Iran Breaches Bans on Enriched Uranium in Nuclear Escalation

Leaders issue threats to U.S., promise further breaches of nuke deal

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani / Getty Images)

Iran made good on Monday on its threats to violate key nuclear commitments, warning that further breaches will be coming in the next weeks unless European nations still party to the nuclear agreement help Tehran skirt tough American sanctions and provide it with cash windfalls.

Iran has officially blown past caps on the amount of enriched uranium—the key component in a nuclear weapon—that it can keep within the country, according to the Islamic Republic's leadership, which issued a new series of military threats against the United States and vowed to continue stockpiling nuclear materials in direct violation of the landmark accord.

The move was met with calls by U.S. leaders for increased sanctions on Iran to prevent it from engaging in further nuclear provocations. Tehran's continued nuclear violations set the stage for a showdown with the Trump administration, which has vowed to increase economic sanctions on the country until it agrees to roll back its nuclear program and consent to negotiations.

"As far as I know, Iran has exceeded the 300kg limit according to the timeline and we had also earlier announced this issue and clearly stated which measures we will adopt as our rights based on the nuclear deal," Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif announced on Monday, according to the country's state-controlled press.

Zarif lashed out at European leaders, saying they had not provided Iran with enough cash windfalls for it to continue adhering to prohibitions on its uranium enrichment program. Iran, he said, would continue to violate the deal in increasingly provocative ways until it is given lucrative trade deals from its European partners.

"The next stage which has been declared pertains to the 3.67 percent limit which will come into effect in the second phase," Zarif was quoted as saying.

Zarif and other Iranian leaders are pressuring European countries to establish financial bodies that would help Tehran skirt the toughest U.S. sanctions. Trump administration officials, who are closely watching the situation, have vowed to sanction these backdoor systems if Europe agrees to engage in them with Iran.

"The Europeans should act upon their undertakings to guarantee Iran's oil sales, transportation, return of Iran's assets and revenues of crude sales," Zarif said.

The Trump administration confirmed Iran's latest enrichment breaches and demanded the Islamic Republic end its attempts to extort the globe.

"The Iranian regime has taken new steps to advance its nuclear ambitions," the State Department said in a statement sent to reporters. "The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism continues to use its nuclear program to extort the international community and threaten regional security."

"No nuclear deal should ever allow the Iranian regime to enrich uranium at any level. Starting in 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed six resolutions requiring the regime to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activity," the statement reads. "It was the right standard then; it is the right standard now. The Trump Administration calls on the international community to restore the longstanding nonproliferation standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has the uncontested ability to pursue peaceful
nuclear energy without domestic enrichment."

"The Iranian regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the region and to the world," the State Department said. "The United States is committed to negotiating a new and comprehensive deal with the Iranian regime to resolve its threats to international peace and security. As long as Iran continues to reject diplomacy and expand its nuclear program, the economic pressure and diplomatic isolation will intensify."

Iran hawks in Congress accuse Tehran of nuclear blackmail and are calling for even greater sanctions to bring the regime to its knees.

"The catastrophic Obama Iran nuclear deal was built to allow Iran to cheat, both by making it difficult to detect violations and by giving other countries an incentive to dismiss those violations when they became undeniable," Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said on Monday after Iran announced that it had breached uranium caps. "Iran began exploiting the deal before it was even implemented, secretly preserving nuclear weapons infrastructure and openly violating limits on nuclear-related materials—only to have the parties reflexively ignore the violations, downplay them as minor, or provide still-confidential side deals and loopholes."

"Unfortunately, but predictably," Cruz said, "today we are already seeing many in Washington, D.C., and abroad downplay Iran's latest violation."

Cruz and others in Congress are already exploring avenues to increase sanctions on Iran as a result of its nuclear breaches.

"The Trump administration should increase sanctions on Iran's nuclear program, first by ending the civil-nuclear waivers the State Department has been providing, which allow Iran to continue building up its nuclear program, and second by invoking the United Nations snapback, to restore international sanctions and restrictions on Iran," Cruz said. "In the meantime, Congress should pass the legislation I've introduced to increase economic pressure on Iran by sanctioning the Special Purpose Vehicle built by Britain, France, Germany, and Iran to preserve the Ayatollah's economic lifeline, and I will continue to work with my congressional colleagues to ensure that maximum pressure means maximum pressure."

As tensions flare over the nuclear issue, Iranian military leaders have continued to threaten U.S. forces and its allies in the region.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran's Armed Forces will undoubtedly give a strong response to any aggressive move by enemies against the Islamic Iran's islands and sea, ground and air borders and will make them regret their deeds," Gholam Ali Rashid, a senior Iranian military commander warned on Monday.