Iran threatens ‘industrial scale’ enrichment, as its FM sets out to save deal

Zarif embarks on diplomatic tour in bid to salvage 2015 nuke accord, but nation’s atomic agency ordered to prepare for operations ‘without restrictions’

Iran Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari in Brussels on January 11, 2018. (AFP/John Thys)
Iran Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari in Brussels on January 11, 2018. (AFP/John Thys)

Iran threatened Friday to start uranium enrichment on an “industrial scale” in response to the US exit from the nuclear deal, while simultaneously seeking to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord through negotiations with European nations.

A statement issued by the government Friday said it had tasked the president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran with “taking all necessary steps in preparation for Iran to pursue industrial-scale enrichment without any restrictions, using the results of the latest research and development of Iran’s brave nuclear scientists.”

At the same time, the statement said the other parties to the agreement — especially Britain, France and Germany — must safeguard the accord, implement their commitments, and “proceed from giving pledges to taking practical action without any preconditions.”

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will embark on a diplomatic tour to try to salvage the accord, and is seeking “required guarantees” from the five other parties to the agreement as well as Iran’s other economic parties. His spokesman said Zarif will leave late Saturday for visits to Beijing, Moscow and Brussels for meetings with all five of the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Zarif will hold high-pressure talks with the other parties to the deal, first in Beijing and Moscow, and then with his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany in Brussels on Tuesday.

All five have condemned Trump’s move to walk out of the deal and reimpose crippling sanctions, but European companies in particular will be highly vulnerable to economic pressure from Washington.

Iran’s official line is that the Islamic Republic is not interested and has never pursued nuclear offensive capabilities. The enrichment of uranium is a requirement for producing nuclear weapons, though lower level enrichment is used for civilian nuclear power and also has medicinal applications.

Israel in late April said it had obtained tens of thousands of secret Iranian documents which proved the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program before the nuclear accord was signed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “Iran lied” to the world.

Thousands of Iranians on Friday protested against Trump’s decision to leave the accord that offered Tehran relief from most US and international sanctions in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Iranians set fire to a makeshift US flag during a demonstration after Friday prayer in the capital Tehran on May 11, 2018. (AFP)

Iranian state TV aired footage of protests against the US and Israel at rallies in Tehran and elsewhere after Friday prayers. Thousands marched in the protests, carrying anti-American and anti-Israeli banners and posters. The demonstrators mocked the US president by chanting, “Mr. Trump you cannot do a damn thing,” and, “We fight. We die. We don’t surrender,” Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, France on Friday urged Europeans to stand up to Trump over the nuclear deal and not act as “vassals,” as the EU scrambled to find ways to save the accord and the billions of dollars in trade it unleashed.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Europe-1 radio that Europe should not accept that the US is the “world’s economic policeman.”

“Do we want to be vassals who obey decisions taken by the United States while clinging to the hem of their trousers?” Le Maire asked. “Or do we want to say we have our economic interests, we consider we will continue to do trade with Iran?”

European governments tried for months to persuade Trump to stick with the deal but failed, and now fear it will raise the risk of conflict in the region. Aside from the mounting military tensions between Iran and Israel, oil prices are rising on the uncertainty.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke Friday and underlined their aim of preserving the deal and peace in the Mideast. And European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini insisted that it’s not up to the US to determine the deal’s future anyway.

“This deal is not a bilateral treaty. It’s a UN Security Council Resolution and it belongs to the entire world,” said Mogherini, who will chair talks Tuesday with the British, French, German and Iranian foreign ministers in Brussels.

Merkel said the US decision to withdraw from the deal was a serious blow, and that it would be difficult to keep the deal alive, given that a “huge economic power has left.

“We hope we can, but there are a lot of things playing a role in this,” she said. “We will have to discuss that with Iran.”

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