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Iran's nuclear chief warns EU patience is running thin

Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran Chief, Ali Akbar Salehi
Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran Chief, Ali Akbar Salehi

Iran’s nuclear chief said on Tuesday he was warning the European Union’s top diplomat that Iranian patience was running out on the bloc’s pledges to keep up oil trade despite US sanctions.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, said the Islamic Republic could resume enriching uranium to 20 per cent purity – seen as well above the level suitable for fuelling civilian power plants – if it fails to see the economic benefit of the 2015 deal that curbed its nuclear programme.

“If we cannot sell our oil and we don’t enjoy financial transactions, then I don’t think keeping the deal will benefit us anymore,” Salehi told Reuters ahead of a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels.

“I will pass certainly a word of caution to her (Mogherini): I think the period of patience for our people is getting more limited and limited. We are running out of the assumed timeline, which was in terms of months.”

Following the meeting, Mogherini said she and Salehi remained committed to safeguarding the nuclear accord.

READ: Iran needs a more comprehensive strategy against economic ‘crimes’ 

“They equally expressed their determination to preserve the nuclear agreement as a matter of respecting international agreements and a key pillar for European and regional security,” Mogherini’s office said in a statement.

It said Mogherini also repeated the EU stance “on issues of concern such as Iran’s role in the region” – alluding to Iranian involvement in Middle East conflicts from Yemen to Syria.

Under the 2015 deal with world powers, Iran restricted its enrichment programme, widely seen in the West as a disguised effort to develop the means to make atomic bombs, in exchange for an end to international sanctions.

US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord in May, arguing it was weak because it did not halt Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or support for armed proxies abroad, and reimposed sanctions on Iran’s vital oil export sector earlier this month.

But Europe sees the nuclear deal as an important element of international security.

The EU and other remaining parties – China and Russia – have struggled to preserve trade incentives for Iran to respect the deal’s nuclear limits under US pressure.

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