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Iran says it will now have ‘no limit’ on uranium enrichment

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, April 4, 2018. (Kremlin.ru/Released)
January 17, 2020

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani announced Iran would pursue uranium enrichment without any limits, ending what remaining compliance it had to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani announced Iran’s renewed nuclear program in a speech Thursday. He touted Iran’s nuclear programs as being in a “better situation” now than they were before signing onto the 2015 agreement, the Associated Press reported.

Prior to the 2015 deal, Iran had been enriching uranium at 20 percent. Uranium must be enriched beyond 90 percent to form viable nuclear weapons.

President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of its commitments to the deal, prepared under President Barack Obama, in May of 2018. Trump criticized the deal as lacking controls against Iran’s sponsorship of terror groups throughout the Middle East and has since imposed new sanctions against Iran.

Iran did continue to stick by the agreement for some time, but eventually announced it would raise its uranium enrichment levels beyond those negotiated in the original deal. Iran has raised its enrichment levels to 4.5 percent in recent months, up from the 3.67 percent permitted under the deal.

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At the time, Iranian leaders justified their actions as a response to the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement and subsequent U.S. sanctions, which harmed the economic benefits conceded to Iran in exchange for its compliance on nuclear restrictions. In exchange for its commitment to limiting nuclear development, Iran was to receive an easing of sanctions and the chance to participate more directly in international markets.

Iran’s latest decision on uranium enrichment instead follows new heightened tensions with the U.S. over the U.S. strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani. In the days following the Jan. 3 strike, Iranian officials announced Iran would abandon all uranium enrichment limits imposed by the 2015 agreement. Rouhani’s Thursday statements appear to have confirmed that threat.

Some of the remaining members of the 2015 deal, Britain, France and Germany, have attempted to salvage the agreement in recent months, despite Iran’s drift away from agreed-upon limits for uranium enrichment. Those countries have reportedly struggled to find a way to continue economic interactions with Iran as a result of renewed U.S. sanctions.

Earlier this week those countries did attempt to trigger a dispute mechanism built into the deal, which would allow them to impose additional sanctions to coerce Iran back into compliance with the deal.

Existing sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy and the Institute of International Finance estimates Iran’s economy will have receded by more than 7 percent by the end of its fiscal year in March.

“Pressure has increased on Iran but we continue to progress,” Rouhani said in his Thursday speech, according to Al Jazeera.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the remaining members still want to preserve the agreement and Borrell said his office reportedly opened a “frank dialogue” with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss the 2015 deal.

Borrell said the deal is “now more important than ever, in light of the dangerous escalations in the Middle East and the Gulf region.”