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Iran’s ambassador to the UN blames ‘U.S. bullying’ for decision on nuclear treaty

Iran said it plans to cease complying with portions of the nuclear deal it signed with Western powers in 2015, though it didn't withdraw from the agreement altogether. But the announcement increases already escalating tensions with the U.S. Nick Schifrin talks to Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, about why Iran made the decision now and whether it can trust President Trump.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, Iran announced it plans to stop complying with portions of the nuclear deal it signed with Western powers in 2015. Iran stopped short of withdrawing from the deal altogether.

    But, as Nick Schifrin reports, the announcement increases already escalating tensions with the United States.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Iran deal made a fundamental trade: Iran restricted its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

    One year ago today, the Trump administration withdrew from the deal, and has since reimposed sanctions. For the last year, Iran complied with the deal, but, today, Iran said it would not abide by all the deal's restrictions.

    Number one, the deal limits Iran's stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, which is nuclear fuel, and heavy water, which is used to operate a nuclear reactor. Today, Iran said it would no longer adhere to those limits. And if Iran does exceed the caps, it will no longer be in compliance with the deal.

    And then Iran threatened even more dramatic actions. To produce a bomb, you typically need to enrich uranium at 90 percent. Before the deal, Iran enriched uranium at nearly 20 percent, which the U.S. said meant Iran could break out and create a bomb within a few months.

    After the deal, Iran enriched uranium at 3.67 percent and removed most of its centrifuges, moving breakout time to more than a year. Today, Iran said if it doesn't receive economic benefits allowed by the deal in the next 60 days, it not would adhere to — quote — "any uranium enrichment limit." And it would also take a plan to convert the Arak nuclear reactor so it doesn't produce large amounts of plutonium and cancel it.

    Despite those threats, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said today Iran was still in the deal.

  • Hassan Rouhani (through translator):

    Our nation should know that we have not withdrawn from the nuclear deal. They shouldn't think that the nuclear deal doesn't exist anymore. Today, we announced a reduction, not withdrawal.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And for more on this, we turn to Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi.

    Ambassador, thank you so much for joining the "NewsHour" today.

    You have gone a whole year since the Trump administration pulled out of the Iran deal without responding in a major way. Why respond today?

  • Majid 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?

  • Majid 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.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Nick 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.

  • Majid 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.

  • Nick 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?

  • Majid 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?

  • Nick 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?

  • Majid 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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Majid Ravanchi, ambassador of Iran to the United Nations, thank you so much for your time.

  • Majid Takht-Ravanchi:

    Thank you, sir.

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