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Iran abandons nuclear deal limits

January 5, 2020

Iranian officials have said they are considering even harsher steps following the US killing of top general Qassem Soleimani. European leaders are desperately seeking a solution to ease the increasing tensions.

In 2015, President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office/M. Berno

Iran will no longer abide by any of the limits set out in the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA), Iranian state TV said on Sunday, despite calls from Germany, France and Britain to maintain the landmark accord.

Tehran will continue to cooperate with the United Nations nuclear watchdog (IAEA), but will take steps to distance itself from the restrictions of the deal, according to the statement from the Iranian government.

Six nations, including Germany, agreed the landmark nuclear deal. Iran says there is now no limit on their uranium enrichment capacity.

US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, putting the deal at risk of falling apart. The Iranian government spokesman said Sunday's step could be reversed if the US lifts the current sanctions.

Read more: Germany fights to salvage Iran nuclear deal as deadline looms

The spokesman was not forthcoming on the exact level to which uranium would be enriched or the level of Iran's nuclear research and development.

Trump, meanwhile, has reiterated his stance on the recent fallout, warning Iran of repercussions should the Islamic Republic carry out its threats to attack. Late Sunday, Trump said he would use Twitter to notify Congress "that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner."

The war of words continued as the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah group said the US military "will pay the price'' for killing a top Iranian general. Later, a former head of Tehran's Revolutionary Guards threatened to turn the Israeli cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv "to dust" if the US attacks Iran.

Germany, UK and France call for 'de-escalation of tensions'

Iran had previously been accused of breaching the deal by the UK, Germany and France for bolstering programs to enrich uranium.

Those three nations, also known as the E3 group, called on Iran to refrain from any violent action and urged the Islamic Republic to go back to respecting the agreements from the JCPOA nuclear deal.

The respective leaders of the E3 all agreed on Sunday to promote de-escalation, Berlin said.

"The chancellor, the French president and the British prime minister agreed to work together to reduce tensions in the region," a German government spokesman said after Angela Merkel spoke with Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson on the phone.

Read more: Iraqi parliament votes to expel US troops — awaits government approval

Restrictions on Iran nuclear program
Restrictions on Iran nuclear program

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas echoed those sentiments, as he called for a crisis meeting with fellow EU ministers.

"As Europeans, we have tried and tested and resilient channels of communication on all sides, which we must make full use of in this situation," Maas said in a statement. "Our overriding interest is that Iraq's stability and unity should not fall victim to the recent escalation."

Macron and Johnson both expressed their solidarity with their allies on Sunday but called on Iran to avoid any action that would lead to military escalation.

Read more: Opinion: Trump's Pyrrhic victory

Johnson said Soleimani "was responsible for a pattern of disruptive, destabilizing behavior in the region. Given the leading role he has played in actions that have led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and Western personnel, we will not lament his death."

Johnson also called for a "de-escalation of tensions." Macron voiced similar opinions in a statement on Sunday.

"We are in close contact with all sides to encourage de-escalation," Macron said. He highlighted France's "total solidarity with our allies in light of the attacks carried out in recent weeks against the coalition in Iraq."

On Saturday, French officials had urged Iran to stick by the nuclear deal.

What were the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal?

Under the 2015 deal negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany), Tehran agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of crushing international sanctions and the unfreezing of billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets.

Under the deal, Iran was permitted to maintain a small amount of nuclear-related activity and uranium stockpiles for research and medicine purposes.

Read more: US and Iran: Decades of enmity

However, the quantities are far below any threshold that would allow for the fast and unannounced development of nuclear weapons. In effect, Iran was allowed to continue with peaceful nuclear research.

Since 2015, there have been several deadlines when it seemed that Iran would likely breach the limits of the sanctions. In 2018, Trump removed the US from the deal entirely, putting it on even more rocky ground.

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ed, jsi/cmk (AP, Reuters, AFP)