IRAN -- The interior of the Fordow Uranium Conversion Facility in Qom, November 6, 2019
France’s foreign minister says Iran's continued breaches of the nuclear agreement it reached with world powers have made it urgent that Tehran and Washington return to the deal.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian's comments came in an interview published on January 16, just days before President Donald Trump -- who withdrew the United States from the deal -- leaves office.
His successor, President-elect Joe Biden, faces an immediate challenge posed by Iran’s acceleration of breaches of the nuclear deal, including its move this month to start pressing ahead with plans to enrich uranium to 20 percent fissile strength at its underground Fordow nuclear plant.
With presidential elections in Iran due in June, Le Drian said it was urgent to tell the Iranians that their enrichment activities have gone far enough and to bring Iran and the United States back into the accord, the main aim of which was to extend the time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb to at least a year.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have been rising since Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018, arguing that it did not go far enough, and started imposing crippling sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at forcing Iran to negotiate a new accord.
"The Trump administration chose what it called the 'maximum pressure' campaign on Iran. The result was that this strategy only increased the risk and the threat," Le Drian told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
"This has to stop because Iran and --I say this clearly -- is in the process of acquiring nuclear [weapons] capacity."
Tehran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes.
Biden has said he will return the United States to the deal if Iran resumes strict compliance with it. Iran says sanctions must be lifted before it reverses its nuclear breaches.
Le Drian also said that even if both sides were to return to the deal, it would not be enough.
"Tough discussions will be needed over ballistic proliferation and Iran's destabilization of its neighbors in the region," he said.
Separately, European powers on January 16 warned Iran against starting work on uranium metal-based fuel for a research reactor, saying it contravened the nuclear deal.
"We strongly encourage Iran to end this activity, and return to full compliance with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action without delay, if it is serious about preserving this agreement," France, Britain, and Germany said in a joint statement.
The statement added that Iran has “no credible civilian use” for uranium metal.
“The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications,” the statement said
, while noting that under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran committed to not engage in the production of uranium metal or conduct research and development on uranium metallurgy for 15 years.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said on January 14 that Iran has informed it the country has begun installing equipment for the production of uranium metal.
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