Iran is on course to breach a threshold in its nuclear agreement within days by accumulating more enriched uranium than permitted, although it had not done so yet by a deadline it set for Thursday, diplomats said, citing UN inspectors’ data.
A week after US President Donald Trump called off air strikes on Iran at the last minute, the prospect that Tehran could soon violate its nuclear commitments has created additional diplomatic urgency to find a way out of the crisis.
Iran had set Thursday as a deadline beyond which it would exceed the threshold for stockpiles of enriched uranium allowed under its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, which Tehran is still following even though Washington abandoned it last year.
The latest data from UN inspectors suggested Iran had not yet crossed the limit but was on course to do so within days, diplomats said in Vienna, headquarters of the UN nuclear agency the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“They haven’t reached the limit... It’s more likely to be at the weekend if they do it,” said one diplomat, on condition of anonymity. The US envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, met European officials in Paris on Thursday to discuss what he described as Iran’s “nuclear blackmail”.
France, one of the European countries caught in the middle, said it would ask Trump to suspend some sanctions on Iran to make room for negotiations to defuse the escalating confrontation between Washington and Tehran.
“I want to convince Trump that it is in his interest to re-open a negotiation process (and) go back on certain sanctions to give negotiations a chance,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in Japan, where he is due to meet Trump on the sidelines of a summit in coming days.
The United States withdrew from the pact last year under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions. Iran has said it wants to abide by the agreement but cannot do so indefinitely because US sanctions mean it is receiving none of its benefits.
The escalating crisis has put the United States in the position of demanding its European allies enforce Iranian compliance with an accord Washington itself rejects.
“Our sanctions do not give Iran the right to accelerate its nuclear program,” US envoy Hook said in an interview before meeting European officials. “It can never get near a nuclear bomb. We are looking very closely at that so it doesn’t get below the one year nuclear breakout time.”
Macron said he had two priorities: de-escalating military tension and keeping Iran from violating the accord, which European countries still hope to save even though Trump ignored their pleas and abandoned it last year.