Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 August 2020

White House security chief John Bolton vows to keep pressure on Iran after it breaks another nuclear limit

French envoy expected in Tehran as European states press for reversal of nuclear accord breaches

The US will continue to increase pressure on Iran until it abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ceases its violent activities in the Middle East, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Monday.

“We will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime until it abandons its nuclear weapons programme and ends its violent activities across the Middle East, including conducting and supporting terrorism around the world,” Mr Bolton told a Christians United for Israel summit in Washington.

Iran denies that it wants nuclear weapons and said it did not want war with America.

Mr Bolton said that US President Donald Trump's maximum-pressure campaign against Iran was working and harming the country's economy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening said Iran was “trying to lash out to reduce the pressure”, but that countries should keep it up.

“They attack tankers, they down American drones, they’re firing missiles at their neighbours,” Mr Netanyahu said.

"We should stand up to Iran’s aggression now and Europe should back the sanctions instituted by President Trump. We certainly did."

Earlier on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron sent his top diplomatic adviser to Tehran to try to save the 2015 nuclear deal, as Iran was confirmed to have breached another of its obligations under the accord by enriching uranium beyond the permitted level.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said its inspectors on Monday "verified that Iran is enriching uranium above 3.67 per cent U-235", referring to the isotope of uranium needed to power nuclear reactors and build nuclear weapons.

French officials said presidential adviser Emmanuel Bonne would meet Iranian leaders in Tehran on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mr Macron and other European leaders are trying to convince Iran to return to the terms of the deal amid escalating tension with the US, which abandoned the pact last year.

Iran announced its intention to go beyond the enrichment limit on Sunday, a week after carrying out its threat to exceed its permitted stockpile of 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium.

An IAEA report to member states, obtained by Reuters, said the agency had verified the enrichment level using online monitors and samples had been taken for analysis.

It did not say to what purity level Iran was enriching, only that it was above the 3.67 per cent limit.

A spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran said earlier on Monday that the level had passed 4.5 per cent, Iranian news agency Isna reported.

The spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, also hinted on Monday that Iran might consider going to 20 per cent enrichment or higher as a third step, if the material is needed.

That would worry nuclear non-proliferation experts, because 20 per cent is technically a short step away from reaching weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent.

Iran's latest breach advances its threat to flout the terms of the deal unless the European parties – France, Britain Germany and the EU – find a way to restore Iranian access to oil markets and the global economy.

They have been curtailed by increasingly tough US sanctions imposed by Mr Trump after he pulled the US out of the nuclear accord in May last year.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran appreciated the efforts of some nations to save the deal, but expressed doubts as to whether they would lead to results.

"We have no hope nor trust in anyone, nor any country, but the door of diplomacy is open," Mr Mousavi said.

He gave a sharp warning to Europe about another 60-day deadline Iran set on Sunday, which expires on September 5.

"If the remaining countries in the deal, especially the Europeans, do not fulfil their commitments seriously and not do anything more than talk, Iran's third step will be harder, more steadfast and somehow stunning," Mr Mousavi said.

Mr Trump on Sunday warned Iran to be careful after Tehran announced its decision to break the enrichment limit.

“Iran better be careful, because you enrich for one reason and I won’t tell you what the reason is, but it’s no good,” he said.

Mr Trump withdrew from the deal because its restrictions applied only for 15 years and it failed to curtail Iran's missile programme and destabilising activity in the Middle East.

Iran rejects his offer to discuss a new pact, saying Tehran will not negotiate under pressure.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that Iran's increase in nuclear enrichment was part of Iran's "malign" activities, which included recent attacks on oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf region.

Mr Pompeo repeated Mr Trump's vow that the US will "never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon" and said the Tehran "should not confuse American restraint with a lack of American resolve".

"We hope for the best but the United States and our military are prepared to protect our interests and protect our personnel and our citizens in the region," he told the Christian group that Mr Bolton also addressed.

Mr Trump called off retaliatory air strikes at the last minute after Iran last month shot down a US surveillance drone. Tehran claimed the aircraft was over its territorial waters, which the US denied.

The increase in tension has been felt across the region, with Iran-backed rebels in Yemen stepping up attacks across the border into Saudi Arabia.

On Monday, the Saudi-led Arab Coalition supporting the Yemeni government said it had thwarted an attempt by the rebels to attack a commercial ship in southern waters of the Red Sea using a booby-trapped boat.

Coalition spokesman Col Turki Al Malki said coalition forces saw the unmanned boat while it was moving, then intercepted and destroyed it.

Updated: July 9, 2019 10:01 AM



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