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Enraged Iran abandons nuclear deal limits

Iran's capital Tehran seen from Qeytariyeh Park (AN/Ninara)

GENEVA (Arête News) — Iran announced on Sunday it will no longer comply with most of the nonproliferation limits under the 2015 nuclear deal it signed with world powers, angrily reacting to a U.S. airstrike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad.

The government’s announcement via state television confirmed it will abandon nearly all the restrictions it agreed to impose on its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, but it remains open to United Nations-led monitoring and negotiations with European signatories to the deal.

Last month, Britain, France and Germany demanded that Iran remain in the fraying deal but did not press to reactivate U.N.-approved sanctions that crippled the Mideast regional power. European powers urged Tehran to stop taking steps away from compliance with the treaty, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

But in the wake of Friday’s U.S. killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who led Iran’s elite, expeditionary Quds Force, President Hassan Rouhani’s government said it will ignore limits on uranium enrichment and on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile for nuclear research and development programs.

Soleimani was killed in a drone attack as he traveled in a convoy near Baghdad’s airport. The strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a key Iraq militia leader. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out in Iran on Sunday to walk with the casket of Soleimani’s remains. He led militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, partly to fight the Islamic State group, and carried out attacks on American troops and allies.

“The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has in a statement announced its fifth and final step in reducing Iran’s commitments under the JCPOA,” Iran’s state TV said. “The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operations.” Iran news agencies also carried the statement that the nation’s “nuclear program will now be based solely on its technical needs.”

Trump’s deal-wrecking ball

The JCPOA represented a gambit by world powers to permit Iran’s economic opening to the West in exchange for assurances of nonproliferation.

It was crafted to include all five permanent, veto-wielding members of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus the European Union and Germany. The Security Council unanimously endorsed the JCPOA in July 2015.

But with U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal and to reintroduce U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic in August 2018, the United States ratcheted up the pressure on Iran’s struggling economy and ruling regime while further inflaming transatlantic tensions.

Trump said he thought the JCPOA was a mistake because its restrictions would end after 15 years, allowing Tehran to once again produce as much nuclear fuel as it wants. But with Iran’s withdrawal, the deal’s limits will mostly end after less than five years. The situation now resembles that of a decade earlier, when Israel and the United States considered risking war to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Some of the JCPOA’s provisions were open-ended, but many came with expiration dates. Limits on low-enriched uranium and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s access to inspecting undeclared sites were to end after 15 years, while those imposed on centrifuges were to be lifted after 10 years.

After Iran agreed to enforceable, IAEA-monitored limits on its nuclear program, IAEA certified in January 2016 that Iran had met the preliminary requirements including selling excess low-enriched uranium to Russia and putting thousands of centrifuges offline.

That certification led to the United States, E.U. and U.N. repealing or suspending sanctions. But after the U.S. withdrew from the deal, Iran began signaling it will breach the restrictions on its enrichment, stockpiles and centrifuges if world powers will not accept new terms under the deal.

Despite mostly pulling out of the JCPOA, Iran said its relationship with IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog organization, would continue unaffected.

Though Iran was giving IAEA access before the deal was struck, “the JCPOA included additional monitoring and verification items,” RAND Corporation’s associate political scientist Ariane Tabatabai noted. “Iran could’ve announced it’d go to the pre-JCPOA levels, but it didn’t.”

The remaining signatories — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the E.U. — have stood by lifting sanctions on Iran and imposing enforceable limits on its nuclear program. Britain, France, Germany and the E.U. have tried to encourage Tehran to stick to the nuclear deal by attempting to get its crude oil to overseas markets in spite of reimposed U.S. sanctions.

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said officials in Tehran now plan to take a fifth and final step away from the nuclear deal, but its “full cooperation” with IAEA will continue and its decision to abandon the nuclear deal’s limits are “reversible upon effective implementation of reciprocal obligations.”

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