Rouhani Ultimatum on Nuclear Deal

On May 8, President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran will stop complying with parts of the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The move came on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement. It marked yet another escalation of tensions between Tehran and Washington.

In a televised speech to his cabinet, Rouhani said Iran would resume stockpiling excess uranium and heavy water used in its nuclear reactors. Tehran had previously agreed to sell its excess to other countries to keep its stockpile small. On May 3, however, the United States revoked waivers that had allowed Iran to export its excess uranium, leaving Iran with the choice of halting enrichment or adding to its stockpile. As of May 2019, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile was well below the deal’s cap and heavy water is less of a proliferation concern, so, Iran’s initial move does not signal a dash to produce fuel for a weapon.

Rouhani, however, warned that Iran will remove caps on uranium enrichment and resume work at the Arak nuclear facility if Iran’s oil and banking sectors are not protected from U.S. sanctions within 60 days. Rouhani expressed his impatience with the remaining parties to the JCPOA – Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia. “We have given deadlines to JCPOA member states several times,” he said. "In simpler language, we felt that there was a need for surgery and the one-year-old painkillers were not enough; today's action is a surgical procedure to save the JCPOA, not to end it.”

In a statement, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council criticized the international community for not meaningfully responding to U.S. efforts to undermine the JCPOA, enshrined in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231. The United States not only withdrew from the agreement, it reimposed unilateral sanctions on Iran with the intent to cripple its ability to export oil. “This blatant bullying behavior of the U.S. has, unfortunately, not been appropriately addressed by the [U.N.] Security Council or the remaining members,” the council said. “Unfortunately, the goodwill and wise self-restraint of the Iranian people have remained unanswered, and no operational mechanisms have been set up to compensate for US sanctions except for the issuance of political statements.”

Rouhani also blamed “American hardliners, Zionists and regional reactionaries” for working to undermine the nuclear deal. President Donald Trump’s “goal was to provoke Iran to exit the JCPOA immediately,” he said. Rouhani also alleged that “an extremist group” is running the affairs of the White House, likely a reference to National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Both have taken tough positions on Iran. An outspoken critic of the nuclear deal, Bolton advocated for regime change in Tehran and use of military force against the Islamic Republic prior to his appointment in April 2018. In May 2018, Pompeo outlined 12 demands that he said should be included in a new deal that would address Iran’s nuclear program in addition to its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism, and threats against its neighbors and U.S. allies. He warned Iran that the United States would apply military and economic pressure, including the “strongest sanctions in history,” unless it changes its behavior in the Middle East. On May 8, Pompeo said the United States would wait to see if Iran follows through on its threats before reacting. 

In a joint statement, the E.U. foreign policy chief and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom reiterated their support for the JCPOA but also urged Iran to “implement its commitments under the JCPoA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps.” The following are statements from Iranian officials on their change in compliance with the JCPOA with international reactions.

President Hassan Rouhani 

Rouhani“After the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the people of Iran took to the ballot box and announced with their 24 million votes that they favour moderation, prudence and constructive interaction with the world. 

“American hardliners, Zionism and regional reactionaries have been -and are- anti-JCPOA and anti-IranAnyone can have criticisms towards anything, and this is the right of people, but animosity towards the JCPOA is –and has been- particular to Zionists, regional reactionaries and American hardliners. 

“The JCPOA is beneficial to the region and the entire world, and detrimental to the enemies of Iran, and this is why they have put all their efforts on destroying and wrecking down this glorious structure since 2015After the new US administration took office, which was the result of an unconventional, unusual situation in [that] country, the administration did not live up to its commitments made to the voters regarding its slogan of peace and withdrawing forces from the region.” 

“Today, an extremist group that is running the affairs in the White House has taken the authority from even the President, and this has made problems not only for the peoples of the region, but also America’s friends in Europe, Canada and MexicoToday, all those who were allies to the United States, and all enterprise owners and entrepreneurs around the world are suffering. In such conditions, Zionism, the reactionaries and internal groups in the US, especially AIPAC, put pressure on the government to withdraw from the JCPOA.  

JCPOA’s enemies are the same enemies to Iran and our peopleTrump’s goal was to provoke Iran to exit JCPOA immediately. It was Iran’s skill and wisdom that we didn’t play in his field. We have given deadlines to JCPOA member states several timesIran’s actions have been within the framework of JCPOA’s legal mechanisms.” 

 “Seven months ago, I announced at the United Nations that our strategy is commitment against commitment and violation against violation; today, we act based on those wordsIAEA has announced 14 times that Iran has fully complied with its commitmentsEnjoying rights proportionate to commitments is an obvious principle. I sent letters to JCPOA parties that we have waited one year at your requestThis strategic patience indicates the Iranian nation’s power and greatness”. 

“Today is not end of JCPOA but the day of new step in its implementationToday, we stop selling our enriched uranium and heavy water deposits; this decision is for 60 days. We will begin our two next steps regarding the level of enrichment and Arak Heavy Water Reactor if we don’t get the desired results. If the parties to JCPOA come to negotiation table and meet our main interests, especially in oil and banking fields, we will return to the previous point. We have explicitly told the other parties to JCPOA that if they take Iran’s case to UNSC, they will face a very decisive action. 

“Today we will announce a strategic and important national decisionJCPOA will be either win-win or lose-lose. We won’t let US turn it into a win-lose situationJCPOA is still standing, but today, we showed the other side of the coin to the worldWe are announcing the reduction of our commitments, not withdrawal from it. 

"In a simpler language, we felt that there was a need for surgery and the one-year-old painkillers were not enough; today's action is a surgical procedure to save the JCPOA, not to end it, and we believe that if our nation and our system work integrated in this direction, the world receives the message of the nation of Iran well. 

“We always favour peace and moderation; we have never began violating an agreement and will not begin a war, but will give decisive response to any aggressorWe are still ready for negotiation within the framework of the JCPOA; not a word more or less. If the deal is important for security, peace and development of the region, everyone must pay its priceKnow that Iran is standing strong and we will put differences aside against US pressuresToday, we chose diplomacy over war again. 

―May 8, 2019, in a speech to the cabinet 


Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif


Supreme National Security Council Statement

In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful 

Statement by the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran 

In order to protect the security and national interests of the people of Iran, and in implementation of its rights set forth in Paragraph 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, the Supreme National Security Council the Islamic Republic of Iran has issued an order to stop some of Iran"s measures under the JCPOA from today, 08 May 2019. The decision was announced in an important letter by Dr Rouhani, President and Head of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to the leaders of the member states, Germany, Britain, China, Russia and France. 

Now, one year after the United States" illegal withdrawal from the JCPOA and violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, that country has re-implemented its unilateral, illegal sanctions contrary to all internationally recognised principles. This blatant bullying behaviour of the US has, unfortunately, not been appropriately addressed by the Security Council or the remaining members. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran has shown considerable restraint in the past one year at the request of the other members, giving them considerable time to compensate for the impacts and consequences of US" withdrawal from the JCPOA. During this time, the Joint Commission of JCPOA has been held two times at the level of deputies and two times at the level of foreign ministers, and the remaining countries have explicitly stated in these meetings that the lift of sanctions and Iran"s enjoying of its economic benefits were a critical part of the JCPOA. They promised to design "practical solutions" to normalise and promote economic cooperation with Iran. 

Unfortunately, the goodwill and wise self-restraint of the Iranian people have remained unanswered, and no operational mechanisms have been set up to compensate for US sanctions except for the issuance of political statements. Therefore, in order to secure its rights and restore balance to the demands of the parties to the agreement, the Islamic Republic of Iran has no option other than "reducing commitments". 

In this regard, it is being stated that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not commit itself to respecting the limits on the keeping of enriched uranium and heavy water reserves at the current stage. The remaining countries will be given sixty days to fulfil their obligations, especially in banking and oil fields. If they fail to meet Iran"s demands in the time given, then the Islamic Republic of Iran will suspend compliance with the uranium enrichment limits and measures to modernise the Arak Heavy Water Reactor. Whenever our demands are met, we will resume the same amount of suspended commitments, but otherwise, the Islamic Republic of Iran will suspend the implementation of other obligations step by step. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to continue its consultations with the remaining members of the JCPOA at all levels, but will show a strong and immediate response to any irresponsible action, including referral to the UN Security Council or implementation of further sanctions. In his letter to the leaders of the member states, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran has clearly pointed out the types of reactions of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Currently, the Islamic Republic of Iran has said it final word to the member states and the international community. We entered nuclear talks with goodwill, made an agreement with goodwill, implemented the agreement with goodwill, and provided enough time to the other members after the withdrawal of the United States with goodwill. Now, it is the remaining countries" turn to prove their goodwill and take serious and practical steps to preserve the JCPOA. 

The window that is now open to diplomacy will not remain open for a long time, and the United States and the remaining members will be fully responsible for the failure of the JCPOA and any possible consequences. 

―May 8, 2019as published on the Iranian foreign ministry website 


National Atomic Energy Organization Director Ali Akbar Salehi 

Iran can snap back in a moment, and if necessary, we are able to restart uranium enrichment at 20-percent level in four days. 

We will no longer be obliged to comply with the 300-kilogram limit for the production of uranium enriched up to a level of 3.67-percent purity as well as the 130-tonne limit for the production of heavy water. We will no longer have any obligation to comply with those production ceilings. That was the president’s message today. He meant we will not be obliged to abide by these production ceilings for a period of 60 days. 

“If the other parties are able to meet the Islamic Republic of Iran’s demands within those 60 days, then Iran can reverse the trend and begin to fulfill all of its commitments under the JCPOA again. But if they continue to breach their commitments and fail to make good on their obligations as stipulated in the JCPOA, then Iran will take the next steps. 

May 8, 2019, in remarks to the Iranian press after a cabinet session 


Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht-Ravanchi

Takht-Ravanchi: Over the last year, we exercised extreme patience in order to show that Iran is ready, Iran is ready to take extra mile, in order to show that it is sincere in its implementation of the nuclear deal.

But, unfortunately, due to U.S. bullying of even its closest allies, we have not received the economic benefit that we were promised to receive based on the nuclear deal. And then we were left with no other option than to say that, for 60 days, we are going to stop implementing or to cease performance of some of our obligations, voluntary obligations, based on the nuclear deal.

And we will see what will happen during the next 60 days. The window of diplomacy is not closed. We believe that Iran will speak, will negotiate with the partners, the remaining participants of the JCPOA, and we will see what will be the outcome of the negotiations.

Nick Schifrin: Ambassador, you say that you were left with no other option, but why do you need to enrich uranium at a higher level than 3.67 percent? What's your intentions by doing that — or possibly doing that?

Takht-Ravanchi: Well, no, for the time being, we are adhering to the JCPOA on the limit of the enrichment, the level of enrichment.
What we have said is, for the next 60 days, we are going just to be free for our stockpile. We are not talking about enriching more than 3.67 percent for the next 60 days.

Schifrin: Right, but President Rouhani did say today that you would enrich higher than 3.67 if you don't get those economic incentives, which haven't come so far.

Takht-Ravanchi: Of course. Of course we will. Of course we will. The reason is that our partners have had more than enough time, for the last year-and-a-half or so, to — for the last year or so — I'm sorry — to compensate what the Americans have done to the JCPOA.

So if they cannot do it in the next two months, that means that the political will is not there. And then we will act in accordance with our national interests.

Schifrin: Today, President Trump said that he still hoped to meet with Iran's leadership. Does Iran have any interest in meeting with President Trump?

Takht-Ravanchi: There is — I mean, there is no utility in meeting somebody who carelessly tear apart, you know, an international agreement.
It wasn't an agreement between Iran and the United States. Other countries, the European Union were part of it. So, all of a sudden, we see that the president comes and says, I don't like it because of so many reasons, because the former president took the initiative to sign such an agreement with Iran.
So, how can we trust somebody who carelessly and recklessly do something like this?

Schifrin: Ambassador, quickly, in the time we have left, there are some people who I'm talking to here who are experts on Iran fear that the speech by President Rouhani today will allow hard-liners here in the U.S. and perhaps Israel a stronger case to argue that Iran is not trustworthy.
What's your response to that?

Takht-Ravanchi: I think the hard-liners, as our foreign minister has coined it, four B's, Bibi Netanyahu, Bolton, bin Zayed, and bin Salman, they are doing whatever they can, no matter what Iran does.

So it doesn't matter how we are dealing with JCPOA. Their agenda is to provoke. Their agenda is to agitate the situation. Their agenda is to prepare a war against Iran. We are not trying to wage war against anybody, but, definitely, we will defend ourselves no matter what.

—May 8, 2019, on PBS News Hour


International Reaction


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

The Islamic Republic of Iran has engaged in an escalating series of threatening actions and statements in recent weeks. The response of the United States and our partners and allies has been clear: We do not seek war. But Iran’s forty years of killing American soldiers, attacking American facilities, and taking American hostages is a constant reminder that we must defend ourselves. 

The regime in Tehran should understand that any attacks by them or their proxies of any identity against U.S. interests or citizens will be answered with a swift and decisive U.S. response. Our restraint to this point should not be mistaken by Iran for a lack of resolve. To date the regime’s default option has been violence, and we appeal to those in Tehran who see a path to a prosperous future through de-escalation to modify the regime’s behavior. As President Trump stated yesterday, he “looks forward to someday meeting with leaders of Iran in order to work out an agreement and, very importantly, taking steps to give Iran the future it deserves.”

—May 9, 2019, in a statement

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

FOREIGN SECRETARY HUNT: First, Iran: The UK and U.S. work incredibly closely on Iran, including to counter Iran’s destabilizing activity in the Middle East. Whilst we both agree that Iran must never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon, it’s no secret that we have a different approach on how best to achieve that. The UK has continued to support the nuclear deal, which is a key achievement of the global nonproliferation architecture, because we believe it’s in our shared security interests.

But today’s announcement from Tehran about its commitments under the deal is an unwelcome step. I urge Iran not to take further escalatory steps and to stand by its commitments. Sanctions were lifted in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. Should Iran cease to observe its nuclear commitments, there would, of course, be consequences. For as long as Iran keeps its commitments, then so too will the United Kingdom.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. Foreign Secretary, can the Iran nuclear deal survive? What are you prepared to do to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive? And whose side are you on here, Tehran or Washington?

And Mr. Secretary, if Iran enriches more uranium, what will the United States do? What sanctions are you – further sanctions are you prepared to contemplate? And is there not a danger here that the greater – the more pressure the United States places on Iran ends up not with Iran changing its behavior, but an increasing risk of war? Are you really prepared to contemplate the risk of war in Iran?

FOREIGN SECRETARY HUNT: I’ll go first. On the Iran nuclear deal, it is a very important achievement of Western diplomacy. Despite all the problems that we have in the Middle East today, Iran does not have nuclear weapons and its neighbors have not responded by getting their own nuclear weapons. And Secretary Pompeo and I are at one in agreeing that it will be a massive step back for that region if it became nuclearized.

The JCPOA is a deal, and in return for the lifting of sanctions Iran has agreed to vital compliance measures. If they break that deal, then there will be consequences in terms of how European powers react. So we urge the Iranians to think very long and hard before they break that deal. It is in no one’s interest, it is certainly not in their interest because the moment they go nuclear, their neighbors will as well. And so that’s why this is a very serious moment, and we strongly urge them to reconsider what they said in their letter.

SECRETARY POMPEO: So not far from here are the Churchill War Rooms, where a leader of this great country stared evil in the face and recognized the threat which – that that evil presented to the entire world. We’re working together to push back against that threat. Your question about whose side are you on – this is a parlor game that gets played. We’re on the same side. We’re on the side of values-driven democracy, we’re on the side of freedom, we’re on the side of creating a nation for the Iranian people where they can have religious freedom and they can have a democracy. We’re on the side of Europe so that it can exist without assassination campaigns being conducted in its own capitals. We’re on this side together. We’re on the side of urging a nation not to underwrite Hizballah, which presents risks to Israel.

These are things that Jeremy and I and our two countries share and have in common, and we are each determined to ensure that that outcome is ultimately achieved.

QUESTION: Thank you both. Mr. Secretary, what does the selective noncompliance announcement from Iran specifically mean for the U.S.? I mean, does it change anything? I mean, are – is – are you concerned that this removes remaining safeguards against nuclear activity?

And for you, Mr. Foreign Secretary, are you ruling out immediate sanctions? You sound as though you’re urging Iran to resume or remain in compliance. Are you ruling out an immediate response from the UK and from Europe more broadly? And beyond that, is there a red line?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So as for the United States, first of all, I’ve seen the reporting, I’ve seen the letter that’s been sent. I think it was intentionally ambiguous. We’ll have to wait to see what Iran’s actions actually are. They’ve made a number of statements about actions they threatened to do in order to get the world to jump. We’ll see what they actually do. The United States will wait to observe that. And when we do, we’ll make good decisions. We’ve – obviously we’ve made a decision different than the United Kingdom has with respect to the JCPOA. And so they – Iran’s decision to depart from the JCPOA for us mostly is about their decision to work on their nuclear program to create pathways which might reduce their breakout time. These are the things that are essential for us to continue to work and to observe, and I am confident that as we watch Iran’s activity that the United Kingdom and our European partners will move forward together to ensure that Iran has no pathway for a nuclear weapon system.

FOREIGN SECRETARY HUNT: According to the letter that we’ve received this morning, there is a 60-day window before Iran plans to do anything, and they need to be very clear that if they don’t comply with the JCPOA, there will be consequences. And I’m sure that I’m speaking for my European colleagues in that respect as well. This is a very big moment for Iran. Their economy is in a state of severe distress; it’s the last thing they should be doing for the Iranian people, to be investing money in re-nuclearizing, and it will make them less secure, not more secure.

—May 8, 2019, in remarks to the press in London


Joint statement by High Representative of the European Union and the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

We note with great concern the statement made by Iran concerning its commitments under the JCPoA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). 

We remain fully committed to the preservation and full implementation of the JCPoA, a key achievement of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture, which is in the security interest of all.

We strongly urge Iran to continue to implement its commitments under the JCPoA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps.

We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPoA and the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons). In this respect, we recall the key role of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) monitoring and verification of the implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments.

We also look to Iran to continue to adhere to established JCPoA formats and mechanisms including the JCPoA Joint Commission.

At the same time we recall our own firm commitments under the agreement including as regards sanctions-lifting for the benefit of the Iranian people. In this regard, we regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the United States following their withdrawal from the JCPoA. 

We are determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran, including through the operationalisation of the special purpose vehicle "INSTEX".

We call on countries not party to the JCPoA to refrain from taking any actions that impede the remaining parties’ ability to fully perform their commitments.

—May 9, 2019, in a statement

French President Emmanuel Macron

“Iran must remain in this agreement and we must do everything we can to ensure that it stays in.”

—May 9, 2019, in remarks to the press before an E.U. summit in Romania

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

“We’re not in favor of an escalation of the situation but rather on using further diplomatic means.”

“We also know our limits, but the more unified Europe appears -- that was the common position here -- the greater our chances are to perhaps increase the likelihood and chances of realizing solutions through talks.”

—May 9, 2019, in remarks to the press after an E.U. summit in Romania

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

“We have learned of Iran’s announcement with great concern and we will look at this very closely now.”

“All steps must be avoided that could endanger regional stability and security.”

—May 8, 2019, in remarks to the press


Steffen Seibert, Spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel

“Germany expects complete implementation of the agreement from Iran.”

—May 8, 2019 to reporters in Berlin


French Defense Minister Florence Parly

“Today nothing would be worse than Iran, itself, leaving this agreement.”

“This is probably one of the things that will be examined. There are no sanctions today from Europe because Iran has so far always respected the commitments it has taken.”

“If these commitments were not respected, naturally this question would be asked.”

—May 8, 2019, to BFM TV/RMC radio


Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang 

QUESTION: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Iran would suspend some of its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as the United States has withdrawn from the deal. I wonder what is China's comment and if there were any official contacts with Iran? 

GENG: Regarding the JCPOA, a multilateral agreement endorsed by the UN Security Council, it should be implemented fully and effectively for its vital role in the international non-proliferation regime and peace and stability in the Middle East. China applauds Iran's faithful implementation of the JCPOA so far and firmly opposes US sanctions and so-called "long-arm jurisdiction" on Iran. We regret that the US moves have heightened tensions surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue. 

It is the shared responsibility of all parties to uphold and implement the JCPOA. We call on relevant sides to exercise restraint and step up dialogue to prevent a spiral of escalation of tensions. China will maintain communication with all parties concerned and continue to work toward upholding and implementing the agreement. At the same time, we will stand firm in safeguarding the legal and legitimate interests of Chinese enterprises. 

China has all along maintained close communication with all sides, including Iran, on issues relating to the JCPOA. Based on my information, Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran Araghchi today briefed relevant parties to the JCPOA, including China, in Tehran. 


QUESTION: One more follow-up question on Iran. You said that Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister informed ambassadors about its decision to not follow some of its obligations under the JCPOA. Some voices say that maybe the international community should reconsider and relaunch sanctions against Iran. What is China's comment? 

GENG: I just elaborated on China's position. Iran's faithful implementation of the JCPOA till now has been recognized by us all. Under current circumstances, it is the shared responsibility of all parties to uphold and implement the JCPOA. We call on relevant sides to exercise restraint and step up dialogue to prevent a spiral of escalation of tensions. China will maintain communication with all parties concerned and continue to work toward upholding and implementing the agreement. 

―May 8, 2019, in a press briefing 


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov 

The main item on our agenda will be the unacceptable situation concerning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme. It results from the irresponsible behaviour of the United States, which pulled out of its commitments that are set forth in the corresponding UN Security Council resolution. Russia values the commitment of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the agreements that were reached and the UN Security Council resolution, as Tehran confirmed today in a statement. Today we received a message [from Iran] to this effect for the Russian leadership. We will study it very carefully. 

―May 8, 2019, in his opening remarks to a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Moscow 


Some of the information in this article was originally published on May 8, 2019.