Iran is operating without any limits on its nuclear program and is enriching more uranium than it did before the 2015 nuclear agreement, President Hassan Rouhani says.
Mr. Rouhani’s comments, in a televised speech on Thursday, were a gesture of defiance at U.S. and European pressure on its nuclear program.
After the U.S. assassination of Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani this month, Iran announced that it was no longer bound by the restrictions in the 2015 deal, which had already been renounced by the United States in 2018.
“We are enriching more uranium than before the deal was reached,” Mr. Rouhani said on Thursday.
“Pressure has increased on Iran, but we continue to progress,” he said.
Mr. Rouhani warned this week that European troops in the Middle East could be “in danger.” He issued the threat after Britain, France and Germany triggered a dispute mechanism in the 2015 agreement, which could lead to further sanctions against Iran, but could also force it back to the negotiating table to salvage the deal.
The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday in New Delhi to try to keep the nuclear deal alive. The EU described their meeting as “frank” and said they promised to “remain in close touch” in the coming weeks.
Mr. Borrell “underlined the continued interest of the European Union to preserve the agreement, which is now more important than ever, in light of the dangerous escalations in the Middle East and the Gulf region,” the EU said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Zarif accused the three European countries of bowing to “bullying” from U.S. President Donald Trump when they triggered the dispute mechanism.
Germany’s Defence Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, confirmed on Thursday a Washington Post report that the United States had threatened to impose a 25-per-cent tariff on automobiles if the European countries failed to impose the dispute mechanism.
But even before the U.S. threat, the three countries had already been planning to trigger the dispute mechanism, according to media reports on Thursday.
Mr. Zarif said the three countries “sold out” the “remnants” of the nuclear deal to avoid the threat of U.S. tariffs.
“Appeasement confirmed,” the Iranian Foreign Minister wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “It won’t work my friends. You only whet his appetite. Remember your high school bully?”
Israel’s military intelligence, in a briefing for journalists this week, predicted that Iran will have enough enriched uranium by the end of this year to produce a nuclear bomb. Within two years, Iran could also produce a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, the briefing heard.
On Twitter on Thursday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry posted a video of Mr. Rouhani’s threat to European soldiers. “No one is safe from Iran’s belligerence,” it wrote.
Mr. Zarif, however, insisted that the nuclear agreement is “not dead.” He said on Wednesday that the future of the agreement “depends on Europe.”
Iran has hoped that European countries would allow their companies to do business with Iran, easing the impact of U.S. sanctions. Instead Britain, France and Germany announced on Tuesday that they are reluctantly invoking the dispute mechanism in the nuclear agreement. This came after Iran’s declaration on Jan. 5 that it won’t obey any of the limits imposed by the nuclear deal, although it continues to allow United Nations inspectors to monitor the program.
Since Mr. Trump announced in 2018 that Washington was abandoning the nuclear agreement and reimposing sanctions on Iran, the Iranian government has taken a series of escalating steps to free itself from the restrictions in the agreement.
Washington and Tehran could be “heading for a confrontation that spells the nuclear deal’s end and sparks a broader regional conflict,” the International Crisis Group warned in a report on Thursday.
“A cycle pitting U.S. ‘maximum pressure’ against Iranian ‘maximum resistance’ has put the two sides on the brink of military confrontation,” it said.
The “steady degradation” of the nuclear deal “is pouring fuel on fires burning across the region,” the report said. “Its collapse would carry even higher costs and must be averted.”
But there is still a chance to prevent the deal’s implosion, the Crisis Group said. “It likely will require third-party mediation to reach an understanding that gives Tehran an economic reprieve and halts or reverses its nuclear measures.”
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