WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) — On Monday, Iran announced that it had exceeded the stockpile limit of low-enriched uranium (LEU) permitted under the 2015 nuclear deal. In turn, US President Donald Trump warned that Tehran was “playing with fire.”
Trump made the remark in the Oval Office, as he responded to questions from reporters while signing a tax bill.
“They know what they’re doing,” Trump said. “They know what they’re playing with, and I think they’re playing with fire.”
The nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), allowed Iran to keep a supply of up to 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of LEU. That material cannot be used to make a bomb, but can be used for such purposes, like fueling nuclear power plants.
That Iran was allowed any enriched uranium, however, is one of the several flaws in the JCPOA, in the view of the Trump administration.
Trump’s comment followed a statement issued by the White House Press Secretary a few hours before. “It was a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level,” the statement said.
Calling on Tehran to “end its nuclear ambitions and its malign behavior,” it affirmed that the tough US sanctions, along with a policy of isolating Iran diplomatically—which the administration calls its “maximum pressure campaign”—will continue until Iran’s “leaders alter their course of action.”
The U.S. will continue to apply maximum pressure until Iran halts its uranium enrichment. The Trump Administration will never allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. https://t.co/fF9oh3Tnhr— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) July 1, 2019
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a similar statement. “No nuclear deal should ever allow the Iranian regime to enrich uranium at any level,” he affirmed, as he explained that starting in 2006—under the George W. Bush administration—the UN Security Council “passed six resolutions requiring the regime to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activity.”
The JCPOA loosened that restriction. However, as Pompeo affirmed, “It was the right standard then; it is the right standard now.”
The Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. In November, it began imposing economic sanctions, aiming to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero. The new sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by 3.9% in 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund. It anticipates that Iran’s GDP will fall by another 6%, at least, in 2019, and that is the background to the current tensions.
In addition to Monday’s announcement about surpassing the JCPOA’s limit on LEU, Iran had earlier said that on July 7, it would begin enriching uranium above the limit allowed in the JCPOA unless European governments provide a vehicle that allows it to circumvent US sanctions and resume trade.
However, that is difficult for the Europeans, because the US government sanctions individual companies, and most international corporations are unwilling to risk US penalties in order to trade with Iran.
Iran’s recent response to the US sanctions has also included attacks on international shipping and Saudi oil facilities, and the US has deployed significant naval and air forces to the region.
The Chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy commission, Mojtaba Zolnour, warned that if the US attacks Iran, Iran will attack Israel and “only half an hour will remain of Israel’s lifespan,” Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Monday.
Israel did not immediately respond to that threat, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on European countries “to stand behind their commitments” and reimpose sanctions for Iran’s violation of the JCPOA as stipulated in the nuclear accord.
Editing by Nadia Riva