Iran Exceeds Enriched Uranium Stockpile Allowed Under Nuclear Deal

Breach comes after remaining signatories to the pact fell short of Tehran's demands to be shielded from U.S. sanctions ■ Netanyahu: 'Soon more evidence will be unveiled to show Iran has been lying the entire time'

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Rohani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark "National Nuclear Day," Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2018
Rohani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark "National Nuclear Day," Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2018Credit: ,AP

Iran's enriched uranium stockpile has passed the 300 kilogram limit under its nuclear deal, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Monday. The report was later confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iranian officials have said in recent days that the Islamic Republic is on track to pass the enriched uranium limit, which was set under its nuclear deal, after remaining signatories to the pact fell short of Tehran's demands to be shielded from U.S. sanctions.

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"As we announced when we said our steps would continue, the stockpile has passed 300 kg," one of the sources said.

Zarif confirmed that Iran had exceeded the relevant limit of 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), but Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran's steps to decrease its commitments to the nuclear deal were "reversible".

Following the report, inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog said they are verifying whether Iran has accumulated more enriched uranium than allowed under the deal.

"We are aware of the media reports related to Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU)," an International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman said. "Our inspectors are on the ground and they will report to headquarters as soon as the LEU stockpile has been verified."

Responding to the Iranian announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that "soon, more evidence will be unveiled to show that Iran has lied the entire time."

"When we unveiled Iran's secret nuclear archive, we proved that the entire nuclear deal with Iran is based on one big lie," the premier said, referring to his April 2018 revelation of a cache of documents that proved Iran lied to the world about its nuclear program even after signing the 2015 pact.

Netanyahu reiterated his pledge that Israel won't allow Tehran to develop nuclear weapons. "Today I call on all of the European countries: Stick to your commitment. You committed to act as soon as Iran violates the nuclear deal, you committed to activate the mechanism of automatic sanctions that were determined by the Security Council. So I'm telling you: Do it. Just do it."

Enriching uranium to a low level of 3.6% fissile material is the first step in a process that could eventually allow Iran to amass enough highly-enriched uranium to build a nuclear warhead.

Last Wednesday, the IAEA verified that Iran had roughly 200 kg of low-enriched uranium, just below the deal's 202.8 kg limit, three diplomats who follow the agency's work told Reuters. On Monday, the IAEA was not immediately available for comment.

After talks on Friday in Vienna, Iran said European countries had offered too little in the way of trade assistance to persuade it to back off from its plan to breach the limit, a riposte to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision last year to quit the deal and reimpose economic sanctions.

The deal between Iran and six world powers lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for restrictions on its nuclear work aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.

In a speech on Monday broadcast live on state TV, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: "Iran will never yield to pressure from the United States ... If they want to talk to Iran, they should show respect ...

"Never threaten an Iranian ... Iran has always resisted pressure, and has responded with respect when respected."

Trump has called for negotiations with Iran with "no preconditions", but Tehran has ruled out talks until the United States returns to the nuclear pact and drops its sanctions.

Overnight Sunday, sixteen people including a baby were killed and 21 were wounded by an Israeli attack on multiple Syrian and Iranian targets on the outskirts of Damascus and Homs, Syrian state-run al-Ikhbariya broadcaster reported, citing its correspondent.

Israel's Mossad chief asserted that Iran is responsible for the recent attacks in the Gulf, citing the "best sources of Israeli and Western intelligence agencies."

Speaking at a Herzliya conference on Monday, Yossi Cohen said that these attacks – which included targeting oil tankers, Saudi airports and sites in Baghdad – were approved by Iran's leadership and most were carried out by the Revolutionary Guard and its proxies.

"Through these attacks," said Cohen, "Iran is trying to tell the world it is not afraid of an escalation, and that if sanctions are not removed or eased it will cause serious harm to the global oil market."

On Wednesday, the Iranian ambassador to the U.N. said Iran would exceed limits on low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear accord unless Britain, France and Germany take timely, practical steps to preserve the agreement that is "now in critical condition."

Majid Takht Ravanchi told a Security Council meeting that the three European countries, which support the deal, and the United States, which pulled out of it, will have to "accept the full responsibility for any possible consequences" if serious steps aren't taken.

Britain, France, Germany and three other European Union countries responded by strongly urging Iran to abide by the agreement and "refrain from escalatory steps."

Under the 2015 agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium and submit to U.N. inspections in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. But President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the accord in May 2018 and has imposed increasingly tough U.S. sanctions to pressure Iran to negotiate a better deal — and the U.S. has threatened sanctions against countries that trade with Iran.

Noa Landau contributed to this report.

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