China urges restraint, calls for unconditional U.S. return to JCPOA

January 5, 2021 - 21:58

TEHRAN - In its first reaction to Iran’s announcement on resuming 20 percent uranium enrichment, China has urged all stakeholders of the 2015 nuclear deal to exercise restraint while pushing for an unconditional return of the United States to the nuclear deal.

“China urges all sides to exercise calm and restraint, to stick to the commitments of the agreement and to refrain from taking actions that might escalate tensions, so as to make space for diplomatic efforts and a change in the situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing on Tuesday, according to a Reuters report.

“The urgent task at hand is for all sides to push the United States to return unconditionally to the agreement and remove all relevant sanctions,” Hua said. Doing so could help bring the agreement back onto “the right track”, she added.

The spokeswoman also pointed out that the Iran nuclear issue was at a critical juncture and was “extremely complex and sensitive.”

On Monday, Iran formally announced the start of the process of enriching uranium to 20%, a major break from the 3.67% purity limit set by the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“…, the process of producing enriched uranium to 20% purity has begun. And the first product of UF6 enriched uranium will be produced in a few hours,” Ali Rabiei, the Iranian government spokesman, announced on Monday morning.

According to Rabiei, the 20% uranium enrichment began at the Fordow nuclear facility, where Iran is not allowed to spin centrifuges under the terms of the JCPOA.

The spokesman said President Hassan Rouhani has issued an order stipulating that the recent nuclear law passed by the Iranian Parliament should be implemented.

The nuclear law, officially called “Strategic Action to Lift Sanctions and Protect Nation’s Rights,” outlines a step-by-step strategy for Iran to force the West into reconsidering its sanctions policy against Iran by increasing nuclear activities. It stipulates that the Iranian government should take certain nuclear measures such as raising the level of uranium enrichment to 20% and suspending the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in few months if the Western parties failed to honor their obligations under the JCPOA.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that his country’s nuclear move is reversible upon compliance by all other JCPOA parties.

“We resumed 20% enrichment, as legislated by our Parliament. IAEA has been duly notified. Our remedial action conforms fully with Para 36 of JCPOA, after years of non-compliance by several other JCPOA participants. Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL,” Zarif tweeted on Monday.

Iran’s decision to substantially raise the level of uranium enrichment up to 20% came after months of calling on the remaining parties to the nuclear deal, especially the European countries, to uphold their obligations under the deal by normalizing economic ties with Iran but Iran’s calls fell on deaf ears in Europe, which prompted Iran into reducing its nuclear commitments in five steps first and then resuming the 20% uranium enrichment.

However, Iran has said time and again that its “remedial measures” are reversible and aimed at restoring the lost balance between rights and obligations within the JCPOA after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of it in May 2018.

Iran also informed the UN nuclear watchdog of its latest move.

“We have sent a letter to the representative of the Islamic Republic to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to submit it to the Agency. This letter was submitted to the Agency on Friday, informing it that we want to start 20% enrichment in accordance with the parliament law,” Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said in a televised interview a few days before Iran began the 20% uranium enrichment.

“God willing, we will start enriching [uranium] up to 20% soon. The president should issue an order. Of course, the president has already issued a preliminary order according to which we sent a letter to the Agency and made the announcement. We are just like a soldier having his hand on the trigger, waiting for the commander to issue an order to open fire. We are ready to do this and God willing, we will do it as soon as possible,” he continued.

The IAEA has confirmed that it was kept in the loop about Iran’s recent nuclear activities.

“Iran has informed the Agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the IAEA said in a statement.

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