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Iran Exceeds Enriched Uranium Limits, Government Agency Reports

Jul 1, 2019
Originally published on July 1, 2019 9:44 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

International efforts to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions have taken another hit. Today, a government press agency in Iran has reported that the country is now breaking a fundamental requirement of the 2015 nuclear deal, exceeding the limits set for its stockpile of enriched uranium. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us now to talk about the consequences of this. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: First question - why would Iran deliberately violate such a central tenet of the deal?

KENYON: Well, as they've been saying, America did it first, and so we will, as well. This is the first breach by Iran. But the first breach overall came from President Trump when he pulled the U.S. out of the deal and reimposed American sanctions on Iran. Officials in Iran have been saying, for some time, you really can't expect Iran to uphold all these restrictions on its nuclear program, which it negotiated in return for the lifting of sanctions, if some of those sanctions are going to stay in place.

And now we have the first violation. It's the limit on the amount of low-enriched uranium it's allowed to stockpile - 660 pounds is the limit. Iran recently stopped shipping the excess uranium out of the country, so it has now gone over that cap. Now, this is good for mainly producing electricity at this level. And the worry was that if this stockpile kept growing and growing, it would be easier for Iran to someday decide perhaps to enrich it even further to the point where it might be used in a nuclear warhead.

MARTIN: So does some of this have to do with the fact that they're not getting - Iran's not getting the economic benefit it was promised in the nuclear deal? The Europeans and other countries who are signatories have had to work around American sanctions, and that has made the financial benefit lesser?

KENYON: Yes. The loss of the American participation, the return of American sanctions has had a definite negative effect on the Iranian economy.

MARTIN: So what now? I mean, now that this has happened, what series of events does this trigger?

KENYON: It might trigger more of the same. Iran has already warned that it will keep abandoning different commitments under the deal if this keeps going on and its economy doesn't get better. The next breach of the deal has already been predicted for around July 7 - so less than a week away. There are a number of things Iran could do.

One of the restrictions under the deal that's considered very important and sensitive is to only enrich to this level of less than 5 percent - good for electricity and not much else. The other major points are around 20 percent. That has medical uses - and then all the way up to about 90 percent, and then it becomes weapons-grade.

MARTIN: So what about those other signatories, the countries that are still party to the Iran nuclear deal? What's their move here?

KENYON: Well, that is a big question because the Trump administration's position - that's been quite clear for some time now. It wants Iran to keep abiding by this deal that Trump has pulled out of. The reaction on the part of European countries or even other signatories such as Russia and China is far more significant, and that's a big question.

Europe in particular has been pushing for a workaround. It's a mechanism. They call it INSTEX. It's designed to allow companies to keep on trading with Iran and get around the U.S. dollar, thereby not triggering the sanctions, they hope. So far, it's only been used for humanitarian aid. But now with Iran in breach of the agreement, the big question becomes, can Europe continue to push for this ongoing trade if Iran's not going to stick to the deal?

MARTIN: Right. NPR's Peter Kenyon for us this morning. Thanks so much, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.