Tehran’s decision not to limit its reserves of enriched uranium, as promised in 2015, raises the tension with the US.
Iran has announced on Wednesday that it suspends part of the commitments of the nuclear agreement signed in 2015 in response to the abandonment of the pact by the United States just a year ago. The decision, which implies that the country will stop limiting its reserves of enriched uranium and heavy water as promised, raises the tension between Tehran and Washington, and has been communicated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the ambassadors of the rest of the signatory countries. of the pact (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China). In a televised speech to the nation, Iranian President Hasan Rohani has stressed however that Iran does not abandon the Comprehensive Plan of Joint Action (PIAC, official name of the agreement).
“In order to protect the security and national interests of the Iranians, and in application of the rights set out in Articles 26 and 36 of the PIAC, the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran has given the order to interrupt some of the measures adopted under that agreement as of today, May 8, 2019, “says the Council’s statement, which Rohani has reported in letters to the leaders of the other five signatory countries. “We are no longer committed to limitations on the amount of enriched uranium or heavy water we can maintain,” he said.
This means stopping exporting the enriching uranium (and from which it can only store 300 kilos to a maximum of 3.67% purity, according to the PIAC) and restart the Arak nuclear reactor, the only one of heavy water. and that it was dismantled after the agreement because of the risk that its waste could be used to obtain plutonium. To a sufficient degree of purity both enriched uranium and plutonium are used to make atomic bombs, although Iranian officials have always denied the military dimension, and insisted that their goal was to obtain fuel to generate electricity.
However, before executing its decision, Iran gives 60 days to the rest of the signatories of the agreement to fulfill their commitments, especially in regard to oil and the banking system. The lifting of sanctions in those sectors were the main benefits that Iran was going to obtain due to the limitation of its atomic program, but that have been left in a booze following the decision of the American president, Donald Trump, to take his country of the agreement alleging that Iran was using the economic benefits of the pact to pay for its missile program and regional groups contrary to its interests or those of its allies.
Despite the fanfare with which Iran has announced these measures, in the midst of a climate of growing tension with the United States, President Rohani has made it clear that his country remains interested in the agreement and that it does not leave the negotiating table. During his televised message to the nation, he insisted that the PIAC should be a pact in which everyone would win. He has also underlined the breach of their obligations by the rest of the signatories, especially the European Union.
“The EU has not managed to fulfill its economic promises to Iran. The European position is good in words, but not in facts, “said Rohani. Iranian leaders have been complaining for months about the inability of Europeans to confront the United States and make the Trade Interchange Support Instrument (INSTEX) work, with which Brussels tries to allow European companies to trade with Iran. The lack of progress in this regard, which European diplomatic sources attribute to the problems of the Iranian banking system, has caused Tehran to turn to Russia, China and Turkey in search of alternative channels to circumvent sanctions.
The first impression of the analysts is that Iran has reacted with restraint by postponing the measures for 60 days. The Tehran government is facing great pressure from the United States, especially since last week the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, threatened to sanction countries that receive excess uranium or heavy water from Iran. Hence, the decision to stop selling these products, as established in the nuclear agreement, and store them beyond the permitted limits is more a consequence than an initiative.
Although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has periodically ratified that Iran complies with the agreement, the United States reinstated its sanctions last year (especially on vital oil exports) and extended its reach to third countries . In addition, it has just canceled the exceptions that allowed the purchase of Iranian crude, has included the Revolutionary Guard in its list of terrorist organizations and sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to counteract an imprecise threat from Tehran.
The effect of the sanctions has been brutal. In the last year, inflation has shot above 40%, the rial (the Iranian currency) has lost two thirds of its value and tens of thousands of workers have been left on the street due to lack of activity. Although the authorities have reacted by reinforcing the subsidies to the most disadvantaged, controlling the exchange of currencies and stopping the rampant corruption, the break is evident. According to the International Monetary Fund, the Iranian economy contracted 3.9% last year and already predicted 6% this year before the recent floods that have caused damages of 2,700 million euros.
“With the United States steadily increasing sanctions and pressures, and with the failure of the other world powers to provide guarantees for the economic benefits of the PIAC, Iran’s patience is running out,” warned Hossein Mousavian, an analyst on Monday. Iranian and former spokesman of the nuclear negotiating team when it was headed by the current president Rohani. In his opinion, Tehran has only two options: “a gradual withdrawal of the PIAC or an immediate exit from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the PIAC simultaneously”.
Mousavian, who is currently a visiting researcher at Princeton University (USA), warns of the consequences of the latter and is inclined towards the former. This seems to be the election finally taken by the Iranian Government.