Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday announced that the Islamic Republic intends to take a “third step” to reduce its commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement, according to parliamentary news agency ICANA cited by Reuters.
“The third step in reducing commitments to [the nuclear deal] will be implemented in the current situation,” Zarif said, without further clarification of what that might entail.
“We have said that if [the deal] is not completely implemented by others then we will also implement it in the same incomplete manner. And, of course, all of our actions have been within the framework of [the deal],” said Zarif, who had financial sanctions imposed on him by the US on Wednesday, and was reportedly invited to the White House to meet with US President Donald Trump last month.
The move comes as the US has both pushed ahead with a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and also tried to cajole it into talks for a new nuclear deal, after the US withdrew last year from the 2015 pact that Zarif helped negotiate. Trump has long rejected the nuclear deal, saying it was too generous to Tehran and did not address its involvement in regional conflicts.
At the same time, tensions have been escalating over Iran’s moves to increase uranium enrichment beyond limits set by the deal, part of a bid to pressure Europe into helping it find a way to avoid the punishing sanctions, particularly against its oil sector.
The row has been exacerbated by alleged Iranian harassment and attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf, the downing of a US spy drone, and a build up of US forces in the region.
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi last month told Iranian lawmakers that the country will restart activities at the Arak heavy water facility, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing a lawmaker who was at the meeting.
The industrial complex at Arak in western Iran was a key topic in negotiations due to its nuclear reactor and heavy-water production facility, which were still under construction at the time.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in July warned European countries that if they are not able to provide enough economic incentives despite the US sanctions then Iran will restart construction of the Arak facility and bring it to the condition that “according to you, is dangerous and can produce plutonium.”
Heavy water is used as a coolant in nuclear reactors that produce plutonium, which when enriched can be used for nuclear weapons.
Under the terms of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
Iran said in May it would disregard certain curbs the deal set on its nuclear program and threatened to take further measures if remaining parties to the pact, especially European nations, did not help it circumvent the US sanctions.
Nuclear experts are concerned that the recent measures taken by Iran, breaking an enriched uranium stockpile limit and enriching uranium beyond an agreed purity, will shorten the current year-long window the country would need to produce enough nuclear material needed for a weapon.
Efforts by European powers, notably France’s President Emmanuel Macron, to salvage the nuclear deal have so far come to nothing.