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Rouhani orders abandoning all nuclear R&D restrictions

Iranian Presidency Office via AP

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a Cabinet meeting in Tehran on Wednesday.

AFP-JijiTEHRAN (AFP-Jiji) — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday ordered all limits on nuclear research and development to be lifted, the country’s third step in scaling down its commitments to a 2015 deal with world powers.

His announcement came shortly after the United States hit the Islamic Republic with further sanctions, the latest in a series of punitive measures including an embargo on Iranian oil exports.

Iran and three European countries — Britain, France and Germany — have been engaged in talks to reduce tensions and save the nuclear deal that has been unraveling since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from it in May last year.

But late Wednesday, Rouhani made good on a declared intention to take another step away from the multilateral deal signed with the permanent five United Nations Security Council powers and Germany (P5+1).

“I, as of now, announce the third step,” he said on state television.

“The atomic energy organisation [of Iran] is ordered to immediately start whatever is needed in the field of research and development, and abandon all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development,” he said.

He referred to “expansions in the field of research and development, centrifuges, different types of new centrifuges, and whatever we need for enrichment.”

Iran in July abandoned two other nuclear commitments: to keep its stockpile of enriched uranium below 300-kilograms, and a 3.67-percent cap on the purity of its uranium stocks.

Rouhani had earlier on Wednesday told a Cabinet meeting: “I don’t think that ... we will reach a deal.”

But the Iranian president had also said Tehran and the European powers had been getting closer to an agreement on a way to resolve burning issues.

“If we had 20 issues of disagreement with the Europeans in the past, today there are three issues,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meeting Trump last month in France, encouraged him to offer economic incentives for Tehran and dangled the possibility of a summit between the U.S. and Iranian presidents.

Trump made clear Wednesday that he was still interested in meeting Rouhani when the Iranian leader visits New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly.

“Sure, anything is possible,” Trump told reporters.

But Rouhani has already ruled out a summit without sanctions relief, and on Wednesday the Trump administration issued its third set of sanctions on Iran in less than a week.

In the latest salvo, the Treasury Department put on its blacklist a shipping network of 16 entities, 10 people and 11 vessels that it said was selling oil on behalf of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force.

The network sold more than $500 million worth of oil this spring, mostly to Syria, benefiting both President Bashar al-Assad and militant Lebanese allies Hezbollah, the Treasury Department said.

A U.S. official said that the move showed Washington’s position on relaxing sanctions — and warned that more would come.

“We can’t make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers,” Brian Hook, the State Department coordinator on Iran, told reporters.

Iran has said it will resume full compliance with the nuclear deal if it reaches a deal with France on a $15 billion credit line, which Tehran would repay once it resumes oil exports.

The United States is currently trying to block such shipments with unilateral sanctions.

Hook stopped short of criticizing the credit line itself, saying there was no “concrete” proposal.Speech

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