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Iran

Iran moves another step away from nuclear deal

Behrouz Kamalvandi (l), spokesperson for the AEOI, Abbas Araghchi (r), deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and Ali Rabiei, government spokesperson, during a press conference in Tehran, July 7, 2019
Behrouz Kamalvandi (l), spokesperson for the AEOI, Abbas Araghchi (r), deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and Ali Rabiei, government spokesperson, during a press conference in Tehran, July 7, 2019 Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS / Hamed Malekpour

Iran said Sunday it was set to breach the uranium enrichment cap set by the nuclear deal. The Iranian Atomic Energy Agency says this was the “second stage” of Iran scaling down its commitments to the deal. Israel calls it a “very dangerous step,” but is Iran really breaking the rules?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, probably the biggest enemy of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, the official name of the nuclear deal, calls Iran’s action “a very dangerous step”

“I call on my friends, leaders of France, Britain, Germany: You signed the deal and said the moment they'd take this measure, harsh sanctions would be imposed," he said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

His remarks came after the announcement, Sunday, by the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), that it will “increase its enrichment level from today”

Increasing enrichment levels is the “second step” of scaling down commitments to the JCPOA after Iran announced earlier that it would break the cap of 300 kg of enriched uranium stockpiles.

Declining oil sales

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi singled out Iran's declining oil sales and the effect of financial sanctions as the main issues that needed to be solved, or Tehran would further step back from its nuclear commitments.

Earlier on, the AEOI pointed out that the moves are still within the limits of the JCPOA.

According to the text, “Iran will maintain a total enriched uranium stockpile of no more than 300 kg of up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexafluoride for 15 years,” meaning that until July 14, 2030 this cap cannot be breached.

But this only counts if all parties stick to the deal.

But in May 2018, the US unilaterally walked away from the JCPOA with President Donald Trump saying it was a “disaster,” so “terrible” that it would steer the world into a “nuclear holocaust.” This implied that Iran could also stop partly, or fully, respecting the deal.

More room to talk

Article 26 states that the U.S. “will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions. Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction ... as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.’’

As for Europe, there is more room to talk. The JCPOA’s article 36 says that “if Iran itself or the European partners would not stick to the deal, Iran the Joint Commission that supervises the implementation of the deal “would have 15 days to resolve the issue.”

Europe has been making efforts to circumvent US retaliation with the creation of the “Instrument in Support of Trade and Exchanges” (Instex) that would allow companies to make deals with Iran without being hit by US sanctions.

On June 28, Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Helga Schmid announced that INSTEX has become operational.

Good progress

"INSTEX now operational, first transactions being processed and more EU Members States to join. Good progress on Arak and Fordow projects," Schmid wrote on her twitter account after a meeting of the Joint Commission on JCPOA ended in Vienna.

French Minister of Finance, Bruno Le Maire, on July 4 expressed hope that first trade transaction with Iran under Instex will be conducted “in a few days,” but Iranian officials say it is too little, too late, with head of Iran’s Foreign Relations Council Kamal Kharrazi saying that it is “merely a claim, it would not solve any problem.”

Heavy water reactor

The International Atomic Energy Agency will now first have to take samples to see if Iran’s enrichment levels were indeed more than the agreed 3.67 percent before the remaining JCPOA partners take further steps.

Rouhani initially flagged Tehran's intentions on May 8, exactly a year on from US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoning the JCPOA.

Iran has also threatened to also resume building as of July 7 a heavy water reactor in Arak in central Iran, a project that had been shelved under the agreement.

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