Iran announced plans on Wednesday to resume enriching uranium at higher levels if world powers will not accept new terms under the 2015 nuclear deal that U.S. President Donald Trump's administration renounced.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised address the higher enrichment would begin in 60 days, and Iran would stop complying with other aspects of the treaty, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, by no longer exporting excess uranium and heavy water from its nuclear program.
“We felt that the nuclear deal needs a surgery and the painkiller pills of the last year have been ineffective,” Rouhani said. “This surgery is for saving the deal, not destroying it.”
Highly enriched uranium can be used in nuclear weapons; the JCPOA has amounted to a gambit by world powers to permit Iran's economic opening to the West in exchange for curbs on its nuclear ambitions.
Under the deal, Iran has been limited to enriching uranium to 3.67%, which is enough to fuel a commercial nuclear power plant. Weapons grade uranium must be enriched to around 90%. But Iran has previously enriched uranium to 20%, which cuts in half the time it takes to get to 90%.
Iran also has been allowed under the deal to keep a stockpile of up to 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, which is just 3% of the 10,000 kilograms of higher-enriched uranium it once maintained.
The 15-nation United Nations Security Council unanimously endorsed the JCPOA in July 2015 with the support of its five veto-wielding permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Iran’s decision to withdraw from parts of the JCPOA was caused by "rash steps taken by Washington," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.
"President Putin has repeatedly talked about the consequences of rash steps in relation to Iran, that is, the decision taken by Washington," Peskov said according to a report from Russian state news agency Tass. "We see that these consequences are starting to ensue."
"The situation is serious, it is clearly provoked by previous decisions [of Washington]," he continued. "Putin had said that ill-conceived subjective decisions lead to unjustified pressure on Iran and provoke further undesirable steps, which we are witnessing now."
China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the JCPOA should be fully implemented and all sides must make sure that happens.
"Regarding the JCPOA, a multilateral agreement endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, it should be implemented fully and effectively for its vital role in the international nonproliferation regime and peace and stability in the Middle East," China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing.
"We regret that the U.S. moves have heightened tensions surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue," he said. "It is the shared responsibility of all parties to uphold and implement the JCPOA. We call on relevant sides to exercise restraint and step up dialogue to prevent a spiral of escalation of tensions."
Turning towards Russia
The International Atomic Energy Agency had repeatedly said the JCPOA was working. Previously, the IAEA, an anti-proliferation arm of the United Nations, laid out 12 areas or “possible military dimensions” for investigation, so it could monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear program.
“As far as nuclear activities are concerned, Iran accepted many restrictions,” IAEA’s Director General Yukiya Amano said.
The nuclear deal with Iran involved the Security Council's permanent members plus Germany and the European Union. But Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal and to reintroduce U.S. sanctions on the Mideast regional power last year ratcheted up the pressure on Iran’s struggling economy and ruling regime while further inflaming transatlantic tensions.
That left the JCPOA, which lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran and imposed enforceable limits on its nuclear program, dependent on Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union.
Rouhani promised that "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."
On Twitter, however, Rouhani warned that the E.U. and five other nations "will face Iran's further actions if they can not fulfill their obligations within the next 60 days and secure Iran's interests. Win-Win conditions will be accepted."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted photos of himself meeting on Wednesday in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and said they held "substantive consultations" with a "convergence of views."
Zarif, however, warned, "After a year of patience, Iran stops measures that U.S. has made impossible to continue. Our action is within the terms of JCPOA. E.U./E3+2 has a narrowing window to reverse this."