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Iran abiding by nuclear deal restrictions, says IAEA

UN atomic watchdog says Iran respecting 2015 nuclear deal with major world powers, a week after US reimposed sanctions on Tehran
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says US sanctions are having no effect on Iran's economy (Reuters)

Iran has continued to abide by the restrictions set in its 2015 nuclear agreement with major world powers, despite the reimposition of US sanctions on Tehran earlier this month, the United Nations’ atomic energy watchdog said.

In a report released on Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran has kept its stock of low-enriched uranium within the limits set by the landmark deal, Reuters reported.

Iran has also kept the level to which it refines uranium within the prescribed limits, the IAEA found.

The latest round of renewed US sanctions on Iran came into effect 5 November, as President Donald Trump's administration seeks to limit the Iranian nuclear programme and pressure Tehran to end its support for armed groups in the wider Middle East region.

The sanctions cover 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries and more than 200 persons and vessels in its shipping sector, as well as target Tehran's national airline, Iran Air, and more than 65 of its aircraft.

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While some of the fieldwork informing the IAEA report was carried out before the reimposition of those sanctions, a senior diplomat said there was no sign that Tehran’s behaviour has changed since that date.

There is "nothing that indicates that... cooperation from Iran or its attitude has changed since 5 November,” the diplomat told AFP.

Iran's reserve of low-enriched uranium remained well below the deal's 202.8 kg limit at 149.4 kg, the quarterly report by the Vienna-based IAEA showed.

Its stock of heavy water - a less sensitive material that can be used as a moderator in nuclear reactors but is still restricted under the deal - was roughly unchanged at 122.8 tonnes.

Iran continued production but 1.7 tonnes were shipped abroad while 1.5 tonnes were used to make medical compounds, the report said.

'America cannot cut Iran's oil exports to zero'

Fears over the future of the nuclear deal have grown amid the Trump administration’s hostile rhetoric toward, and increasing pressure on, Tehran.

The US president withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May, pitting Washington against some of its key allies in Europe, who remain committed to the deal. Washington also reimposed a first round of sanctions on Tehran in August.

On Monday, the US said it was unconcerned by the European Union, saying it is looking to employ a special purpose vehicle - a subsidiary set up by a parent company to protect its assets from bankruptcy - to circumvent the US sanctions on Tehran.

"I think the bigger news in Europe is that companies are withdrawing from Iran in droves," Sigal Mandelker, the undersecretary of the US Treasury, told reporters in London.

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She said the US plans to "strictly enforce" the sanctions "and that's a message we are sending loud and clear all over Europe to the private sector".

"If there are those who decide not to abide by them then they are going to see action from us," Mandelker said, without elaborating on what that would entail.

However, when the sanctions came into effect this month, the US announced it would temporarily allow eight importers to keep buying Iranian oil, including Turkey and Iraq.

Trump also said he intends to gradually impose sanctions on Iran’s oil sector so as not to cause global prices to increase dramatically.

On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said "it has now become clear that America cannot cut Iran's oil exports to zero".

He said the sanctions have had no effect on Iran's economy because Washington had practically reimposed them already.

"They just issued a long list of banks, their branches ... and airlines and their planes. And this shows that they are merely trying to affect the Iranian nation psychologically," Rouhani said.