Iran said it would take another step away from a 2015 nuclear deal by starting to develop centrifuges to speed up its uranium enrichment but it also gave European powers two more months to try to save the multilateral pact.
Separately, the United States refused to ease its economic sanctions on Iran, imposed fresh ones designed to choke off the smuggling of Iranian oil and rebuffed, but did not rule out, a French plan to give Tehran a $15 billion credit line.
The moves suggested Iran, the United States and the major European powers may be leaving the door open for diplomacy to try resolve a dispute over Iran’s nuclear program even as they largely stuck to entrenched positions.
The friction has intensified since US President Donald Trump last year withdrew from the 2015 international accord under which Iran had agreed to rein in its atomic program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Washington has since renewed and intensified its sanctions, slashing Iran’s crude oil sales by more than 80%.
Trump again said he was open to the possibility of meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani but made clear he had no intention of easing sanctions.
“That’s not happening,” he said. “That won’t be happening.”
In a televised address, Rouhani said Iran from Friday will begin developing centrifuges to speed up the enrichment of uranium, which can produce fuel for power plants or for atomic bombs, as the next step in reducing its nuclear commitments.
Under the accord, Iran was allowed to keep restricted quantities of first-generation centrifuges at two nuclear plants. The successful development of more advanced centrifuges would enable it to produce material for a potential nuclear bomb several times faster.
Iran says it is only enriching uranium to fuel nuclear power plants, but the United States has long suspected the program ultimately aims to produce weapons.
Iran’s atomic energy organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi will hold a news conference tomorrow to detail Tehran’s third round of cuts in its nuclear commitments since May, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported .
Iran’s arch-enemy Israel responded by calling for more international pressure on Iran.
“This is not the time to hold talks with Iran; this is the time to increase the pressure on Iran,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The EU yesterday urged Iran to backtrack on moves to drop its commitments under the deal, known as the JCPOA.
“These activities we consider are inconsistent with the JCPOA,” said European Commission spokesman Carlos Martin Ruiz de Gordejuela.
“We urge Iran to reverse these steps and refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal.”
Iran has expressed mounting frustration at Europe’s failure to offset the effects of renewed US sanctions in return for its continued compliance with the agreement.
It had already hit back twice with countermeasures in response to the US withdrawal from the deal.