In this Nov 22, 2018 file photo, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano addresses the media during a news conference after a meeting of the IAEA board of governors at the International Center in Vienna, Austria. (RONALD ZAK / AP)
TEHRAN/VIENNA — Iran has followed through on a threat to accelerate its production of enriched uranium, the head of the UN atomic watchdog said on Monday, urging world powers to continue dialogue with Iran to keep it in the 2015 nuclear deal aimed at preventing the country from building nuclear weapons.
The assessment comes at a time of sharply increased US-Iranian confrontation in recent weeks, a year after Washington abandoned an agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international financial sanctions.
Washington tightened sanctions from the start of May, ordering all countries and companies to halt all imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system. It has also dispatched extra troops to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Iran is now producing more enriched uranium than before, but it was not clear when it might reach stockpile limits set in the pact. He urged reducing increasing tensions over the nuclear deal through dialogue
Iran has responded with a threat to increase its enrichment of uranium, saying it is up to Europeans who still support the nuclear deal to save it by finding ways to ensure Tehran gets the economic benefits it was promised.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, whose agency is responsible for monitoring Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal, said at a news conference that Iran is now producing more enriched uranium than before, but it was not clear when it might reach stockpile limits set in the pact.
Amano expressed worry over increasing tensions over the nuclear issue. He said he hoped "that ways can be found to reduce the current tensions through dialogue, adding that it is essential that Iran fully implements its nuclear-related commitments" under the deal.
Iran said last month it was still abiding by the deal but would quadruple its production of enriched uranium — a move that could take it out of compliance if stockpiles rise too far. It demanded European countries do more to shield it from sanctions.
It has ruled out any negotiation over its ballistic missile program and its activities in the Middle East, where Tehran has been involved in proxy wars with Saudi Arabia for decades.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the IAEA findings showed "that Iran is going in the wrong direction and it underscores the continuing challenge Iran poses to international peace and security."
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, right, welcomes German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for their meeting in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (PHOTO / IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE VIA AP)
On Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas became the most senior Western official to visit Iran since the new war of words erupted last month between Washington and Tehran.
"The situation in the region here is highly explosive and extremely serious," Maas said at a news conference alongside Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. He called on Iran to avoid an escalation and stick to its commitments from the nuclear deal.
In his meeting with Maas, President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States for the soaring tension and called on the European signatories of the deal to "resist the economic war on Iran imposed by America".
Zarif said Iran would cooperate with the European Union to save the deal. "Reducing tension is only possible through stopping the economic war by America," he said.
We have not seen any serious measures taken by the Europeans in the past year despite their fairly good political stance.
Hassan Rouhani, Iranian president
'Europeans have not done enough'
Washington's European allies opposed its decision last year to abandon the nuclear deal, reached in 2015 between Iran and the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China. They have promised to help Iran find other ways to trade, although with no success so far.
Iran says the Europeans have not done enough to provide it with alternative ways to trade.
"We have not seen any serious measures taken by the Europeans in the past year despite their fairly good political stance," Rouhani said.
Zarif expressed hopes for the efforts by Germany and other remaining partners "in preserving the nuclear deal would bear results," Xinhua reports.
Maas said there were limits to how much help the European countries could provide, but "we will try to avert a failure" of the nuclear deal.
He noted that the position of the three European states is to remain obliged to their JCPOA commitments and to support the atomic accord, Xinhua reports.
France, Britain and Germany have set up a special-purpose vehicle called Instex, designed to allow payments to Iran that would legally bypass sanctions, but has yet to launch it. Washington has denounced the European plans.
HONG KONG NEWS