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Iran’s Zarif hints US, Israeli demands for zero enrichment will backfire

Tehran warns that the last time pair tried to stamp out country’s uranium enrichment program, it only increased ‘100-fold’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/ AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/ AP)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday hinted that the US and Israeli demands for zero enrichment would backfire and prompt the Islamic  Republic to accelerate its uranium production.

“[US National Security Adviser John] Bolton and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu killed the Paris agreement between E3 and Iran in ’05 by insisting on zero enrichment,” Zarif tweeted. “Result? Iran increased its enrichment 100-fold by 2012.”

“Now they’ve lured Donald Trump into killing JCPOA with the same delusion,” he wrote referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 pact between Iran and world powers, which has unraveled since the Trump administration pulled out of the deal last year.

“B Team hasn’t learned, BUT THE WORLD SHOULD,” Zarif concluded using a term he coined for Netanyahu, the Saudi crown prince, and Bolton.

Zarif was apparently referring to negotiations between Britain, France, and Germany — known as the EU-3 — and Iran, which began in 2003 with the goal of preventing Iran’s nuclear program from producing weapons.

Under the terms of the so-called Paris Agreement in 2004, Iran reaffirmed its commitment to an earlier plan, under which it would temporarily stop uranium enrichment and allow the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its nuclear facilities while negotiations continued. In exchange, the European countries were to recognize Iran’s nuclear rights, as long as they were not used to make weapons.

Talks continued for another two years with the US pressuring the EU-3 to not agree to any Iranian enrichment. Frustrated at the prolonged talks and the EU-3’s backpedaling from possibly allowing some enrichment, Iran in 2005 began purifying uranium again, which eventually led to UN sanctions and the negotiations that resulted in the JCPOA a decade later.

Between 2005 and 2006, Bolton was US ambassador to the UN and had urged sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Netanyahu was leader of the opposition at the time and repeatedly warned of the threat Iran’s nuclear activities presented to the world, calling for strong US action from then-US president George W. Bush.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 23, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Netanyahu strongly opposed the JCPOA, which offered sanctions relief in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, as being inadequate and continues to maintain that stance. Following the US withdrawal from the pact in May 2018, Bolton has called for stepped-up pressure on Iran to force it back to the negotiation table. Washington wants to negotiate stricter terms for the JCPOA, as well as limits on Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Iran announced on Sunday that it was set to raise its enrichment of uranium beyond a 3.67 percent level commitment laid down in the JCPOA, further increasing tensions with the international community.

Iran’s decision comes a year after Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal. Since then, America has imposed sanctions blocking Iranian crude oil from being sold on the world market.

In response, Iran on July 1 acknowledged breaking the deal’s 300-kilogram (661-pound) limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile.

Experts warn that higher enrichment and a growing stockpile narrows the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.

The UK, France, and Germany — who are also partners to the JCPOA — have yet to offer a way for Iran to avoid the sweeping economic sanctions imposed by Trump, especially those targeting its crucial oil sales. Under the burden of the sanctions Iran’s economy has gone into a recession.

Netanyahu on Sunday warned that the enrichment was a “very dangerous step.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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