Iran refuses to end breach of nuclear deal until it gets ‘full rights’

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Tehran meets French envoy as Rouhani warns UK of repercussions over oil tanker seizure

Iran has told Europe it will not reverse its decision to increase uranium enrichment beyond the limits set by the 2015 nuclear accord until it achieves its full rights to an economic relationship with the EU under the deal.

Ali Shamkhani, a senior security official and representative of Irans supreme leader, made his remarks as he met a senior French diplomat sent to Tehran by the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

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Irans president, Hassan Rouhani, also warned the UK it would face as yet unspecified consequences as a result of the UKs seizure of an oil tanker bound for Syria off the coast of Gibraltar last week. The ship remains in British possession.

Shamkhanis warning suggests the three European powers France, Germany and the UK face an uphill struggle to keep the nuclear deal alive. Shamkhani said the Iranian strategy was unchangeable, and claimed European countries had shown a lack of will to keep their side of the bargain.

The two-day visit by the French envoy to Tehran, Emmanuel Bonne, was seen as probably the last attempt to broker a deal before Europe decided to put Irans actions into the formal dispute mechanism of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

If the dispute mechanism is unable to resolve the differences, it is likely the EU will restore sanctions against Iran that were taken off when the deal was first signed.

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What is Iran’s nuclear enrichment cap?

Under the joint comprehensive plan of action signed in 2015, Iran is only permitted to produce low-enriched uranium. This is uranium that has a concentration of 3%-4% of the isotope U-235. This isotype is a fissile material, which is capable of sustaining a nuclear fission chain reaction.

At this low level of enrichment, it can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. Iran is permitted to stockpile 300kg of it, at an enrichment level capped at 3.67%.

A bomb needs uranium that is up to 90% enriched. Irans atomic energy agency has said production of enriched uranium has been quadrupled. The more that uranium is enriched, the faster it is to enrich it further.

Iran argues that it is no longer bound by the cap because of the withdrawal of the US from the agreement, and the reimposition of economic sanctions Donald Trump.

Read more: Iran’s uranium enrichment programme: the science explained

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Tehran has been demanding that the EU do more to compensate Iran for Donald Trumps decision to pull out of the deal last year, a withdrawal followed by a US attempt to impose maximum economic pressure on Tehran, including a worldwide ban on the purchase of Iranian oil exports.

Semkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), told Bonne on Wednesday that Tehran regarded Irans action as within the terms of the JCPOA because the country was entitled to downgrade its commitments if the other side failed to meet their own.

Iran has been frustrated by the slow European progress in setting up a long-planned financial mechanism designed to circumvent the impact of US secondary sanctions on firms that seek to trade with Iran.

The EU says the slow progress is due to technical and legal difficulties, and not an absence of political will, but Tehran has been losing faith.

According to the secretariat of the SNSC, Emanuel Ban, a diplomatic adviser to the Iranian president, will meet Shamkhani on Wednesday. The mechanisms for fulfilling the commitments of the EU countries have been discussed with him in regional and bilateral issues.

Shamkhani insisted Iran would resist US pressure, saying: Iran has in practice proved that in economic, political and defence dimensions it has the ability and capacity to manage and deal with various tensions and challenges. You cannot speak the language of force.

He said Europe shouldnot have allowed the US to take it hostage, and instead showed its independence from the US.

Bonne said: I have not come to Iran as a mediator and do not carry any message from the US to Tehran. Given Irans undeniable role and influence in the region, Paris is interested in continuing dialogue and cooperation with Iran to manage current crises in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.

The oil tanker seized by Gibraltar and UK authorities was thought to be directed to Syria. Photograph: A Carrasco Ragel/EPA

Last week, UK authorities in Gibraltar intercepted an Iranian supertanker that was believed to be breaching EU sanctions by carrying a shipment of Tehrans crude oil to war-ravaged Syria. Royal Marines helped seize the tanker, together with Gibraltar police.

Rouhani was quoted by the Iranian official IRNA news agency on Wednesday as calling the seizure of the Iranian oil ship as mean and wrong. During a cabinet meeting he warned London: You are an initiator of insecurity and you will understand its repercussions.

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