Iran abandons enrichment limits in further step back from nuclear deal

Iran announced a further rollback of its commitments to the troubled international nuclear accord Sunday amid anger over the US killing of a top commander. European leaders have urged Tehran to reconsider.

While vast crowds gathered in Iran's second city of Mashhad as Qasem Soleimani's remains were returned home, the Tehran government said it would forego the "limit on the number of centrifuges" it had pledged to honour in the 2015 agreement which was already in deep trouble.

The announcement was yet another sign of the fallout from Friday's killing of Soleimani in Baghdad in a drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump, which has inflamed US-Iraqi relations and stoked fears of an armed conflict between Washington and Tehran.

Iran's 2015 nuclear accord with the United Nations Security Council's five permanent members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – plus Germany had been hanging by a thread since the US withdrew unilaterally from it two years ago.

European countries have been pushing for talks with Iran to salvage the deal, inviting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif to Brussels for talks, but the prospect of progress seemed remote after the government's statement on Sunday night.

"Iran's nuclear programme no longer faces any limitation in the operational field", said the statement.

This extends to Iran's capacity for enriching uranium, the level of enrichment carried out, the amount enriched, and other research and development, it said.

"As of now Iran's nuclear programme will continue solely based on its technical needs," it added.

However, Tehran said it would continue cooperating "as before" with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

Iran also said it would once again comply with the terms of the 2015 agreement if the US does so too by lifting the sanctions that are crippling the Iranian economy.

European leaders urge Iran to rethink

In a joint statement late on Sunday, the leaders of Germany, France and Britain reacted by urging Iran to rethink its announcement.

"We call on Iran to withdraw all measures that are not in line with the nuclear agreement," Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a joint statement.

The European leaders also urged Iran to refrain from taking "further violent actions or support for them".

"It is crucial now to de-escalate. We call on all the players involved to show utmost restraint and responsibility," the statement added.

>> Understanding the restrictions imposed by the Iran nuclear deal

The Europeans have been among the chorus of voices urging restraint in the aftermath of the drone strike which killed Soleimani, the veteran commander of the Revolutionary Guards' foreign operations.

But as his remains were paraded through the streets of Mashhad, cries of "Revenge, Revenge" echoed through the streets while mourners threw scarves onto the roof of the truck carrying his coffin.

In Iraq, meanwhile, lawmakers voted in favor of a resolution calling for an end to the foreign military presence in the country, including the estimated 5,200 US troops stationed to help fight Islamic State group extremists.

The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government but has the backing of the outgoing prime minister.
 
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)