Iran has exceeded the limit on the amount of enriched uranium in its stockpile set out in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog has confirmed.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Monday that its inspectors had verified the 300kg cap had been breached.
“We can confirm that IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has informed the Board of Governors that the Agency verified on 1 July that Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile exceeded [the deal’s limit],” an IAEA spokesman said in a statement.
The announcement came after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the semi-official ISNA news agency earlier on Monday that Iran had “crossed the 300-kilogramme limit”.
The move marks Iran’s first major departure from the unraveling agreement a year after the US unilaterally withdrew from the accord and reimposed punishing sanctions on Tehran.
Since then, Washington and Tehran have been embroiled in an escalating war of words, with fears of a possible US-Iran conflict heightened by the downing of a US drone last month by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), after which US PresidentDonald Trumpcalled off retaliatory attacks at the last minute.
Amid the increased friction, Iranian officials had warned that Tehran was set to breach the limit, saying the remaining signatories to the nuclear deal –Germany, France, theUnited Kingdom, China andRussia– had not done enough to protect Tehran from the bite of economic sanctions.
European allies who support the nuclear deal say Trump’s decision to quit the accord was a mistake that has strengthened Iran’s hardline faction, weakened its pragmatists and raised the prospect of open conflict in the Middle East.
Last week European officials announced that a new trading system (INSTEX), designed to circumvent sanctions on Iran, was operational but Iranian officials have said it does not go far enough.
“Although it does not meet the demands of the Islamic Republic, (or) Europeans’ obligations … it has a strategic value [in showing] that the closest allies of the United States are distancing themselves from America in their economic relations,” Zarif said on Monday.
“This will certainly have long-term effects,” he added, during a speech broadcast on state television.
In addition, Tehran has said that it would also start to enrich uranium above the 3.67 percent cap in the agreement in early July.
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from Tehran, said it was a “very fragile time for the 2015 nuclear deal”, adding the breaching of the enriched uranium limit signalled a “significant moment”.
“It is the first time we see something that we see which we can point to and say that is a clear reduction of cooperation with the 2015 nuclear deal,” Basravi said.