Nuclear Deal

France, Russia urge 'restraint' after new nuclear breach by Iran

FILE - In this March 30, 2005 file photo, an Iranian security official in protective clothing walks through part of the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the Iranian city of Isfahan.
FILE - In this March 30, 2005 file photo, an Iranian security official in protective clothing walks through part of the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the Iranian city of Isfahan. AP - Vahid Salemi

France and Russia on Thursday urged Iran to show restraint after it started producing uranium metal in a new breach of limits laid out in Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. 

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France on Thursday urged Iran to show restraint after it started producing uranium metal in a new breach of limits laid out in Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

The UN s nuclear watchdog in Vienna reported that Iran has started producing uranium metal in defiance of the landmark 2015 accord, which former US president Donald Trump backed out of in 2018. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "on 8 February verified 3.6 gram of uranium metal at Iran’s Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant (FPFP) in Esfahan,” according to a statement seen by Reuters.

The move came as Iran warned that time was running out for President Joe Biden's administration to save the agreement from collapse.

Assassination

But Iran accelerated steps to move away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) after the assassination of its top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on 27 November 2020. No one has taken responsability for the killing, but the London-based Jewish Chronicle claims in a lengthy article on 10 February that Israel's Mossad is likely to have been behind it. 

Five days after Fakhrizadeh's murder, the all-powerful Guardian Council approved the “Strategic Action Plan to Lift Sanctions and Protect Iranian Nation’s Interests” bill, passed by the Iranian parliament, which "required" the country's Atomic Energy Agency to "produce and store at least 120 kilograms of enriched uranium with a 20-percent purity level every year for peaceful purposes," and expand enrichment facilities. 

Article 6 of the law says that if sanctions are not lifted within two months, IAEA inspections will be stopped. The deadline is set on 21 February. 

Russian sympathy

Iran's ally Russia expressed sympathy for Tehran's position, while nonetheless urging against provocations.

"We understand the logic of their actions and the reasons prompting Iran. Despite this it is necessary to show restraint and a responsible approach," Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told state news agency RIA Novosti.

Earlier on, Tass News Agency reported that Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov had said that the US should "not put forward preconditions for its return to the JCPOA" on the Iranian nuclear program.

Further escalation

France, meanwhile, warned Iran against any further escalation of its row with the West, which it hopes Biden will help resolve.

The French foreign ministry said there was a need to "preserve the political space for a negotiated solution" to the standoff.

"In this context we call on Iran to not take any new measure that would further aggravate the situation on the nuclear front, which is already extremely concerning due to the accumulation of Iranian violations of the Vienna accord," the ministry added.

But Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated Tehran's stance that Washington must take the first step toward restoring the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

"Biden administration officials keep talking about Iran's compliance with JCPOA -- In what capacity?" Zarif said on Twitter.

"U.S. ceased participation in May 2018, violated JCPOA & punished those complying with UN resolution. As of today, US remains in EXACTLY same position. Before spouting off, COMPLY," he wrote.

The deal reached by Iran with the US, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain, which aims to prevent Iran developing an atomic bomb, bans Tehran from "producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys" for 15 years.

Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal on 8 May 2018 as part of a campaign of "maximum pressure" on Iran, which included the reimposition of crippling economic sanctions.

Biden is seeking to revive the agreement, but the two sides appear to be in a standoff over who should act first.

Iran denies having any ambitions of building a nuclear bomb, but said last month it was researching the production of uranium metal, a potential component for nuclear weapons.

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