Iran is still exceeding limitations set by its nuclear deal with world powers, increasing its stock of enriched uranium and refining it to a greater purity than allowed in the 2015 agreement, according to the United Nations atomic watchdog.
The quarterly report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday confirmed Iran was progressively backing out of the pact in retaliation for the United States‘s unilateral withdrawal from the accord last year and the subsequent renewal of sanctions that have hit Iranian oil sales.
The 2015 nuclear deal – also signed by France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia – had lifted many international sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme, which was opened to IAEA monitoring.
Iran has said it will keep exceeding the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities one by one, ratcheting up pressure on parties who still hope to save it, especially the European signatories, as it seeks economic incentives to stay in the agreement after Washington’s withdrawal in May 2018.
Since then, the administration of US President Donald Trump – a vocal critic of 2015 pact negotiated under predecessor Barack Obama – has implemented a “maximum pressure” campaign to force Iran back on the negotiating table on a broader deal, but Tehran insists it must first get relief from the US sanctions strangling its economy.
The Europeans hope that the possibility, however slight, of a high-level meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani might help keep Iran in the deal.
In July, the IAEA said Iran exceeded both a 202.8kg limit on its enriched uranium stock and its 3.67 percent cap on the fissile purity to which it is allowed to refine uranium.
In a verbal update on July 10, the IAEA said Iran was enriching uranium to 4.5 percent purity and had stockpiled 213.5kg of enriched uranium.
Friday’s quarterly report to member states said Iran has accumulated 241.6kg of enriched uranium and is enriching at about the same level as before, up to 4.5 percent.
Iran’s enriched uranium stock is still a fraction of the tonnes it possessed before the deal. Its enrichment level is also well short of the 20 percent it reached before the deal and the roughly 90 percent that is considered weapons-grade.
Its recent moves, therefore, have not yet made much difference to the time it would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it sought one.
Iran has threatened to take further steps by September 6, such as enriching to 20 percent or restarting mothballed centrifuges, machines used to enrich the uranium.
The US withdrawal from the deal and its reimposition of sanctions towards Iran has left the other signatories struggling to come up with enough incentives to keep Iran in the deal.
So far, they have expressed concern about Tehran’s moves and urged it to return to the limitations set in the agreement but have not taken further action.
Britain, France and Germany have set up a complex barter-type system dubbed INSTEX that aims to protect companies doing business with Iran from US sanctions.
The first transactions through this system are being “processed,” but have not yet been completed, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Friday.
Iranian officials have called INSTEX insufficient as it only allows trade for humanitarian activities that are not even covered by US secondary sanctions. Instead, they want the workaround mechanism to cover the key oil trade hit by Washington’s sanctions.
Under the weight of those sanctions, the value of Iran’s currency has plummeted by about 60 percent in the last year.
Inflation is up 37 percent and the cost of food and medicine has soared 40 percent to 60 percent, according to EU figures.