In Brief

Why Iran has violated part of the 2015 nuclear deal

Further breaches expected as Tehran presses to increase trade with Europe

Iran nuclear power

Iran has breached the limit on its stockpile of enriched uranium set under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the International Atomic Energy Agency has announced.

The global watchdog says its inspectors have confirmed that the 300kg (660lb) cap had been exceeded. Tehran had earlier announced it was breaching the deal by allowing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to exceed 300kg (660lbs). Iran once had 10,000kg of higher-enriched uranium.

“Based on what I have been told, Iran has exceeded the 300kg limit in accordance with its plan,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday afternoon.

“We have clearly said what we will do and we will act accordingly. We deem it as part of our rights under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”

CNN says “the move is thought to be Tehran's first major breach of the accord since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement last year”.

The Guardian predicts the development will “put pressure on Europe to do more to help mitigate the effect of crippling US sanctions”.

Jonathan Marcus, the The BBC’s defence correspondent, said the move “will prompt a crescendo of protest from its more strident critics”.  

Marcus added that Tehran has “threatened to increase its level of uranium enrichment to up to 20% from Sunday,” which would enable it to get some 90% of the way towards having material suitable for a bomb. “And that really will set diplomatic alarm bells ringing,” he warned.

European nations have already stated that any violation of the deal would bring consequences. A clause in the deal allows for the re-imposition of multilateral sanctions that were lifted in return for Iran limiting its nuclear activities.

However, leaders in Iran believe that Europe could be pushed to do more to increase trade with Iran, which has collapsed over the past year under the weight of US secondary sanctions.

Reuters pointed out that French, British and German officials had “promised a strong diplomatic response if Iran fundamentally breached the deal”, but added that the “initial European response appeared muted”.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “deeply worried” by the news. “UK remains committed to making deal work and using all diplomatic tools to de-escalate regional tensions,” he wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, tensions continue to bubble away between Washington and Tehran. In the two months since Washington tightened its sanctions, Trump has blamed Iran for attacks on ships, and after Iran shot down a US drone, he ordered air strikes in retaliation, only to abort them minutes before impact. 

The US President has accused Iran of “playing with fire” with the latest stockpiling of enriched uranium.

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