France urges Iran to reverse breach of nuclear limit; Tehran remains defiant

By LOVEDAY MORRIS | The Washington Post | Published: July 2, 2019

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — French President Emmanuel Macron urged Iran on Tuesday to reverse its decision to exceed the limit for low-enriched uranium laid out in a 2015 nuclear deal "without delay" as fellow signatories Russia and China called on Tehran to show restraint.

In a statement Macron called on Iran to refrain from taking "extra measures" that would cast doubt on its commitment to the deal. It came a day after Tehran announced that it has surpassed the accord's 300-kilogram (660-pound) stockpile limit for low-enriched uranium, with the United Nations' nuclear watchdog confirming the breach.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Iran to "observe key provisions of the deal" and "in no way be subjected to emotions." China expressed "regret" over Iran's decision but blamed the United States' campaign of "maximum pressure" against Iran for the escalating tension.

The Trump administration has reintroduced sanctions on Iran since it pulled out of the nuclear agreement last year, reneging on a deal reached between Tehran and six world powers under the Obama administration. Tehran says that means it cannot get the economic benefits from curbing its nuclear program that are outlined in the deal. It cited that circumstance in announcing its decision Monday to reduce its commitments under the deal by increasing its enriched-uranium stockpile.

Iran argues that the remaining signatories are not holding up their side of the accord, as Europe has struggled to find a workaround that would allow European trade with Iran to continue without companies falling afoul of U.S. sanctions.

In calling on Iran to show restraint, the remaining signatories to the deal did not raise the prospect of reimposing European sanctions. European diplomats have indicated that they see Iran's move as reversible and part of a negotiating tactic to gain some economic relief.

President Donald Trump on Monday accused Tehran of "playing with fire" in breaching the deal that he himself had repeatedly criticized.

U.S. officials have argued that American sanctions should be no excuse for Iran to increase its enrichment levels. The White House went a step further on Monday by saying that Iran should not be allowed to enrich uranium at all.

In its statement, the White House said there was "little doubt" that "even before the deal's existence, Iran was violating its terms."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had a one word quip in response to that on Tuesday. "Seriously?" he posted on Twitter, attaching the statement. Before Monday, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency had said Iran was abiding by its commitments.

Officials in Iran remained defiant. Trump has misread Iran, parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said Tuesday in comments carried by the state news agency.

"Trump needs to know that as long as he speaks the language of coercion with a civilized nation, they will only grow closer and more unified," he said.

The "errors, mistakes and paradoxical comments" from Washington have increased during the tenure of the "current weird president" of the United States, he added.

Europe appears likely to be forced to take a tougher stance if Tehran moves ahead with threats to further reduce its commitments under the deal.

To be used to produce energy in a nuclear reactor, uranium has to go through a process of enrichment. That level is fairly low for reactor fuel, but if uranium is enriched to much higher levels, it can be turned into fissile material for a nuclear weapon. The nuclear deal with Iran was meant to head off such a development.

Increasing the stockpile limits of uranium enriched to 3.67% does not put Tehran significantly closer to nuclear weapons and falls far short of the weapons-grade enrichment level of more than 90% needed for a nuclear bomb.

But Iran has said it may go further, by enriching uranium to a grade of as much as 20% if it does not see sanctions relief by a July 7 deadline. Such a move could draw a stronger response from Europe, possibly triggering its own sanctions.

The United States has been trying to persuade Europe to join its tactic of exerting maximum pressure against Tehran, but European nations see the nuclear deal as key to maintaining regional security. Some analysts have linked the soaring tensions in the Persian Gulf to the biting economic pressure against Iran, as Tehran shows that it can push back.

Trump said he came close to striking Iran last month after Tehran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Washington has also accused Tehran of attacking tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a charge it denies.

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