Iran to take ‘important’ step away from nuclear accord, its president says

Iran will take a new and significant step away from the nuclear accord it struck with world powers, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday, raising the pressure on European nations struggling to save the deal after the U.S. withdrawal. 

The next moves will have an “extraordinary” impact on and considerably accelerate Iran’s nuclear energy program, Rouhani said without elaborating. His comments were carried by state television.

Iran wants Europe to offset the effects of renewed U.S. sanctions, which have thwarted trade, curbed energy exports, and hindered the import of food and medicine. Tehran has already breached two of the accord’s limits on its nuclear program and gave Europe a 60-day deadline in July to improve the terms of the deal. The deadline will expire Thursday. 

“The third step . . . is of an extremely important nature and will considerably accelerate the activities of the country’s nuclear energy organization,” Rouhani said at a cabinet session, the Mehr news agency reported. 

“This step is the most important one we will take and its impact will be extraordinary,” he said. “Europe has another two-month deadline for negotiations, an agreement and a return to its commitments.”

French President Emmanuel Macron recently spearheaded an effort to offer Iran a bailout package in exchange for its full compliance with the nuclear deal, diplomats said.

The offer includes a $15 billion credit line to compensate for lost oil revenue, but would depend on a guarantee from the Trump administration not to block the money.

“Our return to the full implementation of the nuclear accord is subject to the receipt of $15 billion over a four-month period, otherwise the process of reducing Iran’s commitments will continue,” Iranian state television quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi as saying Wednesday. 

“Either Europe has to buy oil from Iran or provide Iran with the equivalent of selling oil as a credit line guaranteed by Iran’s oil revenue,” he said. 

Iran negotiated the nuclear pact with world powers in 2015, agreeing to significant restrictions on its atomic energy program in return for widespread sanctions relief. 

President Trump abandoned the accord last year and reimposed sanctions in the fall, violating the terms of the agreement. Since then, the administration has pushed a “maximum-pressure campaign” it says will persuade Iran to strike a grand bargain on everything from its nuclear program to ballistic missiles and support for proxy forces in the region.

Rouhani on Tuesday ruled out any bilateral discussions with the United States, saying Iran would talk to the U.S. government only as part of multilateral negotiations after all sanctions are lifted and the administration returns to the nuclear deal. 

“We’ve said it before and we will say it again: We have no intention to hold bilateral talks with the United States. We never did and never will,” he said. 

Also Wednesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said preparations were being made to release seven crew members from the Stena Impero oil tanker it has held since July. 

Iranian naval forces intercepted the British-flagged vessel in the Strait of Hormuz. 

“We understand that our long-standing request to remove nonessential personnel from Stena Impero is now being acted upon by the Iranian government and that arrangements are underway for the release of seven crew members from the vessel,” Sweden’s Stena Bulk, which owns the tanker, said in a statement Wednesday.

Erik Hanell, Stena Bulk’s president and chief executive, said their release date had not officially been confirmed. 

Sixteen more members of the crew would remain onboard, the statement said, to satisfy a regulation requiring a minimum number of crew members to safely operate the vessel.