Iran on Wednesday warned that it would stop complying with a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and resume high-level uranium enrichment if global powers fail to keep their commitments within the next 60 days amid an escalation of tensions with Washington.
In a televised address, President Hassan Rouhani said his country was reducing its own commitments under the agreement and would no longer respect limits on its reserves of low-enriched uranium – currently limited to 300 kilograms (661 pounds) - and heavy water, another chemical compound used in nuclear facilities.
Rouhani issued a 60-day moratorium for the rest of the signatories of the pact to fulfill Iran’s demands and save the country’s banking system and oil trade from international sanctions.
“We have never been the first to violate the commitments or to wage wars, but at the same time we have never surrendered to bullying and will not do so, and we will certainly give an appropriate response to any kind of aggression,” Rouhani said.
The announcement came exactly a year after the United States abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action it had signed with Iran along with Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom as co-signatories.
Rouhani specified that the measure – which would mean Iran would not abide by the condition to sell its enriched uranium and heavy water beyond given limits – had a 60-day deadline, during which Tehran would wait for a response from the remaining JCPOA signatories.
After unilaterally withdrawing from the agreement, the US reimposed sanctions on Iran in August and November, mainly targeting its banking and oil sectors.
“If the five countries come to the negotiation table to come to terms with Iran's interests, particularly with regard to oil and banking, we would return to the previous position,” the president said.
But if this was not the case, he warned of a further two-step response, which would include Iran not abiding with the commitment to not enrich uranium beyond the agreed limit of 3.67 percent, and taking steps to complete the Arak Heavy Water Reactor, which was supposed to be built with the help of the 5+1 group, signatories to the JCPOA.
However, the Iranian president insisted that the reduction in the number of nuclear commitments was aimed at saving the deal, adding that Iran had chosen the path of diplomacy and not war.
"It is not the end of JCPOA, rather it is a new phase of the deal in the context and in line with the wording of the JCPOA. (...) The deal is in need of a surgery, so Iran is trying to save it, not kill it. " Rouhani said.
Rouhani insisted that Iran had not left the dialog table and was always ready to negotiate "within the very framework of the JCPOA, neither a word more nor less."
He said that under articles 26 and 36 of JCPOA, Iran had a right to reduce commitments if the other parties did not fulfill their obligations.
He also criticized the other signatories to the deal.
"The European signatories to the JCPOA were doing well in lip service, but practically they were unable to implement what they vowed,” he said.
The JCPOA limits Iran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sanctions but has been weakened after Washington's exit.
European countries have taken a series of measures to counter US sanctions, including a special payment channel, but they have proved largely unsuccessful.
At a joint press conference in London later in the day, the UK's foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, set out their own thoughts on the latest development in Iran.
"It is a very important achievement of Western diplomacy that despite all the problems that we have in the Middle East today, Iran does not have nuclear weapons and its neighbors have not responded by getting their own nuclear weapons," Hunt said.
"If they break that deal then there will be consequences in terms of how European powers react. So we urge the Iranians to think very long and very hard before they break that deal. It's in no-one's interest. It is certainly not in their interest because the moment they go nuclear, their neighbors will as well."
Both Hunt and Pompeo acknowledged divergences in their respective countries foreign policy approach on Iran but they shared the view that they must wait to see exactly how Tehran acts before drawing up any repercussions.
President Donald Trump's administration has been particularly hawkish when it comes to the Iranian regime, describing it as an exporter of global terror.
The US is closely allied with Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional foes.
Conversely, Sergey Lavrov, Russian's foreign minister, laid the blame for Iran's decision with the US.
"The main topic we will discuss will be the unacceptable situation around the JCPOA created by the irresponsible behavior of the US, which refused to uphold its commitments," he said before a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Israel, a vocal supporter of Trump's decision to withdraw from the pact, said it would not allow Iran to pursue nuclear weapons.
"This morning on my way here, I heard that Iran intends to pursue its nuclear program," Benjamin Netanyahu said. "We will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear weaponry. Will continue to fight those who would kill us," he added during a speech marking Israel's Memorial Day.
Meanwhile, China, a fellow JCPOA signatory, defended what it described as Iran's strict implementation of the nuclear deal in the face of unilateral sanctions by the US.
"We regret that the US acts to escalate the tensions surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue," Geng Shuang, the spokesperson for China's foreign ministry, said in a press conference.
"To uphold and to implement the treaty is the common responsibility of all parties,” he said, adding that he hoped both sides would strengthen their dialogue to avoid a further escalation in tension.EFE-EPA
With added contributions from correspondents in Beijing, Jerusalem, London, Moscow, and Jake Threadgould at the Madrid Desk