DUBAI/VIENNA: Iran announced on Monday it had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, drawing a warning from US President Donald Trump that Tehran was “playing with fire.”
Tehran’s announcement marked its first major step beyond the terms of the pact since the United States pulled out of it more than a year ago. However, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the move was not a violation of the accord, arguing that Iran was exercising its right to respond to the US walkout.
The step, however, could have far-reaching consequences for diplomacy at a time when European countries are trying to pull the United States and Iran back from confrontation. It comes less than two weeks after Trump said he ordered air strikes on Iran, only to cancel them minutes before impact.
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported that the country’s enriched uranium stockpile has now passed the 300-kg (661 lb) limit allowed under the deal.
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors Iran’s nuclear program under the deal, confirmed in Vienna that Tehran had breached the limit.
Trump, asked if he had a message for Iran, said: “No message to Iran. They know what they’re doing. They know what they’re playing with, and I think they’re playing with fire. So, no message to Iran whatsoever.”
The White House said earlier it would continue to apply “maximum pressure” on Iran “until its leaders alter their course of action.” It also said Iran should be held to a standard barring all uranium enrichment.
However, there is no international standard prohibiting Iran from enriching uranium, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “That is not the case. That is an American position,” he said.
European powers, who remain a party to the accord and have tried to keep it in place, urged Iran not to take further steps that would violate it. But they held off on declaring the agreement void or announcing sanctions of their own.
“We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to the deal by the acronym for its formal title, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
He referred to a paragraph of the accord which contains the mechanism for countries to resolve disputes over compliance.
“As soon as E3 abide by their obligations, we’ll reverse,” he said, referring to European powers Britain, Germany and France. Iran has demanded they guarantee it the access to world trade envisioned under the deal.
The move is a test of European diplomacy after French, British and German officials had promised a strong diplomatic response if Iran fundamentally breached the deal.