JEDDAH/TEHRAN: Iran issued new threats on Monday to ramp up its nuclear program unless European states help it avoid US sanctions that have decimated its revenue from oil sales.
As top Iranian diplomats traveled to France and Russia for last-minute talks, government spokesman said Ali Rabiei said Iran will “take a strong step” away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if Europe cannot offer the country new terms by a deadline at the end of this week.
Rabiei's statement reinforced the deadline Iran had set for Friday for Europe to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the global market.
Crushing US sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear development. Trump's action over a year ago have halted Iran's oil sales.
Rabiei described Iran’s strategy to journalists at Monday’s press conference in Tehran as “commitment for commitment.” “Iran’s oil should be bought and its money should be accessible to return to Iran,” Rabiei said. “This is the agenda of our talks.”
“It is meaningless to continue unilateral commitments to the deal if we don’t enjoy its benefits as promised by the deal’s European parties,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said after talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Iran would “comply with its obligations in full when the Europeans comply with theirs in full,” he said.
While Zarif was in Moscow, his deputy, Abbas Araghchi, traveled to Paris with a team of economists Monday in a renewed diplomatic push.
The French Foreign Ministry said teams of experts were meeting “to reach a de-escalation of tensions.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has worked to save the nuclear deal, and issued a surprise invitation to Zarif to last month’s G7 summit in Biarritz.
The regime in Tehran has already broken two of its commitments under the deal — on its stockpile of enriched uranium, and on the level of enrichment. It has threatened to breach the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities one by one, increasing pressure on the countries who still hope to save it.
Iran has vowed to take further steps by Sept. 6, such as enriching uranium to 20 percent or restarting mothballed centrifuges, machines that purify uranium for use as fuel in power plants or, if very highly enriched, in weapons.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the JCPOA as the deal is known.
The UN agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5 percent, above the 3.67 percent allowed. Enriched uranium at the 3.67 percent level is enough for peaceful pursuits and is far below weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. At the 4.5 percent level, the uranium can help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant.
It remains unclear what further step Iran will take, though it could involve restarting advanced centrifuges prohibited by the deal or further bumping up its enrichment of uranium. Iran insists the steps it has taken so far are easily reversible.
“We will announce implementation of the third step in a letter to the Europeans if the Europeans do not impalement necessary measures by Thursday,” said Zarif in a Sunday interview with Iran’s parliament news agency, ICANA.
The nuclear deal is meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic relief. It has been complicated by the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the deal and Washington’s increased sanctions on Tehran, which have been taking a toll on the Iranian economy.
That has left the other signatories — Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China — struggling to come up with enough incentives to keep Iran in the deal.
“The third step has been designed and will be stronger than the first and second steps to create balance between Iran’s rights and commitments to the JCPOA,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday.
Nowhere to go
Meanwhile, the Iranian oil tanker that has been traveling across the Mediterranean Sea because no port will allow it to dock was tracked on Monday off the coast of northern Lebanon.
The Adrian Darya 1, previously the Grace 1, was seized by British forces off Gibraltar in July because it is carrying 2 million barrels of oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has alleged the ship is bound for a refinery in Syria, which was the reason that authorities had seized the vessel off the coast of Gibraltar in July. The US has warned countries not to accept the Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil worth some $130 million.