t dramatize the situation,” Ryabkov, whose country is a close ally of Tehran, said in comments reported by Russian news agencies.
Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter that London was “deeply worried” and urged Iran to “come back to compliance” with the nuclear deal.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said it was “essential” that Iran stick to the deal.
Europe’s efforts not enough
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged European countries to impose sanctions on his country’s arch-foe Iran.
Trump spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday about Iran’s breach of the nuclear deal limit, the White House said.
The US president expressed hope in an interview broadcast on Monday — which was taped prior to Iran’s announcement on the uranium limit — that Tehran will come to the negotiating table.
“Hopefully, at some point, they’ll come back and they’ll say, ‘We’re going to make a deal.’ Let’s see what happens,” Trump told Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
The European Union said Friday after a crisis meeting aimed at salvaging the deal that a special payment mechanism set up to help Iran skirt the sanctions, known as INSTEX, was finally “operational” and that the first transactions were being processed.
But “the Europeans’ efforts were not enough, therefore Iran will go ahead with its announced measures,” Zarif said.
INSTEX, which “is just the beginning” of their commitments, has not yet been fully implemented, he added.
The 2015 deal saw Iran commit to never acquiring an atomic bomb, accept drastic limits on its nuclear program and submit to IAEA inspections in exchange for a partial lifting of crippling international sanctions.
Iran has also threatened to start enriching uranium above the agreed maximum purification level of 3.67 percent from July 7. That remains far short of the 90 percent purity required to build a weapon.
The latest tensions coincide with a buildup of US forces in the Gulf and a series of incidents including Iran’s shooting down of a US drone it claimed had entered its airspace.
In response to alleged threats from Iran, the USS Arlington, which transports marines, amphibious vehicles, conventional landing craft and rotary aircraft, and the Patriot air defence system will join the Abraham Lincoln carrier group, the Pentagon announced on Friday.
The use of punitive sanctions to exert “maximum pressure” on Iran to capitulate to Trump administration demands has failed miserably. Iran not only refuses to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal but also rejects dialogue with the administration. The two sides stir tensions by sniping at each other although neither seeks war.
Britain said on Monday there was a “small window” of time to save the Iran nuclear deal, as Tehran signalled it would resume its nuclear programme − seen by the West as a cover for making atomic bombs − if Europe failed to do more to salvage the pact.
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