Iranian officials on Tuesday claimed that exceeding the limits on stockpiled uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal somehow preserves the spirit of the deal and scoffed at U.S. accusations they have been violating it all along.
Iran’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kazem Gharibabadi, did not dispute the IAEA’s judgment that Iran has exceeded the limit of 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium specified in the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Instead, Gharibabadi claimed on Tuesday the JCPOA gave Iran the “right” to ignore those limits if it feels the other signatories to the deal are not living up to their obligations. Specifically, Tehran feels the European nations that remained in the deal after the United States withdrew have not done enough to protect Iran from the effect of U.S. sanctions.
“It is now Europe’s turn to take serious practical measures to save the JCPOA, if they really care about its fate,” Gharibabadi insisted.
Iran has announced it will violate additional, more serious provisions of the JCPOA if Europe does not comply with its demands within ten days.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a chief architect of the JCPOA, insisted on Tuesday that Iran has not actually breached the deal and mocked a White House statement that Iran has been violating it all along.
The White House leveled that accusation in a statement on Monday:
The Iranian regime took action today to increase its uranium enrichment. It was 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. We must restore the longstanding nonproliferation standard of no enrichment for Iran. The United States and its allies will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Maximum pressure on the Iranian regime will continue until its leaders alter their course of action. The regime must end its nuclear ambitions and its malign behavior.
Zarif responded with a sardonic “Seriously?” on Twitter.
“We had previously announced this and were transparent in saying what we are going to do. We consider it our right, reserved in the nuclear deal,” the foreign minister told reporters.
“Actions by the Europeans have not been enough, so we will move ahead with our plan,” he said.
For the moment, European participants in the JCPOA are permitting Iran to ratchet up pressure on them by hesitating to invoke provisions that would penalize Iran for violating the uranium stockpile limit and begin unraveling the deal entirely, ending with the return of the U.N. sanctions lifted by the deal in 2015. Iran’s allies China and Russia expressed mild disappointment with Iran’s decision to enrich more uranium but urged Europe to keep the deal alive.
“Not for now. We want to defuse the crisis,” an unnamed European diplomat told Reuters on Tuesday when asked if any European powers planned to trigger the dispute resolution mechanisms in the JCPOA.
“In the immediate term, Iran must return to its obligations. There is room for dialogue,” a French diplomat added, espousing a position that may become untenable next week if Iran follows through on its threat to violate more provisions of the nuclear deal.
Supporters of the JCPOA are striving mightily to minimize Iran’s violation as all but insignificant, although even these apologias acknowledge that enriching more low-yield uranium paves the way for producing more high-grade material and breaching provisions of the deal that not even the most desperate defenders of the JCPOA could ignore.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed efforts to minimize Tehran’s transgressions on Monday and said Iran has already taken a “significant step” toward producing nuclear weapons.
“When we exposed the secret Iranian nuclear archive we proved that any nuclear agreement with Iran is built on one big lie. Now even Iran acknowledges this,” Netanyahu said, referring to a trove of Iranian documents revealed by Israeli intelligence in April 2018.
“Soon will be revealed additional proofs that Iran has been lying this whole time,” he added.