WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday he thinks Iran is “playing with fire” after the country announced it had exceeded the limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium that was part of the 2015 international deal restraining its nuclear program.
“They know what they’re doing. They know what they’re playing with,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
An earlier White House statement reiterated the U.S. position that it would “never allow” Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
It further said Iran should be held to a standard of no uranium enrichment and that the Trump administration would continue its pressure campaign against Iran “until its leaders alter their course of action.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the semi-official news agency ISNA that Iran had “crossed the 300-kilogram limit” on its stockpile of uranium enriched up to 3.67%.
The United Nations atomic watchdog agency, which monitors Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, confirmed Monday that Iran had exceeded the limits in the agreement.
Zarif argued the action did not violate the accord, because the deal has a provision that allows one party to respond when another party leaves the agreement.
Iran made the agreement with six world powers, including the United States and the European Union, in exchange for lifting economic sanctions against Tehran. The United States withdrew from the accord last year.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday Iran’s move is a “significant step toward making a nuclear weapon” and urged Europe to impose “automatic sanctions” on Iran.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter he was “deeply worried” by Iran’s actions and urged Tehran “to avoid any further steps away from JCPOA and come back into compliance.”
He later told Sky News that Britain still supported the nuclear agreement but said if “Iran breaks that deal then we are out of it as well.”
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the development “causes regret, but shouldn’t be overdramatized.” He said the action is a “natural consequence of recent events” and the result of the United States’ “unprecedented pressure” campaign on Iran.
Trump long opposed the nuclear deal and contended it would not keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. He instead imposed stiff new sanctions that have hobbled the Iranian economy, chiefly aimed at curbing Iran’s international oil exports, and is aimed at forcing Iran into new negotiations.
Iran’s breach of the 2015 pact comes at a time of heightened tension in the Middle East centered on Tehran, whose military two weeks ago shot down an unmanned U.S. drone, with Washington claiming it did so in international airspace while Iran says it was over its territory. The United States and Israel have also blamed Tehran for attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, on oil fields in Saudi Arabia and in Baghdad.
Some U.S. national security advisers urged Trump to attack Iran military targets after the drone strike, but he backed off at the last minute after learning that such an attack would kill about 150 Iranians, which he said he did not think was a proportionate response to the downing of the unmanned drone.