TEHRAN – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday ordered all limits on nuclear research and development to be lifted — the country’s third step in scaling down its commitments to a 2015 deal with world powers.
His announcement came shortly after the U.S. hit the Islamic Republic with further sanctions, the latest in a series of punitive measures including an embargo on Iranian oil exports.
Iran and three European countries — Britain, France and Germany — have been engaged in talks to reduce tensions and save the nuclear deal, which has been unraveling since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from it in May last year.
But late Wednesday, Rouhani made good on a declared intention to take another step away from the multilateral deal signed with the permanent five United Nations Security Council powers and Germany.
“I, as of now, announce the third step,” he said on state television. “The atomic energy organization (of Iran) is ordered to immediately start whatever is needed in the field of research and development, and abandon all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development.”
He referred to “expansions in the field of research and development, centrifuges, different types of new centrifuges and whatever we need for enrichment.”
Iran in July abandoned two other nuclear commitments: to keep its stockpile of enriched uranium below 300 kg, and a 3.67-percent cap on the purity of its uranium stocks.
Rouhani earlier on Wednesday told a Cabinet meeting: “I don’t think that … we will reach a deal.”
But he also said Tehran and the European powers had been getting closer to an agreement on a way to resolve burning issues. “If we had 20 issues of disagreement with the Europeans in the past, today there are three issues,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron, meeting Trump last month in France, encouraged him to offer economic incentives for Tehran and dangled the possibility of a summit between the U.S. and Iranian presidents.
Trump made clear Wednesday that he was still interested in meeting Rouhani when the Iranian leader visits New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly. “Sure, anything is possible,” Trump told reporters.
A U.S. government source later said Washington has proposed a meeting between Trump and Rouhani on the fringes of the assembly. The meeting, which Washington hopes will take place around Sept. 25, would be the first face-to-face summit of the leaders of the two countries since the 1979 Iranian Revolution led to decades of tense bilateral relations.
But Rouhani has already ruled out a summit without sanctions relief, and on Wednesday the Trump administration issued its third set of sanctions on Iran in less than a week.
In the latest salvo, the Treasury Department put on its blacklist a shipping network of 16 entities, 10 people and 11 vessels that it said was selling oil on behalf of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force.
The network sold more than $500 million worth of oil this spring, mostly to Syria, benefiting both President Bashar Assad and the militant Lebanese ally Hezbollah, the Treasury Department said.
A U.S. official said the new sanctions showed Washington’s position on relaxing sanctions — and warned that more would come.
Iran has said it will resume full compliance with the nuclear deal if it reaches a deal with France on a $15 billion credit line, which Tehran would repay once it resumes oil exports. The U.S. is currently trying to block such shipments with unilateral sanctions.
Speaking days after a trip to France, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi ruled out renegotiation of the 2015 accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Hawks in the Trump administration adamantly oppose any easing of pressure, saying their goal is not only to contain Iran’s nuclear program but to curb the clerical state’s influence across the Middle East.
Iran had long threatened to carry out a third set of nuclear countermeasures by Friday unless other parties to the deal offset the effect of U.S. sanctions in return for its continued compliance.