Iran’s breach of the 2015 nuclear agreement by enriching uranium at an underground facility “marks a profound shift” which could signal the ultimate collapse of the deal, Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday.
The French president, who has worked vigorously to save the nuclear deal since Donald Trump withdrew the US last year, said he was deeply alarmed Iran’s decision to resume enrichment at Fordow, a nuclear facility carved into a mountain.
“I think that for the first time, Iran has decided in an explicit and blunt manner to leave the JCPOA agreement, which marks a profound shift,” Mr Macron said during a visit to China.
His comments mark the gloomiest public assessment yet by a European leader about the chances of salvaging the agreement after the US withdrawal and as Iran continues to escalate its breaches of the deal.
Meanwhile, a new report claims Iran has become the dominant power when it comes to fighting wars in the Middle East as a result of the “networks of influence” it has built throughout the region.
Mr Macron spoke shortly after Iran began injecting uranium gas into 1,044 centrifuges at Fordow, a facility that Iran hid from the world until 2009 and which Western and Israeli officials have long feared could be used for developing a nuclear weapon.
Iran tensions | Read more
The 2015 nuclear agreement forbids any uranium enrichment at Fordow and Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president acknowledged the sensitivity of the site when he announced the move earlier this week.
Mr Rouhani insisted that the move was reversible and said Iran would return to full compliance with the agreement if European countries found a way around US sanctions to deliver the economic benefits Iran was promised in 2015.
The reopening of Fordow comes days after Iran announced it was deploying advanced new centrifuges that can enrich uranium faster.
But neither move brings Iran significantly closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon. A weapon would require uranium enriched at 90 per cent, whereas Iran is currently enriching at around 5 per cent.
Iran insists it has no intention of developing a nuclear weapon. The latest breaches have nonetheless alarmed European states and Israel.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, repeated his warning this week it would take military action to stop Iran getting a bomb.
“This is not only for our security and our future; it’s for the future of the Middle East and the world,” he said.
Amid the growing tensions, it emerged that Iran briefly detained an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector last week and seized her travel documents, the first such encounter since the nuclear deal.
Q&A | The 2015 Iran nuclear deal
Iran confirmed it had stopped the inspector from entering its Natanz nuclear site out of suspicion she was carrying “suspicious material”.
Iran is believed to have begun secretly constructing the Fordow facility in the early 2000s but it was only known to the world when Barack Obama exposed it in 2009 and accused Iran of covertly working on a weapons programme.
The base is around 80 metres underground, making it difficult to destroy with an airstrike, and is protected by anti-aircraft batteries. Israel came close to bombing the site in 2011 but ultimately decided not to move ahead.
The network of alliances Iran has built with terror groups such as Hizbollah in Lebanon, as well a pro-Iranian Shia militias in Iraq, mean the balance of power in the Middle East is now in Iran’s favour, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank.
At a glance | Key players in Tehran
Iran’s ability, moreover, to fight and win wars in the Middle East without resorting to conventional military forces has been allowed to develop because there has been no effective international response to Iran’s activities in the region.
According to the IISS’s latest report, “Iran’s Networks of Influence in the Middle East” which is published on Thursday, while the US and its allies still retain military superiority over Iran in terms of conventional forces, Tehran has proved to be more effective in waging war in what it calls the “Grey Zone” of conflict.
This means Iran is able to avoid risking a traditional “state-on-state” confrontations, which it would be likely to lose.
Instead, by building what the report calls “networks of influence” with proxies throughout the region, Tehran has succeeded in gaining a distinct advantage over rivals in the region, such as Saudi Arabia.
“Iran is fighting and winning wars ‘fought amongst the people’, not wars between states,” the report concludes.
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