Tehran: World powers won’t get a better nuclear deal

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Tehran ramps up nuclear efforts as US warns the Islamic Republic will never be allowed to build an atomic weapon.

Iran warned world powers they will not be able to negotiate a better deal than the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement, as the United States vowed the Islamic Republic will never acquire an atomic weapon.

Tehran threatened on Monday to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity as its next potential big moves away from the agreement that Washington abandoned last year.

The latest war of words came the same day that Iran began enriching uranium to 4.5 percent, breaking the limit set in the 2015 agreement sealed under former president Barack Obama.

US Vice President Mike Pence said the international accord simply delayed Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon by “roughly a decade”, and gave away billions in economic relief that Iran could then use to wage “terrorist” attacks.

The US “will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon”, Pence told a pro-Israel Christian organization on Monday.

“Iran must choose between caring for its people and continuing to fund its proxies who spread violence and terrorism throughout the region and breathe out murderous hatred against Israel,” he said.

Pence added US sanctions have succeeded in “cutting off” Iran’s ability to support armed groups in the Middle East, but he also alleged the Islamic Republic had increased its “malign activity and violence in the region” over the past several months.

Tensions in the region have risen in recent weeks after oil tankers were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz and Iran downed an unmanned US military surveillance drone.

The drone shootdown nearly led to a US military attack against Iran. It was called off at the last minute by US President Donald Trump.

The US has sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East.

“Let me be clear,” Pence said. “Iran should not confuse American restraint with a lack of American resolve.”

Emergency diplomacy

Trump on Monday spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron about Iran’s threat to ramp up enrichment of uranium.

“They discussed ongoing efforts to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon and to end Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the Middle East,” a White House spokesman said in a statement.

Macron’s top diplomatic adviser will travel to Iran on Tuesday and Wednesday to try to de-escalate tensions between Tehran and the US, a presidential official said.

The French official said both Iran and the US had an interest in increasing the pressure at this stage, but both sides would want to start talks eventually.

“The important thing in a crisis situation such as this one is to find the middle points that take us from extreme tension to negotiation, that’s what we’re trying to do,” the official said.