DUBAI: Iran vowed on Tuesday to ramp up its nuclear program and repeated threats of retaliation against the UK for seizing an illegal Iranian oil shipment to Syria.
Since the beginning of July, Tehran has been escalating breaches of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb its nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions.
Increasing its enrichment of uranium is an attempt by Tehran to pressure Britain, France and Germany — the European signatories to the JCPOA — into finding a way round crippling US sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump after he withdrew from the deal last May.
“We have started to reduce our commitments and this trend shall continue,” Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday.
“Europe made 11 commitments, none of which they abided by. We abided by our commitments and even beyond them. Now that we’ve begun to reduce our commitments, they oppose it. How insolent!”
It was the first time Khamenei had explicitly pledged to press ahead with its nuclear program, rejecting European appeals to restore limits on enrichment aimed at preventing the rapid development of a nuclear weapon.
He also repeated threats of retribution against the UK for its seizure this month of an Iranian tanker in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Gibraltar. The Grace 1 was transporting a million barrels of Iranian oil to Syria, in breach of EU sanctions.
“Evil Britain commits piracy and steals our ship ... and gives it a legal appearance. The Islamic Republic ... will not leave this wickedness unanswered and will respond to it at an appropriate time and place,” he said.
Britain called for calm. “Escalation in the Gulf is not in anyone’s interests and we have repeatedly stressed that to the Iranians,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Amid tension in the Gulf, US defense officials believe Iran may have seized a small UAE oil tanker that turned off its tracker on Saturday night in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Riah, a 58-meter coastal vessel that operated from Dubai and Sharjah on the west coast to Fujairah in the east, is now in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps base on it.
“We certainly have suspicions that it was taken,” a US official said. “Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That’s a possibility. But the longer there is a period of no contact ... it’s going to be a concern.”