The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency confirmed on Monday that Tehran has breached a stockpile limit for low-level enriched uranium under the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
The International Atomic Energy Agency verified that the stockpile of enriched uranium permitted under the the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, is over the limit, IAEA's Director General Yukiya Amano told the U.N. agency’s board of governors.
Under the deal, Iran can only enrich a certain amount of uranium up to 3.67%, enough to fuel a commercial nuclear power plant. Weapons grade uranium has to be enriched to around 90%. Iran previously enriched uranium to 20%, which cuts in half the time it takes to get to 90%.
IAEA verified that Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile "exceeded" the limit of 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride, the chemical form of uranium used during the enrichment process, according to an agency statement. The chemical compound can come in a gas, liquid or solid form that resembles rock salt.
The JCPOA was struck between Iran and the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany and the European Union.
U.S. President Donald Trump's administration unilaterally withdrew from the deal a year ago, undermining years of complex, global diplomacy that had led to the JCPOA. Trump reimposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran, while assuring allies he was making the world a safer place.
But the U.S. move, ratcheting up pressure on Iran’s struggling economy and ruling regime, further inflamed transatlantic tensions. The reimposed U.S. sanctions mean that Iran is not only deprived of many of the economic benefits it was promised; Tehran also is losing business from other banks and companies around the world that are afraid of incurring U.S. extraterritorial sanctions.
European leaders have been trying to save the deal — and to safeguard their oil imports from Iran — as a matter of international security. Their hope has been that Tehran would stick to its international commitments, despite the U.S. reneging on the deal.
A 'reversible' countermeasure
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran's enriched uranium levels do not violate the JCPOA, because his nation has a right to respond to the United States' unilateral withdrawal from the accord.
He warned that his nation might further reduce its compliance with the deal but said the latest measure was "reversible,” Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
In May, Tehran announced plans to resume enriching uranium at higher levels if world powers do not accept new terms under the JCPOA, which required Iran to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.N.-brokered international sanctions.
The Trump administration said it would continue its policy of maximum pressure on Tehran until "its leaders alter their course of action," and that the United States and Western allies will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
The nuclear deal should have never allowed Iran to enrich uranium "at any level," the White House said in a statement. "There is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms. We must restore the longstanding nonproliferation standard of no enrichment for Iran."