U.S., allies respond to Iranian 'provocations' with studied calm

By Arshad Mohammed and John Irish
WASHINGTON / PARIS (Reuters) - In the week since Washington offered to speak to Tehran about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has curtailed surveillance of the United States, threatened to increase uranium enrichment and its alleged proxies have twice Iraqi bases with US soldiers shot into the air.
In turn, the United States and three allies, Great Britain, France and Germany, responded with a studied calm.
The answer - or the lack of one - reflects a desire not to disturb the diplomatic overture in the hope that Iran will return to the table, and if not, that US sanctions pressure will continue to take its toll, said US and European officials.
Iran has repeatedly called for the United States to first relax US sanctions imposed after former President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018. He would then end his own violations of the pact, which began a year after Trump's withdrawal.
"As much as they believe the US should lift the sanctions first, it won't happen," said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
If Iran wants the United States to resume compliance with the agreement, "the best and only way is to get to the table where these matters are discussed," the official added.
Two European diplomats said they did not expect the United States or Britain, France and Germany - informally known as E3 - to do more to put pressure on Iran for the time being, despite what has been termed "provocations".
One of the diplomats said the current policy is to condemn, but avoid, anything that might close the diplomatic window.
"We have to be careful," said the diplomat. "We have to see if E3 can handle Iran's headless onslaught and US reluctance to see if we even have a way forward."
The "headless onslaught" indicated Iran's increasing violations of the agreement.
Last week, Iran reduced its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, including by ending rapid inspections of undeclared suspected nuclear sites.
A report from the UN nuclear watchdog also said Iran has started enriching uranium to 20%, which is above the 3.67% limit of the 2015 agreement, and the top Iranian leader said Tehran could go to 60% if desired % rise to bring it closer to the 90% purity required for it to be an atomic bomb.
The gist of the deal was that Iran would curtail its uranium enrichment program to make it more difficult to amass the fissile material for a nuclear weapon - an ambition it has long denied - in exchange for facilitating U.S. American and other economic sanctions.
While the United States says it is still investigating missiles fired at Iraqi bases last week and harboring US personnel, it is suspected of a long-standing pattern of such attacks by Iranian agents.
In a US reluctance demonstration, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that Washington was "outraged" by the attacks but would not "whip" and respond at a time and place of its choosing.
The second European diplomat said US leverage was still in place as President Joe Biden had not lifted sanctions.
"Iran has received positive signals from the Americans. It must now take this opportunity," said this diplomat.
On Wednesday, Spokesman Price told reporters the United States would not wait forever.
"Our patience is not unlimited," said Price.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and John Irish; additional reporting by Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Grant McCool)
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