Iran claims breach of uranium limit
TEHRAN - Iran said Monday it had exceeded a limit on its enriched uranium reserves under a 2015 nuclear deal that has edged towards collapse as the US imposes a "maximum pressure" campaign.
"Iran has crossed the 300-kilogramme limit based on its plan" announced in May, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told semi-official news agency ISNA.
The United States withdrew from the nuclear deal last year and reimposed biting sanctions on Iran's crucial oil exports and financial transactions as well as other sectors.
Tehran, which has sought to pressure the remaining parties to save the deal, on May 8 announced it would no longer respect the limit set on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpiles.
It also threatened to go further and abandon more nuclear commitments unless the remaining partners -- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- helped it to circumvent sanctions, especially to sell its oil.
In his comments published Monday, Zarif said Iran had set out its intentions "very clearly" in May.
The International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday confirmed Iran had exceeded the limit that the deal had imposed on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU).
The IAEA "verified on July 1 that Iran's total enriched uranium stockpile exceeded 300 kilogrammes", a spokesperson said.
The EU said Friday after a crisis meeting aimed at salvaging the deal that a special payment mechanism set up to help Iran skirt the sanctions, known as INSTEX, was finally "operational" and that the first transactions were being processed.
But "the Europeans' efforts were not enough, therefore Iran will go ahead with its announced measures," Zarif said.
INSTEX, which "is just the beginning" of their commitments, has not yet been fully implemented, he added.
The 2015 deal saw Iran commit never to acquire an atomic bomb, to accept drastic limits on its nuclear programme and submit to IAEA inspections in exchange for a partial lifting of crippling international sanctions.
But US President Donald Trump's unilateral withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2018 -- and subsequent sanctions -- have deprived Iran of the economic benefits it expected and plunged it into recession.
Exactly a year after the US withdrew, President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would temporarily cease to limit its stocks of heavy water and low-enriched uranium to 130 tonnes and 300 kilogrammes (660 pounds) respectively.
Iran has also threatened to start enriching uranium above the agreed maximum purification level of 3.67 percent from July 7. That remains far short of the 90 percent purity required to build a weapon.
The latest tensions coincide with a buildup of US forces in the Gulf and a series of incidents including Iran's shooting down of a US drone it claimed had entered its airspace.