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Upping pressure, Iran says will breach uranium stockpile limit in 10 days

Iranian presidency, AFP | A handout picture made available by the Iranian presidential office shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attending events for “nuclear technology day" in Tehran on April 9, 2019.

Iran said Monday it will surpass from June 27 its uranium stockpile limit set under the nuclear deal with world powers, turning up the pressure after the US walked away from the landmark pact last year.

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"Today the countdown to pass the 300 kilograms reserve of enriched uranium has started and in 10 days time... we will pass this limit," Iran's atomic energy organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told a news conference broadcast live on state television.

The move "will be reversed once other parties live up to their commitments," he added, speaking from the Arak nuclear plant southwest of Tehran.

'Today the countdown to having more than 300kg of enriched uranium reserves has started'

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the international community to immediately hit Iran with "snapback sanctions" should it violate the deal by surpassing the uranium stockpile limit set in the deal.

Speaking at a news conference in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said he "regrets" Iran's announcement, noting that the Islamic Republic so far still respects its obligations under the 2015 accord.

France "strongly encourages Iran to maintain a patient and responsible attitude,” Macron added.

On May 8, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would stop observing restrictions on its stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water agreed under the 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani said the move was in retaliation for the unilateral US withdrawal from the accord a year earlier, which saw Washington impose tough economic sanctions on Tehran.

‘Pandora’s box’

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated ever since, with the United States bolstering its military presence in the region and blacklisting Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation.

China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi also, on Tuesday also urged Tehran to not abandon the nuclear agreement "so easily", and warned Washington of opening “Pandora’s box” by sending troops to the region and for blamingIran for last week's attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Tehran has denied the allegations as "baseless".

"In particular, the United States should change its practice of extreme pressure," Wang said.

Iran has threatened to go even further in scaling down nuclear commitments by July 8 unless remaining partners to the deal -- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- help it circumvent US sanctions and especially enable it to sell its oil.

"The current situation is sensitive" and there is still time for the deal's partners to save this agreement, Rouhani told the French ambassador to Tehran Philippe Thiebaud on Monday.

"The collapse of the JCPOA is undoubtedly not in the interest of Iran... the region and the world," he added, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is formally known.

'Save the deal'

Under the agreement, Iran pledged to reduce its nuclear capacities for several years and allow international inspectors inside the country to monitor its activities in return for relief from international sanctions.

The deal set a limit on the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges, and restricted its right to enrich uranium to no higher than 3.67 percent, well below weapons-grade levels of around 90 percent.

It also called on Iran to export enriched uranium and heavy water to ensure the country's reserves would stay within the production ceiling set by the agreement, yet recent US restrictions have made such exports virtually impossible.

According to Rouhani, the ultimatum he issued last month was intended to "save the (deal), not destroy it".

The three European parties to the accord created a trade mechanism meant to bypass US sanctions, but their attempt was dismissed by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a "bitter joke".

The spokesman for Iran's atomic energy organisation warned further steps could be taken if world powers do not step up to help the country.

"They range from going to 3.68 percent to any other percent according to the country's needs," said Kamalvandi.

Authorities were still debating whether to "redesign or revive" the Arak reactor, he added.

FRANCE 24's correspondent has the latest on Iran's announcement it will breach the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Uranium enriched to much higher levels than Iran's current stocks can be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, while heavy water is a source of plutonium, which can be used as an alternative way to produce a warhead.

"#Iran not bluffing about 60-day deadline for ceasing compliance with parts of nuclear deal," Ellie Geranmayeh, senior fellow at European Council on Foreign Relation said in a tweet.

She downplayed the importance of uranium and heavy water stockpiles increasing and said it would be more worrying for Europe if Iran exceeded the enrichment level allowed in the deal.

"I imagine Tehran will do this incrementally, testing Europeans at each stage."

Germany has acknowledged the economic benefits Iran hoped for from the deal were now "more difficult to obtain", but has urged Iran to fully respect the "extraordinarily important" nuclear deal.

"A point to Europeans: if the first step took time to be done, other steps, especially increasing enrichment... need no more than a day or two," said Kamalvandi.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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