White House demands zero enrichment for Iran after cap broken

Washington says ‘even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms,’ as Tehran breaches 2015 accord’s limits on uranium enrichment

US President Donald Trump gestures, during a press conference on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
US President Donald Trump gestures, during a press conference on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

WASHINGTON — The United States will “never allow” Iran to develop nuclear weapons, the White House warned Monday, after Tehran said it had exceeded a limit on enriched uranium reserves set under a 2015 nuclear deal.

“Maximum pressure on the Iranian regime will continue until its leaders alter their course of action,” said a statement from White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. “The regime must end its nuclear ambitions and its malign behavior.”

“The United States and its allies will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons,” it said, calling it “a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level.”

“There is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms,” it added.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to the statement by highlighting the claim that Tehran violated the deal before it existed and sardonically tweeting the word “Seriously?”

Iran said Monday that it has surpassed a cap on its enriched uranium reserves under the nuclear deal that has edged towards collapse under Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign.

The State Department also vowed to step up economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran until its leaders return to the negotiating table to hammer out a new nuclear deal.

“The United States is committed to negotiating a new and comprehensive deal with the Iranian regime to resolve its threats to international peace and security. As long as Iran continues to reject diplomacy and expand its nuclear program, the economic pressure and diplomatic isolation will intensify,” it said.

Criticizing the 2015 accord for permitting some uranium enrichment, the State Department said “the right standard” would ban Iran from any enrichment.

It also accused the regime of using the accord to blackmail the international community. “The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism continues to use its nuclear program to extort the international community and threaten regional security,” it said.

Israel earlier urged European states to sanction Iran, while Russia voiced regret, but said the move was a consequence of US pressure.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif attends the geopolitical discussion event ‘Iran Regional and Global Prespective for 2019,’ in New Delhi on January 8, 2019. (Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)

Britain called on Tehran “to avoid any further steps away” from the landmark deal, and the UN said Iran must stick to its commitments under the accord.

“Iran has crossed the 300-kilogram limit based on its plan” announced in May, Zarif told semi-official news agency ISNA.

But he also said the move could be reversed.

Zarif also insisted Iran had done nothing wrong. “We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” he tweeted using an acronym for the nuclear deal.

He referred to a paragraph in the pact outlining mechanisms to resolve disputes if one side believes the other is not meeting its obligations.

“We triggered & exhausted para 36 after US withdrawal,” tweeted Zarif.

He said Iran would “reverse” its decision “as soon as E3 abide by their obligations” — referring to the European partners of the deal Britain, France and Germany.

Illustrative: An unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency inspector cuts the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium enrichment at the Natanz facility, some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Monday, January 20, 2014. (AP/IRNA, Kazem Ghane)

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran had exceeded the limit that the deal had imposed on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU).

The United States withdrew from the nuclear deal last year and reimposed biting sanctions on Iran’s crucial oil exports and financial transactions as well as other sectors.

Iran has also threatened to start enriching uranium above the agreed maximum purification level of 3.67 percent from July 7. That remains far short of the 90% purity required to build a weapon.

The latest tensions coincide with a buildup of US forces in the Gulf and a series of incidents including Iran’s shooting down of a US drone it claimed had entered its airspace.

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