Iran pulling out of nuclear deal commitment after U.S. strike that killed Soleimani

State TV reported that Iran will no longer restrict uranium enrichment, part of the 2015 deal limiting its nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.
Image: Protesters demonstrate the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 4, 2020.
Protesters demonstrate against the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020.Ebrahim Noroozi / AP

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By Max Burman and The Associated Press

Iran said Sunday that it was ending its commitment to limit enrichment of uranium as part of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, more fallout from the U.S. strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in May 2018, renewing tensions that reached new heights after Friday's air strike.

State television reported Sunday that Iran will no longer abide by the deal, which restricted nuclear development in exchange for the easing of crippling economic sanctions.

The agreement limited Tehran's uranium enrichment, the amount of enriched uranium it could stockpile and nuclear research and development.

The United States' European allies have tried to salvage the deal despite Trump's decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions, but Iran has gradually reduced its commitments, and the announcement Sunday leaves the agreement in tatters.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had said earlier Sunday that recent events meant Iran would take an even bigger step away from the deal than it had initially planned.

Zarif confirmed the news on Twitter, saying there "will no longer be any restriction on number of centrifuges."

"This step is within JCPOA & all 5 steps are reversible upon EFFECTIVE implementation of reciprocal obligations," Zarif said. JCPOA refers to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the nuclear agreement.

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Zarif added that Iran would still cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton claimed that it was "another good day" in a tweet after Zarif's statement.

"Iran rips the mask off the idea it ever fully complied with the nuclear deal, or that it made a strategic decision to forswear nuclear weapons," Bolton said.

Bolton said the "real job" going forward was to stop Iran's leaders from obtaining such capabilities.

The news came as fallout from the killing of Soleimani, one of Iran's most powerful military and political figures, stoked growing tensions in the Middle East.

Huge crowds flooded streets in Iran and Iraq over the weekend to pay their respects as Iran welcomed Soleimani's body home for a grand funeral. Three days of national mourning were declared while the world held its breath for Iran's response, and Iran's leaders continued to vow revenge.

Trump issued new threats late Saturday, saying the United States would attack 52 sites important to the country and its culture if Tehran retaliates against Americans or U.S. assets.

Widespread economic discontent has gripped the country since May, when Trump imposed crushing sanctions after having unilaterally withdrawn from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

Iran's Foreign Ministry had said Sunday that officials would meet to discuss their next step away from the nuclear deal, warning that it would be an even bigger step than Iran had initially planned given recent events.

The Trump administration has previously acknowledged that Iran was living up to the agreement, but it alleges that the deal also gave Iran cover to pursue its ballistic weapons program and deepen its regional influence.

Washington subsequently restored the crippling sanctions, exacerbating a severe economic crisis.

Western governments had long feared that Iran's atomic program could allow it to build nuclear weapons. Iran has always maintained that its program is for peaceful purposes.

Under the deal, Iran could keep a stockpile of no more than 660 pounds of low enriched uranium. That's compared to the 22,046 pounds of higher enriched uranium it once had.

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Trump has made countering Iran a central pillar of his foreign policy.

Facing an impeachment trial in Washington over his dealings with Ukraine, and with negotiations with North Korea stalled despite his professed admiration for Kim Jong Un, the president faces the prospect of Tehran's escalating its own nuclear ambitions in the face of his "maximum pressure" campaign.

Doha Madani contributed.