Ira­ni­ans ex­er­cis­ing ‘nuclear ex­tor­tion,’ net­tled U.S. states

It threat­ens to ratchet up sanc­tions, calls emer­gency in­ter­na­tional ses­sion

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The U.S. on Wed­nes­day ac­cused Iran of “nuclear ex­tor­tion” and threat­ened fur­ther sanc­tions against Tehran, which has be­gun stock­pil­ing and en­rich­ing ura­nium be­yond the lim­its set in the 2015 ac­cord that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has aban­doned.

The United States called an emer­gency meet­ing Wed­nes­day of the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency in Vi­enna in re­sponse to the Ira­nian moves, while a se­nior French en­voy was in Tehran ex­plor­ing ways to re­open ne­go­ti­a­tions on com­pli­ance with the deal.

Both Iran and the United States in­sist that they are open to fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions, but both have put dif­fer­ent con­di­tions on new talks. Wash­ing­ton in­sists that they must prevent Iran’s devel­op­ment of a weapons pro­gram and re­strict Iran’s in­volve­ment with re­gional al­lies, while Iran in­sists that Wash­ing­ton must first re­join

the deal Trump re­nounced in 2018 and re­move sanc­tions that are stran­gling Ira­nian oil ex­ports.

At the Vi­enna meet­ing, the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador, Jackie Wol­cott, said “there is no cred­i­ble rea­son for Iran to ex­pand its nuclear pro­gram, and there is no way to read this as any­thing other than a crude and transparen­t at­tempt to ex­tort pay­ments from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.” The only path to sanc­tions re­lief, she said, is “through ne­go­ti­a­tions, not nuclear ex­tor­tion.”

Later Wed­nes­day, Trump wrote on Twit­ter that sanc­tions against Iran would soon be “in­creased sub­stan­tially” and claimed that “Iran has long been se­cretly ‘en­rich­ing,’ in to­tal vi­o­la­tion” of the 2015 deal.

It was not clear on what ba­sis Trump made that claim. The In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, which con­ducts a strict in­spec­tion of Iran’s nuclear pro­gram un­der the deal, has dis­cov­ered no se­cret en­rich­ment pro­gram.

Iran’s am­bas­sador to the agency, Kazim Gharib Abadi, re­sponded to Trump by say­ing in Vi­enna that all of Iran’s nuclear ac­tiv­i­ties are mon­i­tored by the agency, and “we have noth­ing to hide.”

Abadi stressed that Iran’s nuclear pro­gram was for “peace­ful pur­poses” and said his coun­try was pre­pared to re­sume full im­ple­men­ta­tion of the nuclear deal, “com­men­su­rate with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the com­mit­ments by all par­tic­i­pants.”

At the same time he slammed the U.S. de­ci­sion to with­drawal from the deal and re­in­state sanc­tions, say­ing it was “nei­ther le­git­i­mate nor le­gal” and should not be ac­cepted by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

“Due to costly and pre­dictable con­se­quences of sanc­tions, they should be seen as weapons of war­fare and means of ag­gres­sion,” he said. “Eco­nomic sanc­tions are, in fact, col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment of the or­di­nary peo­ple, con­trary to the ob­jec­tives and pur­poses of hu­man rights, and should be con­sid­ered as crimes against humanity.”

He later told re­porters that if the U.S. was se­ri­ous about want­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Iran, it should drop all sanc­tions.

“No coun­try is ready to ne­go­ti­ate with a coun­try that is putting a gun at its chest,” he said. He added, how­ever, that the deal it­self was “not rene­go­tiable.”

While the State Depart­ment sought to mar­shal sup­port for its “max­i­mum pres­sure” cam­paign against Iran, other diplo­mats crit­i­cized Trump for with­draw­ing from the ac­cord a year ago and reim­pos­ing sanc­tions on vast ar­eas of the oil ex­porter’s econ­omy.

Rus­sian del­e­gate Mikhail Ulyanov fired back at the meet­ing that the U.S. could not both reject the deal and call for Iran’s full im­ple­men­ta­tion of it.

“Although for some rea­son they only re­fer to Tehran, in fact the United States, who are re­fus­ing to ful­fill its own obli­ga­tions un­der the nuclear deal, lost any right to de­mand this from oth­ers,” he said.

France, Ger­many and the U.K. is­sued a joint state­ment on the eve of the meet­ing say­ing that while they were con­cerned by Iran’s vi­o­la­tions, it’s the job of the re­main­ing par­tic­i­pants in the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion, as the nuclear ac­cord is known, to me­di­ate dis­putes.

The Euro­pean Union re­in­forced that mes­sage Wed­nes­day, say­ing it was also keen to fa­cil­i­tate trade with Iran.

“The EU deeply re­grets the U.S. with­drawal and calls on all coun­tries to re­frain from tak­ing any ac­tions that im­pede the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the [Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion] com­mit­ments,” it said.

BE­YOND THE LIM­ITS

Iran has re­peat­edly stated that it does not want nuclear weapons. It has moved care­fully be­yond the en­rich­ment lim­its of the deal in re­sponse to the Amer­i­can reim­po­si­tion of sanc­tions and es­pe­cially Wash­ing­ton’s de­ci­sion in late April to end the waivers it had given eight coun­tries to con­tinue to buy Ira­nian oil.

The de­ci­sion was taken against the ad­vice of the State Depart­ment, ac­cord­ing to a former diplo­mat, Dennis Ross, who said it fa­vored longer-term pres­sure on Iran while try­ing to keep the coun­try in­side the lim­its of the deal.

But since the de­ci­sion, Iran’s oil ex­ports, on which much of the econ­omy de­pends, have fallen from roughly 1 mil­lion bar­rels a day to roughly 300,000.

Iran says it will fur­ther in­crease ura­nium en­rich­ment and take other un­spec­i­fied steps that will not be re­versed un­til it achieves “full rights” un­der the deal. Iran has de­manded that the other par­tic­i­pants — Bri­tain, France, Ger­many, Rus­sia, China and the Euro­pean Union — sat­isfy their obli­ga­tions to aid Iran’s econ­omy.

But U.S. sanc­tions, which threaten pun­ish­ment against coun­tries that do busi­ness with Iran, have made trade al­most im­pos­si­ble.

While China con­tin­ues to buy some Ira­nian oil, the Euro­peans have in­stead cre­ated a barter sys­tem for trade that aims to by­pass restric­tions on dol­lar-de­nom­i­nated trans­ac­tions im­posed by the U.S. sanc­tions. But the barter sys­tem, known as Instex, has not yet com­pleted its first trans­ac­tion. And it has been heav­ily crit­i­cized by Ira­nian of­fi­cials as no sub­sti­tute for the surge in busi­ness they had ex­pected un­der the nuclear agree­ment. Iran’s supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, has called Instex “a bit­ter joke.”

The French pres­i­den­tial en­voy, Em­manuel Bonne, met Wed­nes­day with key Ira­nian fig­ures. Ali Shamkhani, head of Iran’s na­tional se­cu­rity coun­cil, told him that the coun­try’s de­ci­sion to re­duce its nuclear com­mit­ments “step by step” is an “un­change­able strat­egy,” ac­cord­ing to the official Is­lamic Repub­lic News Agency, and he went on to crit­i­cize Euro­pean coun­tries for their “lack of will” in pro­vid­ing

re­lief from Amer­i­can sanc­tions.

But Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani told Bonne that “Iran has fully left the path open for diplo­macy and ne­go­ti­a­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the pres­i­den­tial web­site. Rouhani said Iran seeks “full im­ple­men­ta­tion” of com­mit­ments by all par­ties. “If sig­na­to­ries to the deal im­ple­ment their com­mit­ments, Iran also will take new steps.”

Last week Rouhani also said Iran’s ac­tions thus far were fully re­versible, say­ing: “All our ac­tions can be re­turned to the pre­vi­ous condition within one hour.”

The diplo­matic ma­neu­ver­ings re­flected Iran’s ef­forts to pres­sure the Euro­peans to de­liver more eco­nomic ben­e­fits and Wash­ing­ton to re­join the nuclear agree­ment and lift sanc­tions. But Iran has not yet said what fur­ther ac­tions it may take, though it prom­ises more in early Septem­ber if con­di­tions do not change.

Iran is pro­duc­ing oil at the slow­est clip since 1986. U.S. sanc­tions have hit the cur­rency, fu­eled in­fla­tion and hob­bled growth.

U.S. of­fi­cials say the squeeze is meant to push Iran to ne­go­ti­ate a broader deal that also lim­its its mis­sile pro­gram and sup­port for proxy mili­tias in the re­gion. But the ap­proach has weak­ened the hand of Rouhani, who called Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing “ridicu­lous,” and prompted hard-lin­ers to dig in.

“The Amer­i­cans, on one hand, say the [Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion] was a very bad deal, even the worst deal, and they left it,” he was quoted as say­ing by the official Is­lamic Repub­lic News Agency. “On the other hand,

when Iran di­min­ishes some of its com­mit­ments ev­ery­one ex­pressed worry.”

Iran has con­tin­ued al­low­ing atomic en­ergy agency in­spec­tors to con­duct what Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Yukiya Amano calls “the most ro­bust ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem in ex­is­tence any­where in the world.” The safe­guards ac­count for gram-level amounts of en­riched ura­nium to en­sure they aren’t di­verted for weapons. The agree­ment gave mon­i­tors unique pow­ers in Iran, where they called record snap in­spec­tions last year.

In other de­vel­op­ments, Rouhani said Wed­nes­day that Bri­tain will face “reper­cus­sions” over the seizure of an Ira­nian su­per­tanker last week that author­i­ties in Gi­bral­tar sus­pect was breach­ing Euro­pean sanc­tions on oil ship­ments to Syria.

Rouhani called the seizure “mean and wrong” dur­ing a Cab­i­net meet­ing, the Is­lamic Repub­lic News Agency re­ported.

“You are an ini­tia­tor of in­se­cu­rity and you will un­der­stand its reper­cus­sions,” he warned the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment, calling for the “full se­cu­rity” of in­ter­na­tional ship­ping lanes.

Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Javad Zarif, mean­while, de­nied the su­per­tanker be­longed to Iran, say­ing who­ever owned the oil ship­ment and the ves­sel could pur­sue the case through le­gal av­enues. Iran had ear­lier sum­moned the Bri­tish am­bas­sador over what it called the “il­le­gal in­ter­cep­tion” of the ship.

AP/Ira­nian pres­i­dency of­fice

French pres­i­den­tial en­voy Em­manuel Bonne meets Wed­nes­day with Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani in Tehran. Rouhani re­port­edly told Bonne that “Iran has fully left the path open for diplo­macy and ne­go­ti­a­tion” over its nuclear pro­gram. Also Wed­nes­day, Rouhani said Bri­tain will face “reper­cus­sions” over the “mean and wrong” seizure of an Ira­nian su­per­tanker last week.

AP/RON­ALD ZAK

U.S. Am­bas­sador Jackie Wol­cott (left) waits for the start Wed­nes­day of a meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency in Vi­enna. Wol­cott ac­cused Iran of “nuclear ex­tor­tion” in a “crude and transparen­t” bid to force an end to sanc­tions. Iran’s am­bas­sador at the meet­ing, Kazim Gharib Abadi (right), said U.S. sanc­tions “should be seen as weapons of war­fare and means of ag­gres­sion.”

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