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Iran Will No Longer Honor Limits on Nuclear Research, a Core Principle of Accord

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Moving further away from the 2015 nuclear agreement, Iran said Thursday it had stopped honoring the deal’s limits on research and development, a potentially important breach of the accord.

The step was Iran’s third retaliatory suspension of compliance with a provision of the accord since President Trump renounced it last year and reimposed severe sanctions aimed at crippling Iran’s economy.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, conveyed the country’s latest step in a letter to Federica Mogherini, the top foreign policy official of the European Union, who has been trying to save the nuclear deal from unraveling.

Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, as saying Mr. Zarif’s letter informed Ms. Mogherini that Iran had ceased all its commitments “in the field of nuclear research and development as of today (Thursday).”

The letter described the step as a response to the American sanctions and to what the Iranians called the inability of Britain, France and Germany, all parties to the accord, to fulfill their commitments under the agreement to provide Iran with economic relief.

No further details were provided, but a more substantive announcement was expected on Friday or Saturday from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization in Tehran.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran had earlier signaled that the country’s atomic energy agency had been “ordered to immediately start what is needed in the field of research and development, and abandon all the commitments that were in place,” according to Iranian news accounts. But Mr. Zarif’s letter was the first official word that such a step had been carried out.

The nuclear agreement ended many economic sanctions on Iran in return for its verifiable pledge to use nuclear power peacefully. In the accord’s preamble, Iran promised to never seek or obtain nuclear weapons, but some of the agreement’s provisions expire in coming years.

Mr. Trump pulled the United States out of the accord in May 2018 and demanded stronger restraints on Iran, arguing that the agreement merely delayed when the Iranians could produce a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Trump’s critics, including America’s European allies, argued that the nuclear accord was working and that the American sanctions would possibly lead to a military confrontation with Iran.

Analysts said Iran’s latest move appeared calculated to create a heightened sense of risk that the accord was in danger of collapse because of the American sanctions.

It came as the Europeans have been struggling to devise ways to provide economic incentives to Iran that would compensate for the sanctions, which were strengthened further by the Trump administration on Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron of France has proposed a $15 billion credit line to Iran, but such a proposal could run afoul of the American sanctions, which can penalize those who do business with the Iranians.

Iran began breaching the nuclear agreement in July in what it described as an appropriate response to Mr. Trump’s actions. First, Iran exceeded its permitted stockpiles of nuclear fuel and then resumed uranium enrichment to higher levels than permitted. Iranian officials had promised further steps by this weekend.

Rescinding the limits on research and development violates one of the accord’s core principles, but does not necessarily put the Iranians any closer to the ability to make a bomb.

“The Iranians are trying to create a sense of risk and leverage with Europe and others so they will be more willing to push back on the United States with respect to sanctions,” Richard Nephew, a former State Department sanctions expert who helped negotiate the nuclear deal and is now a scholar at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, said in an email.

“I think the Iranians are still approaching this in a sequential and incremental way,” he said. “I don’t think they’re doing all they could do. But they’re definitely turning up the heat on Europe.”



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