In an act that could take the tense situation in the Persian Gulf to a point of no return, Iran has broken limits to enriching its uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran’s move is in response to the United States’ walkout of the nuclear deal in 2017 and President Donald Trump’s imposition of strict economic sanctions on it.
Iran is also understandably angered by the inaction of other signatories to the deal including powerful countries of the European Union including Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The government in Tehran had warned the EU nations that it would break the limits imposed on it by the nuclear deal as it did not see any other way to counter Trump’s unilateral walkout and imposition of sanctions. Under the economic sanctions, Trump has pressured eight top oil importers from Iran including India and China to stop buying oil from Tehran. India has obliged while China has defied it so far.
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif formally announced his country had breached the limit of 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) imposed by the deal. Global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that Iran had produced two kg more enriched uranium than the limit. Through this, Iran is applying pressure on the co-signatories –Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — to the deal to influence Trump to reverse or back down on the sanctions. Iran’s move also reflects the failure of the EU nations who were trying to pressure Iran not to do anything that would jeopardise the deal.
Iran made it clear on Monday that its action was “reversible” but contingent on the US backing off from its belligerent position on the nuclear deal.
However, far from backing down Trump reacted angrily to Tehran’s move. “They know what they’re doing. They know what they’re playing with and I think they’re playing with fire,” reports quoting Trump said.
European nations, friendly with Iran, expressed dismay over the decision by Tehran to break the nuclear deal-imposed limit to uranium enrichment. According to an NDTV report quoting agencies, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov said close ally Iran’s move was a cause for “regret” but also “a natural consequence of recent events” and a result of the “unprecedented pressure” from the US. “One mustn’t dramatise the situation,” Ryabkov said. Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said they were deeply worried and pleaded with Iran to “come back to compliance” on the nuclear deal.
The EU has attempted to put in place an alternate non-dollar payment mechanism, INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) which could skirt US sanctions. Though the EU says the new exchange mechanism has already started working, Iran countered it stating it was not enough. In the coming days or weeks, much will depend on how INSTEX works. If it functions to Iran’s satisfaction, tensions could ease.
In the last few weeks, the US has initiated a significant naval build up in the Persian Gulf. There have been mystery attacks on international shipping passing through the Strait of Hormuz with the latest incident involving the shooting down of a US drone by Iranian forces. The drone shooting almost triggered off a counter-attack by the US only to be called off at the last minute. The US, according to reports, is working to sabotage Iranian cyber networks with a view to disabling any possibility of a technology-initiated attack on US or its allied forces in the region.