U.S. urges rejection of Iran's 'nuclear extortion'

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani heads a cabinet meeting Wednesday in Tehran, Iran.
Associated Press

VIENNA (AP) -- The United States admonished world powers seeking to preserve a deal with Iran on its atomic program Wednesday not to give in to "nuclear extortion" from Tehran, which has breached the pact's limitations in recent days in an attempt to get them to provide economic incentives to offset American sanctions.

The U.S. requested the special board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency after Iran announced last week it had exceeded the amount of low-enriched uranium it is allowed to stockpile under limitations set in the 2015 nuclear deal. Since then, it also announced it has started enriching uranium past the 3.67% purity allowed, to 4.5%, and IAEA inspectors verified both developments.

By doing so, Tehran hopes to increase the pressure on the remaining members of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, to provide economic relief for American sanctions. It has set an early September deadline until it pushes limits further.

Jackie Wolcott, the U.S. ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, told Iran and others in the room Washington was open to "negotiation without preconditions" on a new nuclear deal, and "the only path to sanctions relief is through such negotiations, not nuclear extortion."

"We are committed to denying Iran the benefits it seeks from these most recent provocations," she said. "It is imperative that this misbehavior not be rewarded, for if it is, Iran's demands and provocations will only escalate."

U.S. President Donald Trump underscored the comments later, tweeting the nuclear deal was "terrible" and threatened "sanctions will soon be increased, substantially!" Trump has long rejected the deal, saying it was too generous to Tehran and did not address its involvement in regional conflicts.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov fired back at the meeting the U.S. could not both reject the deal and call for Iran's full implementation of it.

"Although for some reason they only refer to Tehran, in fact the United States, who are refusing to fulfill its own obligations under the nuclear deal, lost any right to demand this from others," he said.

Iran's representative, Kazem Gharib Abadi, stressed Iran's nuclear program was for "peaceful purposes" and said his country was prepared to resume full implementation of the JCPOA, "commensurate with the implementation of the commitments by all participants."

At the same time he slammed the U.S. decision to withdrawal from the deal and reinstate sanctions, saying it was "neither legitimate nor legal" and should not be accepted by the international community.

"Due to costly and predictable consequences of sanctions, they should be seen as weapons of warfare and means of aggression," he said. "Economic sanctions are, in fact, collective punishment of the ordinary people, contrary to the objectives and purposes of human rights, and should be considered as crimes against humanity."

He later told reporters if the U.S. was serious about wanting to negotiate with Iran, it should drop all sanctions.

"No country is ready to negotiate with a country that is putting a gun at its chest," he said. He added, however, the JCPOA itself was "not renegotiable."

Since Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord, the restoration of heavy sanctions on Iran, including its oil industry, has exacerbated an economic crisis sending the currency plummeting.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have been on the rise. The U.S. has sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East, and fears are growing of a wider conflict after mysterious oil tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz blamed on Iran, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia, and Iran's downing of a U.S. military drone.

So far, the remaining parties to the nuclear deal -- Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and the European Union -- have been unable to meet Tehran's demands for enough economic assistance to offset the American sanctions.

They have said they remain committed to preserving it, however, insisting it is the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- even though Iran says it is not interested in producing one.