TEHRAN WARNS OF STRONG STEP FROM DEAL … IF … BY END WEEK
DUBAI, Sept 2, (Agencies): Iran and France’s views have become closer over Tehran’s nuclear deal, mainly after phone calls between President Hassan Rouhani and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, Iran’s government spokesman said on Monday.
“Fortunately the points of views have become closer on many issues and now technical discussions are being held on ways to carry out the Europeans’ commitments (in the nuclear deal),” the spokesman, Ali Rabiei, said in remarks carried by state television, without giving details.
Since the United States pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal last year, European parties to the pact have been trying to convince Iran to remain compliant by promising to shield its economic interests from US sanctions. Iran will “take a strong step” away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if Europe cannot offer the country new terms by a deadline at the end of this week, a government spokesman said Monday as top Iranian diplomats traveled to France and Russia for last-minute talks.
The comments from Ali Rabiei reinforced the deadline Iran had set for Friday for Europe to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the global market. Crushing US sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the deal over a year ago have halted those sales.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in Moscow, while his deputy was to travel to Paris with a team of economists Monday in a renewed diplomatic push. The developments come after Macron surprised the Group of Seven summit in France by inviting Zarif last week. Rabiei described Iran’s strategy to journalists at Monday’s press conference in Tehran as “commitment for commitment.” “Iran’s oil should be bought and its money should be accessible to return to Iran,” Rabiei said. “This is the agenda of our talks.” It’s unclear what the terms of negotiation are.
In theory, anyone caught buying Iranian crude oil would be subject to US sanctions and potentially locked out of the American financial market. Already, Iran has gone over limits set by the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA as the deal is known.
The UN agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5 percent, above the 3.67 percent allowed. Enriched uranium at the 3.67 percent level is enough for peaceful pursuits and is far below weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. At the 4.5 percent level, the uranium can help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant.
It remains unclear what further step Iran will take, though it could involve restarting advanced centrifuges prohibited by the deal or further bumping up its enrichment of uranium. Iran insists the steps it has taken so far are easily reversible.
“We will announce implementation of the third step in a letter to the Europeans if the Europeans do not implement necessary measures by Thursday,” said Zarif in a Sunday interview with Iran’s parliament news agency, ICANA. Meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, Zarif reiterated that it was up to Europe to ensure the deal’s survival. Iran will “be complying with its obligations in full when the Europeans comply with theirs in full,” Zarif told journalists.
Iran acknowledged for the first time on Monday that a rocket at its Imam Khomeini Space Center exploded after satellite photos showed the blast last week, with an official saying a technical malfunction during a test caused the explosion. The comments by government spokesman Ali Rabiei were the first explanation offered by Iran for Thursday’s explosion, which came ahead of a planned satellite launch by the Islamic Republic that the US has criticized. Rabiei also criticized President Donald Trump for tweeting what appeared to be a surveillance photo of the aftermath of the explosion shot by a US spy satellite.
The explosion marked the third failure involving a rocket at the Iranian center, which has raised suspicions of sabotage in Iran’s space program. However, Rabiei dismissed that, saying that “this has been a technical matter and a technical error. Our experts unanimously say so.” “The explosion happened at the launchpad and no satellite had yet been transferred to the launchpad,” Rabiei said. “It happened at a test site, not at the launch site.” Commercially available satellite images by Planet Labs Inc and Maxar Technologies showed a black plume of smoke rising above a launch pad Thursday, with what appeared to be the charred remains of a rocket and its launch stand.
In previous days, satellite images had shown officials there repainted the launch pad blue. The photo released Friday by Trump appeared to be a once-classified surveillance photo from American intelligence agencies. Analysts said the black rectangle in the photo’s upper-left-hand corner likely covered up the photo’s classification.
The image showed damaged vehicles around the launch pad, as well as damage done to the rocket’s launcher. It also clearly showed a large phrase written in Farsi on the pad: “National Product, National Power.” “The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” Trump wrote in his tweet, identifying the rocket used. “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.” Rabiei criticized Trump’s decision to tweet about the rocket explosion. “We don’t understand why the US president tweets and posts satellite pictures with excitement. This is not understandable,” he said. “Maybe this is because lack of Iran-related subjects that they raise such issues.”
The blast followed two failed satellite launches of the Payam and Doosti in January and February. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time. Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. Iran is preparing to launch the Nahid-1, a communication satellite, into space.
The US alleges such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. Tehran also says it hasn’t violated the UN resolution as it only “called upon” Tehran not to conduct such tests.
The tests have taken on new importance to the US amid the maximalist approach to Iran taken by President Donald Trump’s administration. Tensions have been high between the countries since Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal over a year ago and imposed sanctions, including on Iran’s oil industry. Iran recently has begun to break the accord itself while trying to push Europe to help it sell oil abroad.