President Hassan Rouhani says Iran intends to stay in the 2015 nuclear deal despite US violations, arguing that the accord will be put to good use next year when a long-running arms embargo against Tehran comes to an end.
Rouhani said Monday Iran could respond to America’s exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in different manners, including leaving the deal altogether or keeping it at any price, but it decided to take the middle-ground option.
“By continuing the JCPOA, we will fulfill a major objective in terms of politics, security and defense,” he told a large crowd of people during a visit to the eastern province of Kerman.
Noting that for years Iran has been banned by the United Nations from buying and selling any kinds of weapons, Rouhani said the arms embargo will end next year according to the deal and the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorses it.
“This is one of the important effects of this deal. Otherwise, we could leave the deal today but the kind of benefit we stand to reap next year will no longer exist,” he said.
“We can leave now but then the UNSC resolutions [that were revoked under the deal] will return,” the president said, adding “We need to think where do the country’s interests lie.”
Iran, he said, did not want to stay fully committed to the deal while the others “sit on their hands” and do nothing.
“Therefore we took the middle ground to keep the JCPOA and preserve it while cutting back on what we had agreed to do under the agreement step by step,” he said.
Since May, Iran has been scaling down its nuclear deal commitments in retaliation for Washington’s 2018 pullout from the deal and the failure of three European signatories — the UK, France and Germany — to protect bilateral trade against American sanctions.
In the first three stages of its measured response, Iran enriched uranium beyond the 300kg limit set by the deal and ramped up enrichment to levels upon the pre-defined 3.67-percent cap. It also expanded nuclear research to areas banned in the agreement.
The fourth step, which was unleashed last week, was the injection of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas into centrifuges at the Fordow underground enrichment facility.
Tehran says its reciprocal measures do not violate the JCPOA and are based on Articles 26 and 36 of the agreement itself, which detail mechanisms to deal with non-compliance.
Iranian authorities have suggested that the measures will be reversible as soon as Europe finds practical ways to shield the Iranian economy from the sanctions.
Rouhani said Monday Iran’s nuclear capability is “better than ever,” noting that Iranian nuclear experts have never stopped research and development work since the JCPOA was first signed in 2015.
“We will stand up to our enemies with full power. We haven’t done anything illegal and we are not willing to bow to your orders,” he said.
Touching on disparaging statements by Western countries, Rouhani said, “Are you mad we restarted Fordow? Are you mad with the resumption of nuclear enrichment? Are you mad at us for speeding up the Arak heavy water [facility]? Then you should fulfill your commitments as well.”
Germany, France and Britain were to meet in Paris on Monday to discuss how to respond to Iran stepping back from its commitments under the accord, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
“We are very concerned to see that there are other uranium enrichments that Iran has not only announced, but is also carrying out,” Maas said as he arrived for talks with fellow EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
“We want to preserve the JCPOA but Iran will have to return to his obligations and comply with them. Otherwise we will reserve for ourselves all the mechanisms laid down in the agreement,” he said.
Maas was apparently threatening to trigger a dispute mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal, which could open the way to renewed UN sanctions.