Iran is poised to begin work on advanced centrifuges that will enrich uranium faster as the 2015 nuclear deal unravels further after European nations failed to step up and counter devastating US sanctions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered the removal of all limits on nuclear research and development – the third major step to scale down commitments to the 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.
“I, as of now, announce the third step,” Rouhani said on state television late on Wednesday, just as the United States announced that it was imposing sanctions against an oil-shipping network with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
“The atomic energy organisation [of Iran] is ordered to immediately start whatever is needed in the field of research and development, and abandon all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development.”
The nuclear deal – agreed on by Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the US and the European Union – gave Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for accepting curbs on its nuclear programme.
Since the US unilaterally withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions in a “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran, Tehran has insisted it wants to save the pact but that the remaining signatories – especially Europe – must provide additional economic support.
The announcement came hours after Rouhani threatened to take the step if Europe failed to provide a solution by Friday to allow Iran to sell its oil abroad after the US’s withdrawal and sanctions.
“Iran’s third step is of an extraordinarily significant nature,” Rouhani said earlier during the day, without detailing what that would entail.
In July, Iran reduced two other nuclear commitments: to keep its stockpile of enriched uranium below 300kg and a 3.67 percent cap on the purity of its uranium stocks.