Iran will prepare for the “industrial scale” production of nuclear fuel even as it seeks guarantees from other countries to honor the Iran deal despite the recent United States' withdrawal from the agreement.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif described his government’s reaction to President Trump’s decision on Tuesday to re-impose U.S. sanctions on foreign companies that do business with Iran, in a statement posted to Twitter on Friday.
"The President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has been tasked with taking all necessary steps in preparation for Iran to pursue industrial-scale enrichment without any restrictions, using the results of the latest research and development of Iran's brave nuclear scientists," the statement said.
Germany and France said they would seek to shield European companies from U.S. sanctions, which would prohibit companies that do business in Iran from using the U.S. financial system.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan about how to save the 2015 agreement with Iran, according to Russia's official press agency TASS. Putin has long advocated for a new financial system with China that would circumvent the reach of U.S. sanctions, which also target his country.
The nuclear deal was negotiated by then-president Barack Obama with Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in return for relief from crippling international sanctions coordinated by the Obama administration. The deal focused on limiting and monitoring Iran’s production of nuclear fuel, a key ingredient for producing such weapons.
Under the deal, Iran permanently altered a heavy water nuclear power plant to prevent it from ever producing plutonium for a bomb. It also disconnected and scaled back its facilities for producing nuclear fuel through a process called uranium enrichment. The deal allowed Iran to reconnect the machines and eventually build an industrial-scale enrichment program starting in 2025.
Trump said he wants to impose new conditions on Iran, to address its ballistic missile program, its support for terrorism, the expiration dates and inspection provisions in the agreement.
Zarif’s statement said that with the U.S. withdrawal from the deal, Iran is prepared to embark on the 2025 enrichment project now.
Zarif’s statement puts pressure on U.S. European allies and other parties to the deal to find a way to keep it alive despite Trump's efforts to ice it, said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran analyst at the Brookings Institution.
“Zarif is saying we have our hardliners and … who knows what they’re going to do,” Maloney said. “They moved very quickly when it was time to implement the deal and they can move very quickly if they decide to undo it.”
Germany is ready to help 120 of its firms to keep doing business with Iran, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Friday.
“We are ready to talk to all the companies concerned about what we can do to minimize the negative consequences,” he told Deutschlandfunk radio, according to Reuters. “That means, it is concretely about damage limitation” and offering legal advice, he said.
But it's not clear if those European efforts would succeed.
Maloney said the Europeans can try to shield some companies but cannot preserve all the trade and investment that transpired under the sanctions waivers that Trump eliminated this week.
Each company and bank will have to decide whether to risk being cut off from the U.S. financial system.
"In the end, the size of the U.S. market dwarfs any prospect of any benefit they can get from Iran," Maloney said.