Iran is enriching uranium to 4.5% fissile purity, above the 3.67% limit set by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told member states in a closed-door meeting on 10 July, Reuters reported citing three diplomats. The IAEA also said Iran’s stock of enriched uranium was now 213.5kg, over the deal’s 202.8kg limit, and more than the 205kg verified on 1 July.
Tensions rose between Iran and the USA after Washington increased economic sanctions against Iran following President Donald Trump's unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018. Under JCPOA - signed with the USA, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany - Iran had agreed to limit its nuclear development programme in return for the lifting of sanctions. The other JCPOA signatories continue to support the deal, but according to Iran, they are not doing enough to mitigate the effect of the renewed US sanctions.
Iran welcomed France’s efforts to save the 2015 nuclear deal, as French President Emmanuel Macron’s top diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne visited Tehran for talks. However, on 8 July, Iran said it would restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up enrichment of uranium to 20% purity unless Europe implemented its promises of support against the sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on 9 July warned the European Union that Iran would start the third phase of scaling back its JCPOA commitments in September if the other sides failed to live up to their obligations under the accord.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Araqchi said the decision to increase enrichment was made in line with paragraph 36 of the JCPOA. “We view the JCPOA as a significant document and want to preserve it but it goes without saying that our demands should be met and the commitments reduction comes due to the other sides’ failure to meet our demands,” he said. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran's move to reduce some of its commitments under the JCPOA was an attempt to save, not to undermine the agreement.
Iran remains frustrated by the slow European progress in setting up a financial mechanism designed to circumvent the impact of US secondary sanctions on firms that seek to trade with Iran. The EU said the delay is due to technical and legal difficulties, and not an absence of political will.
The United States said Iran's “breaches” of the nuclear deal were an attempt at extortion, and called on Iran to reverse its recent steps and cease any plans for further advancements. However, Washington also said: “The United States has made clear that we are open to negotiation without preconditions, and that we are offering Iran the possibility of a full normalisation of relations."
In response, Iran Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, criticised Washington for withdrawing from the JCPOA, but said Europeans have had enough time to salvage the pact.