Iran has started producing uranium metal in yet another breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA confirmed on Wednesday. 

The latest violation of the deal comes as a warning from Iran that time was running out for new US president Joe Biden’s administration to save the agreement.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement that it “verified 3.6 grams of uranium metal at Iran’s Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant in Esfahan”. 

Iran had started working on uranium metal back in January the move, saying its plans to conduct research and development on uranium metal production were part of its “declared aim to design an improved type of fuel,” according to the Vienna-based organization. 

IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi has informed the member states of the new Violation. 

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The landmark deal, reached in 2015 by the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France, and Britain, contained a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys”.

The deal says that after 10 years, Iran would have been allowed to initiate research on producing uranium metal-based fuel “in small agreed quantities,” but only if the other parties had given approval.

In 2018, U.S President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal abruptly and imposed new sanctions on Iran to pressurize the country into giving up its nuclear ambitions. 

The incoming President Joe Biden is seeking to revive the agreement, but the two countries appear to be in a standoff over who acts first. Iran is using the breaches to strongarm the United States into re-entering the deal first. 

“If they want Iran to return to its commitments… the United States must entirely lift the sanctions, in practice and not on paper,” supreme Iranian leader Ali Khamenei said Sunday.

However, Biden has so far been unwilling to halt any sanctions on Iran before the country pledges to fulfill its commitments under the nuclear agreement. 

The calls for restraint

Iran’s latest move has sparked calls of restraint from a trio of European countries that are still part of the Iran deal. 

Germany, France, and the United Kingdom said in a joint statement on Friday that Iran’s move to produce uranium metal was a violation of the accord that endangers the chance to fully realize the deal, which aims to reduce international sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits to its nuclear program.

“We strongly urge Iran to halt these activities without delay and not to take any new non-compliant steps on its nuclear program. In escalating its non-compliance, Iran is undermining the opportunity for renewed diplomacy to fully realize the objectives of the JCPOA,” the joint statement said.

Similar thoughts were echoed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov who called on Iran to be more responsible. 

“It is necessary to show restraint and a responsible approach,” Ryabkov said on February 11. 

Iran’s constant violations of the JCPOA since last year are complicating the diplomatic avenues towards a peaceful resolution of the issue.