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U.S. Threatens More Sanctions, Isolation After Iran Boosts Nuclear Program

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Iran's nuclear power plant in Bushehr (file photo)

The United States said Iran will face more sanctions for enhancing its nuclear program beyond the limits of a 2015 landmark deal that Washington no longer supports.

“Iran’s latest expansion of its nuclear program will lead to further isolation and sanctions,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet on July 7.

​“Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the world,”

Pompeo could give more details about a possible U.S. response to Iran’s announcement during the press conference he will hold at the State Department on July 8.

Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters in Tehran on July 7 that "today we will pass" the permitted enrichment levels specified in the agreement reached with the U.S., Russia, China, and European nations four years ago.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that Tehran’s decision to increase enrichment is a direct response to what he called U.S. “economic terrorism,” a reference to the sanctions Washington imposed on Iran after it unilaterally withdrew from the agreement.

Zarif said Tehran would reverse its course only if the European signatories of the pact fulfilled their obligations, which includes ensuring Iran access to world trade.

“All such steps are reversible only through E3 compliance,” Zarif wrote, referring to the European powers of Britain, Germany, and France.

Earlier, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told reporters that Iran will keep scaling back its commitments to the nuclear deal every 60 days unless the remaining signatories of the accord moved to protect it from U.S. sanctions.

Araqchi said Iran still wanted to salvage the deal but he blamed European countries for failing to live up to their own commitments.

European powers were quick to warn Iran to stick to the terms of the deal as they scrambled to find a solution.

"While the UK remains fully committed to the deal, Iran must immediately stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its obligations," the British Foreign Ofice said July 7.

Britain is coordinating with other countries on the next steps, including a joint commission, a ministry spokesman told reporters.

Macron Slams 'Violation'

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Iran’s decision to increase its uranium enrichment levels, calling it a “violation” of the agreement.

However, a source at Macron’s office said that a dispute-resolution mechanism, which is part of the deal that could eventually lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions, will not be triggered for now.

"It's not an option at this moment," the unnamed source was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The French president reiterated a deadline of July 15 for the resumption of dialogue between the parties, Reuters reported, citing an official at the president's office.

On July 6, Macron spoke by phone with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rohani, saying he was trying to find a way to resume dialogue between Iran and Western partners.

A statement from the French presidency said Macron had agreed with Rohani to explore between now and July 15 conditions to "enable the resumption of dialogue between all parties" and de-escalate tensions. The statement did not explain why the July 15 date was chosen.

Macron conveyed to Rohani "his deep concern in the face of the risk of a new weakening of the 2015 nuclear accord, and the consequences that would necessarily follow."

The statement did not specify what consequences could follow.

U.S. allies France, Britain, and Germany tried unsuccessfully to persuade Washington to remain in the nuclear deal, which provided Tehran with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

'Brushing Off Red Lines'

Trump withdrew from the accord in May 2018, saying the terms were not strict enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He reinstated sanctions in November that targeted more than 700 Iranian individuals and entities, calling it the "toughest sanctions regime" ever imposed.

As a result, Iran's oil exports have fallen by more than 2 million barrels a day since April 2018 to about 300,000 barrels a day. The nation's economy is set to contract as much as 6 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, following the hard-hitting sanctions.

In response, Rohani last month announced his country would surpass the deal’s limit on an enriched uranium stockpile, saying it would exceed the 300-kilogram restriction by June 27, a move that has been confirmed by international agencies.

Rohani also said Iran would boost its uranium enrichment after July 7 beyond the 3.67 percent concentration limit set under the nuclear deal.

Tehran has said the breach would be reversible "within hours" if progress was made toward providing Iran with relief from the reimposed U.S. sanctions.

Reacting to Iran’s announcement on July 7, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a vocal opponent of the 2015 agreement, said the step was extremely dangerous and he called on Europe to impose punitive sanctions on Tehran.

"The enrichment of uranium is made for one reason and one reason only - it's for the creation of atomic bombs," he said.

Israel’s energy minister accused Tehran of “brushing off the red lines” and moving "toward nuclear weaponry."

"Iran has begun -- while it is a moderate rise right now -- but it has begun to raise, to break out of the uranium enrichment curbs that were imposed on it," Yuval Steinitz told Israel’s Ynet TV.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed concern over the announcement and said the EU was "in contact with other participants [of the deal] regarding the next steps under the terms" of the pact.

Trump had recently warned Tehran against making any threats regarding its nuclear program.

“Be careful with the threats, Iran,” he wrote in a tweet on July 3.

"They can come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before!” he added.

Before the 2015 deal was reached, Iran produced 20-percent enriched uranium, which was needed to fuel its Tehran reactor, and the level of enrichment for its southern Bushehr nuclear power plant was 5 percent.

Weapons-grade uranium is 90-percent enriched or more.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
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