Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

After tanker attack, Iran foreign minister renews warning over nuclear deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives to meet his Japanese counterpart in Tehran on June 12, 2019. AFP
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives to meet his Japanese counterpart in Tehran on June 12, 2019. AFP

Iran plans to maintain its scale back of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal unless other signatories show “positive signals", the Iranian president told a meeting of Russian, Chinese and other Asian leaders in Tajikistan.

Iran has said that it will begin to stop complying with all elements of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed between Tehran and world powers in 2015, after the United States left the deal just over a year and began implementing crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Tehran said in May that in 60 days it would start enriching uranium above the levels set out in the 2015 deal unless other signatories did more to protect the economy from the impact of US sanctions.

Europe has launched the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) to offer EU companies to trade with Iran totally outside of the US banking system in order to avoid sanctions. However, the US has made it clear that firms can choose to trade with Iran or the US but not both.

In a visit to Tehran last week, Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas appeared to signal that Iran should not hold out hope of a more robust EU response when he said that Germany and European partners "have made the greatest effort to meet [their] commitments.”

Iran thinks otherwise.

"Obviously, Iran cannot stick to this agreement unilaterally," President Hassan Rouhani told the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.

"It is necessary that all the sides of this agreement contribute to restoring it," he said, adding that Iran needed to see "positive signals" from other signatories to the pact, which include Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

He did not give details on what actions Iran would take or say what positive signals Tehran wanted to see.

But on Friday, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affair Dr Anwar Gargash launched a withering attack on Mr Zarif, saying that his comments were becoming “more farcical and his credibility diminishing.”

“Public relations is no real substitute to constructive policies. De-escalation in the current situation requires wise actions not empty words,” he said in a tweet.

Since the May announcement, Iran has multiplied the speed of enrichment dramatically but it remains a long way from the maximum rate possible under the 2015 deal. This means that the Islamic Republic is still months away from breaching the terms of the deal, diplomats have said.

Inspectors from the UN atomic watchdog, which is policing the deal's nuclear restrictions, told member states last week that Iran has accelerated its uranium enrichment to around 12 kilograms a month, roughly three times the previous rate, diplomats who attended the quarterly technical briefing said.

If it continues producing at that rate, Iran is likely to hit the deal's 202.8 kg limit on its enriched uranium stock in around two months. Its stock was 174.1 kg on May 20, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency's last quarterly report said.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the deal would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories to confront Iran.

"They could really put a knife to our throats," one diplomat said, referring to the pressure that would put on other signatories to respond.

However, US National Security Advisor John Bolton told The National last month that there was no reason for Iran to increase enrichment of uranium up to or over the limits unless it was seeking to reduce the breakout time to build a nuclear weapon.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran was allowed to uranium enrich up to 3.67 per cent uranium-235 – enough for power generation – but well short of the 95 per cent or more needed for weapons-grade material.

The European signatories to the 2015 deal, which aimed to ease fears of an Iranian nuclear ambition, have said they wanted to save it, but many of their companies have cancelled deals with Tehran due to the financial pressure from the United States.

Western powers have accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies saying it wants nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Mr Rouhani made no mention of attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman this week which Washington has blamed on Tehran, raising concerns about new confrontation. Iran has denied any role in the attacks.

Updated: June 15, 2019 01:12 PM

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