Iran announces partial withdrawal from nuclear deal

U.S. President Donald Trump imposes new sanctions on Iran, targeting revenue from its exports of industrial metals, the latest salvo in tensions between Washington and Tehran over a 2015 international accord curbing the latter's nuclear program.

Trump slaps new U.S. sanctions on Iran's metals industry

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday outlined the details of his country's partial withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear pact. (Iranian Presidency Office via Associated Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday imposed new sanctions on Iran, targeting revenue from its exports of industrial metals, the latest salvo in tensions between Washington and Tehran over a 2015 international accord curbing the latter's nuclear program.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani had announced hours earlier that it was relaxing some restrictions on its nuclear program, steps that stopped short of violating the deal with world powers for now, but threatening more action if countries do not shield it from U.S. sanctions.

Rouhani threatened that in 60 days, Iran would resume enrichment of uranium beyond the low level permitted under the deal unless the five other powers signed up to it find a way to protect Iran's oil and banking industries from U.S. sanctions.

"If the five countries came to the negotiating table and we reached an agreement, and if they could protect our interests in the oil and banking sectors, we will go back to Square 1," Rouhani said.

"The Iranian people and the world should know that today is not the end of the JCPOA," he said, using the acronym for the nuclear deal. "These are actions in line with the JCPOA."

The 2015 deal was signed between Iran, the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the accord, the U.S. has restored crippling economic sanctions on Iran even as Tehran continued to abide by the accord, according to United Nations inspectors.

U.S. sanctions on metals

After Tehran's announcement, Trump issued an executive order to impose new sanctions on Iran, this time targeting the Islamic Republic's export revenues from its industrial metals sector.

The order prohibits the purchase of Iranian iron, steel, aluminum and copper, saying the U.S. seeks to deny the Iranian government money "that may be used to provide funding and support for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorist groups and networks, campaigns of regional aggression, and military expansion."

"Today's action targets Iran's revenue from the export of industrial metals — 10 per cent of its export economy — and puts other nations on notice that allowing Iranian steel and other metals into your ports will no longer be tolerated," Trump said in a statement.

 "Tehran can expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct," Trump said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said earlier on Wednesday that the U.S. will wait to see if Iran follows through on threats to limit its compliance with the deal before deciding how to react.

Speaking in London with British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Pompeo said Iran's threat appeared aspirational and was vague on whether it would follow through.

Hunt called Iran's threat to resume higher enrichment of uranium an "unwelcome step." French Defence Secretary Florence Parly was much more dire. "Nothing would be worse than Iran leaving this deal," he told BMFTV.

Because Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord last year, Pompeo said the administration's position on compliance depends on what Iran does, not what it says it may do.

"They have made have made a number of statements about actions they have threatened to do in order to get the world to jump," Pompeo said.

Israel vows to prevent nuclear weapon acquisition

In response to these developments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country would "not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons."

Netanyahu has been an outspoken critic of the 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers, and welcomed Trump's withdrawal from the deal last year. He considers Iran to be Israel's greatest threat, and Iranian leaders frequently condemn Israel and call for its destruction.

Netanyahu, speaking Wednesday at a state Memorial Day ceremony in Jerusalem, said Israel "will continue to fight those who seek to take our lives, and we will thrust our roots even deeper into the soil of our homeland."

The reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran shown in 2010. (Majid Asgaripour/Mehr News Agency via Associated Press)

Iran has denied ever seeking nuclear weapons, insisting its atomic program is for entirely peaceful purposes.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told his Russian counterpart on Wednesday that Tehran's decision to reduce some voluntary commitments within its nuclear deal with world powers was legal, the RIA news agency reported.

Zarif, in Moscow for talks, told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Iran's actions did not violate the original terms of the nuclear agreement and Tehran now had 60 days to take the necessary diplomatic steps.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, said Iran had been provoked into rolling back some of the terms of the nuclear deal due to external pressure, which it blamed on the United States.

"President [Vladimir Putin] has repeatedly spoken of the consequences of unthought-out steps regarding Iran, and by that I mean the decision taken by Washington [to quit the deal]. Now we are seeing those consequences are starting to happen," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

With files from The Associated Press