Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said Tehran had not violated its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after its stockpiles of enriched uranium breached a limit set in the landmark accord.
Iran on Monday announced its reserves of enriched uranium had surpassed the 300kg cap and said its next step would be to enrich uranium above the 3.67 percent limit in the accord, unless European powers did more to protect the Iranian economy from harsh US sanctions.
Last year, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the deal, which imposed limits on Iran’s nuclear activity in return for removing international sanctions on its economy. After leaving the accord, the US reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
In a statement on Monday, the White House said there was “little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms”.
Making light of the US reaction on Tuesday, Zarif tweeted a screengrab of the statement, asking: “Seriously?”
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) 2 July 2019
The foreign minister, who has been personally targeted in the latest round of US sanctions, said the Iranian move did not violate the accord, whose remaining signatories include China, Russia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
“We had previously announced this and were transparent in saying what we are going to do,” he told reporters. “We consider it our right, reserved in the nuclear deal.”
“Actions by the Europeans have not been enough, so we will move ahead with our plan,” he said.
US President Donald Trump on Monday warned that Tehran was “playing with fire” by exceeding the limits on uranium reserves, drawing criticism from Iran’s parliament speaker.
“Mr Trump should understand that when one uses bullying language against a civilised nation, they become more united,” Ali Larijani said on Tuesday in remarks broadcast on state television.
The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog confirmed that Tehran had breached the cap on enriched uranium reserves.
A diplomat in Vienna, where the UN’s nuclear watchdog is based, told AFP news agency that Iran had exceeded the limit by two kilogrammes.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Iran’s move was a cause for “regret” but also “a natural consequence of recent events” and a result of the “unprecedented pressure” from the US.
“One mustn’t dramatise the situation,” Ryabkov, whose country is a close ally of Tehran, said in comments reported by Russian news agencies.
UK’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter that London was “deeply worried” and urged Iran to “come back to compliance” with the nuclear deal.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said it was “essential” that Iran sticks to the deal.
The relationship between Washington and Tehran has been tense since the US withdrawal, with biting sanctions damaging Iran’s oil exports and other key sectors of its slowing economy.
While the European powers have moved to create a trade mechanism to skirt the sanctions, known as INSTEX, Tehran has said it does not meet Iran’s needs.
On Friday, the European Union said that INSTEX, which was designed to allow European companies to trade with Iran effectively via a barter system, was operational and that the first transactions were being processed.
But “the Europeans’ efforts were not enough, therefore Iran will go ahead with its announced measures”, Zarif said.
INSTEX, which “is just the beginning” of their commitments, has not yet been fully implemented, he added.
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 percent 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.