MANAMA, Bahrain — European efforts to persuade Iran to stick within the limits of the nuclear deal have been insufficient and it will breach uranium stockpile limits “soon,” Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency reported Saturday, a move that could further escalate U.S.-Iranian tensions.
Iran has been threatening to surpass the limit of 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium that the country is allowed to possess under the nuclear agreement, unless it receives the sanctions relief that the deal promised in return.
Breaching the limit would be a symbolic move, but not put Iran significantly closer to building a nuclear weapon. The 300-kilogram limit of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent is suitable for use in power plans, but falls far short of the more than 90 percent enriched uranium needed for fissile material in a nuclear bomb.
The move would come against the backdrop of razor’s edge tensions in the region, with President Trump last week saying he had been close to launching a strike on Iran after Tehran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz. The United States has also accused Iran of using magnetic limpet mines to attack petrochemical tankers in the Gulf of Oman — a charge Tehran denies.
Thee U.S. Air Force said Friday that it had deployed its most advanced fighter jet, the F22 Raptor, to the region for the first time to “defend American forces and interests.” It published pictures of the planes landing at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar a day earlier.
The United States pulled out of the Obama-era nuclear deal, signed between Tehran and six world powers last year. Trump, who describes the deal as “rotten,” has reinstated all sanctions, and introduced more, crippling Iran’s economy.
The remaining signatories have attempted to keep the deal alive, but Iran has argued it should no longer be constrained by it, as it can no longer reap any of the benefits as international firms fear falling afoul of U.S. sanctions.
European countries have argued that the deal is essential to regional security. Britain, France and Germany have scrambled to launch a complicated barter system in an effort to enable European companies to continue trading with Iran and persuade it to stay within the deal. After a meeting of the remaining signatories in Vienna on Friday, the European Union announced that the system was operational. Iran had initially welcomed the move as a “positive step” that it would “study.”
On Saturday, an unnamed “informed source,” quoted by Fars indicated that it had fallen short.
The move had “failed to meet our demands,” the official said. “Iran is determined to cut it commitments to the deal and the 300-kg enriched uranium limit will be soon breached.”
However, Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, did not carry similar statements. An article published by Tasnim, a news outlet close to Iranian hard-liners, questioned whether Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani would “fall for the European lollipop again” indicating that there may still be debate within the Islamic Republic on how to respond.
There is “concern” that the Iranian government will fall for the “defective” move and backtrack from its ultimatum to reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal, the article said.
The barter system is limited in scope and aimed at allowing small- to medium-size businesses to continue trading with Iran, with a focus on essentials such as medicines and humanitarian goods, which are not subject to sanctions.
However, Iran has argued that it should also be allowed to sell oil.
Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told reporters in London on Friday that any country purchasing Iranian oil would be subject to sanctions.
Iran had previously threatened to breach the stockpile limits by Thursday before appearing to hold back to see the results of Friday’s meeting in Vienna.