Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Wednesday that Iran will partially withdraw from the nuclear deal struck with the Obama administration in 2015 and threatened to increase uranium enrichment in 60 days if Europe does not meet Iranian demands.
In a televised address on the first anniversary of President Donald Trump withdrawing the United States from the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Rouhani said Iran will resume stockpiling uranium and heavy water instead of selling them to other countries as the agreement requires.
Recent U.S. sanctions made it more difficult for Iran to export enriched uranium to Russia, so it would have been necessary to reduce production to respect the limits on Iran’s inventory. The sanctions did not entirely prevent other countries from working with Iran’s civilian nuclear program, but they were designed to pressure Iran into reducing the amount of uranium it enriches.
Rouhani further threatened to resume enriching uranium beyond the level necessary for civilian nuclear power and resume construction on the Arak nuclear facility, shut down as part of the nuclear deal.
He claimed “hardliners” in the United States have “spared no effort since 2015 to undermine” the nuclear deal because it benefited “the interests of the region and the world, but not the enemies of Iran.”
Rouhani claimed these measures were “surgery” to “save” the JCPOA rather than destroying it.
“If the five countries join negotiations and help Iran to reach its benefits in the field of oil and banking, Iran will return to its commitments according to the nuclear deal,” he said.
The “five countries” he referred to were the other signatories to the JCPOA: Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia.
The Chinese and Russians require no inducements to take Iran’s side in the dispute – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded to Rouhani’s announcement by claiming Iran’s action is an understandable response to “Washington’s irresponsible behavior” – so the goal is clearly to blackmail the Europeans into helping Iran evade the crushing pressure of U.S. sanctions.
The initial reaction from the Europeans was to insist Iran abide by all of its obligations under the JCPOA, ruling out the use of “partial withdrawal” as a pressure tactic.
“We do not want Tehran to announce tomorrow actions that would violate the nuclear agreement, because in this case we Europeans would be obliged to reimpose sanctions as per the terms of the agreement. We don’t want that and we hope that the Iranians will not make this decision,” a source within the French government told Voice of America News.
“We sent messages to Tehran to say that we were determined to implement the agreement, that we really wanted them to stay in this agreement even though we took into account the complexity of the situation and passed on the same messages to our American allies,” the source continued, anticipating a “collective European reaction” will be forthcoming.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly said the possibility of European sanctions on Iran “will be raised” if Tehran violates the JCPOA.
“Nothing would be worse than Iran leaving this deal,” Parly said, adding that European governments “absolutely want to keep this agreement alive.”
Parly’s remarks suggest the Europeans believe they can hold firm until Iran’s tantrum passes because they doubt Rouhani would take steps that decisively ended the JCPOA and brought European sanctions crashing down on a badly weakened Iranian economy. Europe may also find the timing of Rouhani’s demands awkward since Iran’s allies in Gaza just launched 700 rockets at Israeli civilians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms.
“This morning, on my way here, I heard that Iran intends to continue its nuclear program,” Netanyahu said at a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Mount Herzl military cemetery. “We will not let Iran get nuclear weapons. We will continue to fight our enemies and will strike our roots even deeper in our homeland. That is what our heroes did at the dawn of the nations’ rebirth, and we march in their path.”
“The events of the last few days show clearly what our struggle is about: the efforts of those who seek our harm, who want to destroy our country and uproot us from our land,” he said, referring to the rocket attack from Gaza.