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Iran Says It Will Exceed Nuclear Deal's Limits For 2nd Time


Iran says today it will, for the second time, exceed one of the limits set in the nuclear deal it made with world powers in 2015. It's going to pass a very low threshold for uranium enrichment, still far from what's needed to make a bomb. A year ago, the Trump administration pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions the U.S. had committed to lifting. Now Iran's saying that since it's not getting the economic benefits promised, it doesn't have to adhere to the deal either. Joining us to talk about the announcement is NPR's Peter Kenyon. And he's in Vienna.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is this announcement a sign Iran is seeking to enrich its nuclear fuel to the point where it could be used in a nuclear weapon?

KENYON: Well, not necessarily. And Iran, of course, says it doesn't even seek such weapons, but this increase is going to raise some concerns. There just aren't that many uses a country can have for enriched uranium. Four or 5% is good for electricity. Twenty percent - there's some medical applications. And then you have weapons grade. That's all the way up to 90% enrichment. Iran says it's already got plenty of the 20% fuel with the medical uses. So, basically, if Iran, as we're thinking, now ups the enrichment just slightly, say to 5% or so, that's not so much of a concern immediately. Tehran, by the way, says all of this is allowed for under the agreement. If one side fails to live up to its commitments, it says the other side can too.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, yeah. I mean, these breaches are - parts of the deal by Iran are coming in response to renewed American sanctions. Are the Iranians hoping...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...To get the White House to change its mind and to go back to the agreement?

KENYON: I think not at the moment. The immediate concern is more Europe, the U.K., Germany and France all want to save this deal. Iran says, OK. Stand up to the U.S. pressure, and at least save these trade benefits under the agreement. The Iranians, I think, for now, have given up on the Trump administration. They're hoping a different president will be elected in 2020. But meanwhile, international pressures continue from various sides. France is now condemning Iran's latest violation of this agreement, and Israel is calling on European countries to impose their own sanctions on Tehran.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So can the European countries salvage this agreement?

KENYON: Well, there are substantial doubts about that. The European governments are willing, but it's the companies, the CEOs who have to decide whether to risk losing the American market just to gain access to a much smaller Iranian market. There is this alternative payment mechanism Europe has designed, intended to help people get around the sanctions. But it's been very limited so far. And Iran's not very happy with it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what are you looking for next in Iran?

KENYON: Well, the inspectors from the IAEA - that's the International Atomic Energy Agency. Through all this, by the way, they've remained on the ground in Iran, looking at the nuclear program. They will now verify this latest breach. Beyond that, no sign of either side backing down. But it has been a calibrated response, I would say, on Iran's side. I spoke with a former IAEA official. His name's Tariq Rauf. And I asked him about the possibility of bigger, more dramatic violations, such as maybe Iran kicking out these U.N. inspectors who were monitoring its program. He didn't think it was imminent, but here's how he put it.

TARIQ RAUF: I think Iran will go over the limit of the uranium enrichment and the heavy water production but not ask the inspectors to leave. Apparently, in their recent meeting with the remaining partners of the JCPOA, the message was conveyed to Iran not to interfere with the inspections.

KENYON: JCPOA - that's an acronym for the nuclear deal. But, basically, there are more breaches in the pipeline. And if things don't change, this could be a recurring event every couple of months.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Vienna.

Peter, thank you so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.