Iran still short of nuclear deal’s enriched uranium cap: diplomats

Iran earlier announced they would reach the agreement’s limit of enriched uranium by Thursday. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 June 2019

Iran still short of nuclear deal’s enriched uranium cap: diplomats

  • Two diplomats said Iran produces around 1kg of enriched uranium a day
  • UN nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran currently has around 200kg of low-enriched uranium

VIENNA: Iran is still short of the maximum amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to have under its deal with major powers but it is on course to reach that limit at the weekend, the latest data from UN nuclear inspectors shows, diplomats say.

This makes it unlikely Iran will follow through on its threat to violate one of the nuclear deal’s central restrictions on Thursday, which could have unraveled the pact altogether.

It also sets up a meeting with other signatories on Friday aimed at saving the accord, which is straining under US pressure.

“They haven’t reached the limit... It’s more likely to be at the weekend if they do it,” one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

The 2015 deal, which lifted international sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities, is aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, to a year from roughly 2-3 months.

On Wednesday, the UN nuclear watchdog verified that Iran had roughly 200 kg of low-enriched uranium, below the deal’s 202.8 kg limit, three diplomats who follow the agency’s work said.

Two of the diplomats said Iran was producing at a rate of around 1 kg a day, meaning it could go over the line soon after the meeting of senior officials from Iran, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China in Vienna on Friday.

Washington pulled out of the nuclear accord last year and has imposed punishing economic sanctions against Tehran.

Iran has threatened to respond by setting aside some of the deal’s restrictions, which could cause the deal to collapse, though it has called on European powers to do more to shield it from US sanctions — a move the White House has called “nuclear blackmail.”

The European powers are scrambling to protect trade with Iran but what they can achieve pales in comparison to US sanctions aimed at slashing Iran’s vital oil exports to zero.

Diplomats have also stressed the European signatories are weary of Iranian demands that they sustain a pact that Washington has withdrawn from and said if Tehran followed suit, they would have little choice but to acquiesce in the reimposition of UN sanctions.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is policing the deal’s nuclear restrictions, does not generally comment on details of its inspections. It was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

“We’ve made it clear to the Iranians that we have zero tolerance on the nuclear issue,” a senior European official said. “They are close to the threshold, but we will wait for the IAEA to report back to us in the coming days.”


Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

Updated 35 min 6 sec ago

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

  • The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year

TEHRAN: Iran’s low voter turnout reflects a wider malaise in a country long buckling under sanctions and more recently also hit hard by the coronavirus, spelling “a threat for everyone,” Tehran’s mayor Pirouz Hanachi told AFP.

“The turnout at the ballot box is a sign of people’s satisfaction level,” said Hanachi, mayor of Iran’s political and business center and largest city, with more than 8 million people.

“When there is dissatisfaction with the government or the state, it then reaches everyone and that includes the municipality too,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Iran has suffered the double blow of a sharp economic downturn caused by US economic sanctions over its contested nuclear program, and the region’s most deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Reformists allied with moderate President Hassan Rouhani lost their parliamentary majority in a landslide conservative victory in February, in a major setback ahead of presidential elections next year.

Voter turnout hit a historic low of less than 43 percent in the February polls after thousands of reformist candidates were barred from running by the Islamic republic’s powerful Guardian Council.

Such voter fatigue “can be a threat for everyone, not just reformists or conservatives,” warned the mayor, a veteran public servant with a background in urban development who is tied to the reformist camp.

The conservative resurgence reflects dissatisfaction with the Rouhani camp that had sought reengagement with the West and the reward of economic benefits — hopes that were dashed when US President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year.

“We’re doing our best, but our situation is not a normal one,” Hanachi said. “We are under sanctions and in a tough economic situation.”

As he spoke in his town hall office, the shouts of angry garbage truck drivers echoed from the street outside, complaining they had not received pay or pensions for months.

The mayor downplayed the small rally as the kind of event that could happen in “a municipality in any other country,” adding that the men were employed not by the city itself but by contractors.

Iran’s fragile economy, increasingly cut off from international trade and deprived of crucial oil revenues, took another major blow when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in late February.

Since then the outbreak has killed more than 12,000 people and infected over 248,000, with daily fatalities reaching a record of 200 early this week, according to official figures.

A temporary shutdown of the economy in recent months and closed borders sharply reduced non-oil exports, Iran’s increasingly important lifeline.

This accelerated the plunge of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, threatening to further stoke an already high inflation rate.

In just one impact, said Hanachi, the Teheran municipality lost 2 trillion rial ($9 million) because of sharply reduced demand for public transport in recent months.

As many Tehran residents got back into their cars to avoid tightly packed subways and buses, this has done nothing to help solve Tehran’s long-standing air pollution issue.

Tehran has had only 15 “clean” air quality days since the March 20 Persian New Year, according to the municipality.

One of Hanachi’s tasks is to fight both the virus and air pollution — a tough juggling act as car travel is safer for individuals but also worsens the smog that often cloaks the capital.

The mayor said he worried that, after restrictions on car travel were reimposed in May to reduce air pollution, subways are once again packed during peak hours, as is the bustling city center.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, which is now crowded with shoppers, warned Hanachi, “can become a focal point for the epidemic.”