Iran said on Saturday that it will soon exceed the limit for enriched uranium reached under the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, after talks in Vienna with the remaining signatories to the deal “could not satisfy Iran’s just demands,” an Iranian official said according to the Fars news agency.
“As the commission meeting in Vienna could not satisfy Iran’s just demands … Iran is determined to cut it commitments to the deal and the 300 kilograms enriched uranium limit will be soon breached,” an unnamed official was quoted as saying.
Tehran has been pushing for Britain, Germany, France, China, Russia, and the European Union – which signed onto the deal negotiated under the Obama administration – to save the controversial agreement after the US under Donald Trump withdrew last year, and to stem Washington’s increasing sanctions.
Iran has asked European partners to advance the EU-proposed Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) which would help ensure trade between Iran and Europe by allowing buyers and sellers to exchange money without relying on the usual cross-border financial transactions.
After a meeting on Friday in Vienna, Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, said that for the INSTEX system to be useful, “Europeans need to buy oil from Iran, or to consider credit lines for this mechanism.”
Iran recently quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium. It previously said it would surpass a 300-kg stockpile limit set by the accord by Thursday, but then said it was below the limit Wednesday and there would be no new assessment until “after the weekend.” It is currently a holiday weekend in Iran.
On Saturday, the official said the limit would soon be breached but did not go into further detail. The 2015 deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. After Trump withdrew the US from the accord, he imposed new sanctions on Iran in hopes of forcing Tehran into negotiating a wider-ranging deal.
European countries are pressing for Iran to comply in full with the accord, though they have not specified what the consequences would be of failing to do so.
But Iran maintains that even if it surpasses the enrichment limit, it would not be breaching the deal, and says such a move could be reversed quickly.
Europe also have faced a July 7 deadline set by Tehran to offer long-promised relief from US sanctions, or Iran says it will also begin enriching its uranium closer to weapons-grade levels.
INSTEX was conceived in January but has taken months to activate.
Senior EU diplomat Helga Schmid confirmed on Twitter that the system is “now operational, (with) first transactions being processed” and more EU member countries to join. She said that Friday’s discussions were constructive and tweeted that “full and effective implementation of #IranDeal by all sides remains key.”
Araghchi said Friday he will report back to Tehran, which will make further decisions. Of the 300-kg limit, he said that “the decision to reduce our commitments has already [been] made in Iran, and we continue on that process unless our expectations are met.”
Asked whether there would be a follow-up meeting, Araghchi said that delegates “decided to have a ministerial meeting very soon,” perhaps in the next few weeks, although a time and place have not yet been determined. Friday’s meeting was held at a lower level of senior foreign ministry officials.
Trump said on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Japan that “there’s no rush” to ease tensions with Iran.
“There’s absolutely no time pressure,” he added. “I think that in the end, hopefully, it’s going to work out. If it does, great. And if doesn’t, you’ll be hearing about it.”
Tensions have been rising in the Middle East between the US and Iran. Citing unspecified Iranian threats, the US has sent an aircraft carrier to the region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there.
The US has been worried about international shipping through the Strait of Hormuz since tankers were damaged in May and June in what Washington has blamed on limpet mines from Iran,though Tehran denies any involvement.
Last week, Iran shot down a US Navy surveillance drone, saying it violated its territory; Washington said it was in international airspace.
Cornelius Adebahr, an associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Berlin, said there was a risk of “a big conflict.”
“There is so much space for miscalculations, for misperceptions and there is no direct communication between Iran and the US,” he said. During the Cold War, he noted, Washington and Moscow had a direct hotline for crises, but now “there is nothing comparable and that makes this all so dangerous.”
On Thursday, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook met top European diplomats in Paris and said he wants them to get tougher on Iran, instead of clinging to the nuclear deal.
The US is trying to drum up support for an international naval force in the Persian Gulf, notably to protect shipping. On Friday, Hook met in London with the head of the International Maritime Organization, the UN shipping safety agency, to share intelligence on “Iran’s recent aggression in and around the Strait of Hormuz.”
Hook said that “we have put ourselves in a strictly defensive position but we are, we think, making strides to restore deterrence.”
He also stressed that “you can’t do business with the United States and Iran, and everyone has chosen the United States over Iran for a number of reasons.”