Nation & World

Iran turns back to nuclear program a year after Trump pulled out of accord

FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s president said Wednesday for the first time that his government will stop complying with parts of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal after the White House sent a Navy carrier task force to the region and moved to put a stranglehold on the country’s oil sales, ringing alarms around the globe as tensions ratcheted up.

A year after President Donald Trump said he was withdrawing from the landmark disarmament deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on national TV that Iran would stockpile surplus enriched uranium, rather than sending it abroad, and would consider restarting production of bomb-grade uranium, a far more serious threat.

The announcement came three days after the White House national security adviser, John Bolton, said the Pentagon was diverting the Abraham Lincoln carrier task force and an undisclosed number of Air Force strategic bombers to counter what the administration said was fresh intelligence indicating Iranian security forces appeared to be considering attacks of U.S. forces or allies.

Although Rouhani said Iran’s moves did not violate the 2015 accord, his announcement increased pressure on other signatories — England, France, Germany, Russia and China — to do more to save the deal or watch it collapse.

The accord, negotiated under the Obama administration, sought to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for relief from sanctions. It was approved by the United Nations Security Council, and U.N. monitors repeatedly said Iran was honoring its part of the deal.

The five other nations have largely stuck to the agreement since Trump pulled out, but Rouhani said they gave only “lip service” while stiffer U.S. sanctions sent Iran’s economy into a tailspin.

“The Europeans asked us to be patient, and we were patient for a year,” Rouhani said. “Europeans have given good lip service and propaganda but have practically done nothing tangible for the Iranian economy.”

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U.S. analysts described Iran’s announcement as a warning shot to demonstrate that it has options it can use to counter Washington’s punishment.

Rouhani insisted Iran remained committed to the nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but would scale back cooperation over the next 60 days while demanding new terms.

If other signatories don’t act to protect Iran from U.S. sanctions in the next two months, he said, Iran would consider resuming higher enrichment of uranium, which is currently capped, and begin developing its Arak heavy water reactor based on plans made before the deal was signed, a clear sign that the accord had broken down.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in Moscow, accused the Europeans of bowing to U.S. pressure to cut off oil sales, the main source of Iran’s foreign currency.

The Trump administration announced the oil embargo last November, but gave six-month waivers to the eight largest importers — including China, India, Turkey, Japan and South Korea — to give them time to wean off dependence on Iranian oil.

Those waivers expired last week and the White House said they would not be renewed and that countries that continued to import oil could face U.S. sanctions. Several of the countries have cut their imports to zero, but others, including China and India, have not.

“We had strategic patience,” Zarif said, “but unfortunately the Europeans have failed to resist the pressures of the American administration.”

The Kremlin sided with Iran and accused Washington of recklessly provoking Tehran’s actions.

Brian Hook, the State Department’s special envoy for Iran, said the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran was working. The value of Iran’s currency has fallen to record lows, its annual inflation rate has quadrupled and foreign investment has shrunk dramatically.

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In addition to oil sanctions, the Treasury Department has blacklisted numerous Iranian officials and companies and declared the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be a foreign terrorist organization. It was the first such designation for a part of a government. Iran responded by declaring part of the Pentagon a terrorist group.

Trump long had vowed to abandon the nuclear deal, which he called fatally flawed because some of its restrictions would eventually expire. He also complained that it did not stop Iran from developing ballistic missiles and supporting militant groups in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.

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(Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and staff writer Wilkinson reported from Washington.)

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