France’s Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian on Saturday said that Iran was in the process of acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity with its breaches of the 2015 nuclear agreement, and only a full return to that deal could prevent Tehran from achieving its goal.
Speaking to the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Le Drain accused the outgoing United States leadership of exacerbating the crisis with Iran and pushing Tehran to advance its nuclear program.
“The Trump administration chose what it called the maximum pressure campaign on Iran. The result was that this strategy only increased the risk and the threat,” Le Drian said.
“This has to stop because Iran and – I say this clearly – is in the process of acquiring nuclear [weapons] capacity,” he warned.
Le Drian said it was urgent to “tell the Iranians that this is enough” and to try to bring both Iran and the United States back into the accord.
The landmark 2015 deal between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions has been largely in tatters since US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian government has signaled a readiness to engage with incoming president Joe Biden, who takes office on January 20 and who has expressed willingness to return to diplomacy with Tehran.
“Tough discussions will be needed over ballistic proliferation and Iran’s destabilization of its neighbors in the region,” Le Drian said.
The comments came after Iran told the UN nuclear watchdog last week that it was advancing research on uranium metal production, saying it is aimed at providing advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.
European powers on Saturday voiced deep concern over the plans, warning that Tehran has “no credible civilian use” for the uranium.
“The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications,” said the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, the so-called E3, in a joint statement.
Uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons. Iran had agreed to a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys” under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 with world powers.
“We strongly urge Iran to halt this activity, and return to compliance with its JCPOA commitments without further delay if it is serious about preserving the deal,” said the ministers.
The Iranian breaches of the deal have included exceeding the stockpile limit on enriched uranium, enriching beyond the permitted purity level, and using more advanced centrifuges than permitted.
Iran recently informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of its plans to increase enrichment to 20 percent, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.
A decision to begin enriching to 20% purity a decade ago nearly triggered an Israeli strike targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities. Tensions abated only slightly with the 2015 deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Iran says all of its breaches of the 2015 deal’s limits are reversible, but insists that the US has to come back to the deal and lift sanctions first.
European nations have warned that Iran’s moves risk “compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US administration.”
Last week the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said that there were “weeks” left to salvage the nuclear deal.
Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the Reuters Next conference that Tehran was advancing “quite rapidly” toward enriching uranium to 20 percent, as it has announced it would, in breach of the accord. He said the IAEA has assessed Iran will be able to produce some 10 kilograms a month.
Agencies contributed to this report.