Iran said to be complying with Trump-maligned nuclear deal but increasing uranium supply

The UN atomic watchdog says Iran continues to stay within the limitations set by the nuclear deal reached in 2015 with major powers, though its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water are growing.

U.S. pulled out of multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action last year

An unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector conducts an inspection at a nuclear power plant of Natanz, some 300 kilometres south of Tehran, in a file photo. The IAEA's latest status report indicates Iran is complying with a 2015 nuclear agreement. (Kazem Ghane/AFP/Getty Images)

The UN atomic watchdog said Friday Iran continues to stay within the limitations set by the nuclear deal reached in 2015 with major powers, though its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water are growing.

In a confidential quarterly report distributed to member states and seen by The Associated Press, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has stayed within key limitations set in the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

The deal is meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic incentives. It has been complicated by the unilateral withdrawal of the United States last year and Washington's increased sanctions, which has been taking a toll on the Iranian economy.

That has left the other signatories — Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China — struggling to come up with enough incentives to keep Iran in the deal.

As the U.S. has increased sanctions and companies have been pulling business out of Iran, the Europeans have been developing INSTEX, a complicated barter-type system to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and so evade possible U.S. sanctions.

Earlier this month, Iran announced that if a way couldn't be found within 60 days to shield it from U.S. sanctions targeting its economy and oil industry, it would increase its enrichment of uranium beyond the purity allowed under the JCPOA. And about a week ago, Iran said it had increased its uranium-enrichment production capacity, though only of the lower-enriched uranium permitted by the agreement.

In its first quarterly report since those announcements, however, the Vienna-based IAEA found Iran continued to be in compliance with the JCPOA and also said its inspectors had been given unfettered access to Iranian nuclear facilities.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands Friday in Berlin at a meeting in which Iran was expected to be among the topic discussed. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

"Timely and proactive cooperation by Iran in providing such access facilitates implementation of the additional protocol and enhances confidence," the report stated, referring to the procedure detailing safeguards and tools for verification.

The IAEA said Iran's heavy water stockpile was 125.2 metric tonnes as of May 26, up from 124.8 in February but below the 130-tonne limit. Its stock of low-enriched uranium was 174.1 kilograms as of May 20, up from 163.8 kilograms in February. The limit is 202.8 kilograms.

It added that Iran had not enriched any uranium above the level allowed by the JCPOA.

"All centrifuges and associated infrastructure in storage have remained under continuous agency monitoring," the IAEA said.

Pompeo addresses Europe's Iran initiative

While in Berlin on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would not stand in the way of INSTEX, so long as the focus is on providing humanitarian and other permitted goods.

"We've been pretty clear about trade with Iran — there are items that are sanctioned and there are items that are not," Pompeo told reporters after meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

The system is not yet up and running, but they hope to have it functioning by this summer.

Maas emphasized that even though the U.S. is no longer party to JCPOA, its goal is the same.

"We both agree that Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons," Maas said. "It's no secret that we differ on how to achieve that."

Following the meeting with Maas, Pompeo held brief talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had just returned from a trip to the U.S. to give a commencement speech at Harvard.

In a speech that echoed her past criticisms of Trump without directly naming him, Merkel told Harvard graduates Thursday that they should "tear down walls of ignorance" and reject isolationism as they tackle global problems. Merkel also said leaders should not "describe lies as truth and truth as lies."

Before Friday's meeting, Merkel said she and Pompeo would discuss how to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and "how we prevent other aggressive actions by Iran."

She stressed the importance of decades of German-U.S. friendship — a theme echoed by Pompeo, who said "Germany is a great, important partner and ally of the United States."