Iran said it was enriching uranium to 20 percent purity at the Fordow underground facility on Monday, as a US aircraft carrier reversed its decision to leave the Gulf.
Enriching uranium to 20 percent – enough to make reactor fuel – is prohibited under the nuclear deal negotiated in 2015, from which Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018. Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to 90 percent.
Leaders of the Islamic Republic are in combative mood following the assassination of senior Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh at the end of last year, the fifth atomic expert to be killed. Iranian leaders blame Israel.
Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the US and Israel were plotting to instigate a “casus belli” – cause of war – in Trump’s final days as commander-in-chief.
In Israel, Trump is thought more likely to approve an attack on Iran than US President-Elect Joe Biden, who takes office in two weeks’ time.
This weekend the US president reversed a “de-escalation” decision from his defence secretary and ordered the homeward-bound USS Nimitz back to the Persian Gulf, with Trump’s officials citing unspecified threats from Iran.
The Fordow announcement comes a year after Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was killed by an American drone in Baghdad on 3 January 2020. Thousands of Iranians marked his death on the streets of Tehran on Sunday.
Under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran was limited to 3.67 percent enrichment, but after Trump withdrew the US, reimposed sanctions and added additional measures, Iran has said it is no longer bound by its obligations.
US President-Elect Joe Biden is believed to be considering a renewal of the nuclear deal, despite US allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia being so vehemently opposed to it. Israelis say the sanction relief helps Iran fund groups like Hezbollah.
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