Russian Federation urges Iran deal's European signatories to fulfill obligations

National Security Advisor John Bolton in April 2018. By Evan El-Amin  Shutterstock

Iran announced on Wednesday it will keep excess uranium despite warning from France that any pullout from nuclear deal could lead to the reimposing of worldwide sanctions.

"We do not want to leave the agreement".

A year after the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran, President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would halt a program to sell excess enriched uranium and heavy water to other countries, an arrangement used under the nuclear deal to keep its own stockpiles below permitted caps.

"If the five countries came to the negotiating table and we reached an agreement, and if they could protect our interests in the oil and banking sectors, we will go back to square one (and will resume our commitments)", Rouhani said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that China appreciated Iran's "strict implementation" of its 2015 nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump withdrew from a year ago.

The initial reaction from the Europeans was to insist Iran abide by all of its obligations under the JCPOA, ruling out the use of "partial withdrawal" as a pressure tactic.

Germany urged Iran to uphold the nuclear deal.

European signatories, including the European Union, have continued to back the deal rhetorically and pledged to find ways to ease the impact of USA sanctions.

Before the United States moves, Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, had warned against their consequences.

The deal is aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief, but Iran-US tensions have risen since Washington quit. By limiting its initial steps to these two measures, Tehran has insured that the blame resides nearly entirely in Washington. "Now we are seeing those consequences". He said China "calls on all parties concerned to exercise restraint" and avoid escalating tensions.

He added that China "resolutely opposes" unilateral US sanctions against Iran.

The US last week stopped issuing waivers for countries importing Iranian crude oil, a crucial source of cash for Iran's government.

Washington also reinstated sweeping sanctions that have badly hit the Iranian economy.

Washington announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Gulf to counter what it says are Iranian threats. Already, the White House has announced the deployment of a United States aircraft carrier and a bomber wing to the Persian Gulf over unspecified threats from Iran.

The looming total ban on oil sales is likely to sharply increase the economic hardship for Iran's 80 million people.

Should they not comply with their responsibilities to the pact, Iran would not observe the 3.6% level of enrichment and the heavy water reactor restrictions, Rouhani said.

The Chinese and Russians require no inducements to take Iran's side in the dispute - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded to Rouhani's announcement by claiming Iran's action is an understandable response to "Washington's irresponsible behavior" - so the goal is clearly to blackmail the Europeans into helping Iran evade the crushing pressure of USA sanctions.

Despite this, Iran has upheld its commitments to the deal, according to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - the body charged with monitoring Iran's nuclear activity.

The 2015 deal saw sanctions on Iran lifted in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme.

"We have learned of Iran's announcement with great concern and we will look at this very closely now", said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Once a country enriches uranium to around 20 percent, scientists say the time needed to reach 90 percent is halved.

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