Dubai – Iran on Saturday said it plans to enrich uranium 20% at its underground Fordow nuclear facility “as soon as possible”, removing technical measures from its weapons-grade level as it increases pressure on the West over a failed nuclear deal.
The move comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States in the last days of President Donald Trump’s administration, which unilaterally removed the United States from the Tehran nuclear deal in 2011.
Last Sunday marked the anniversary of the US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad a year ago, and US officials are now worried about possible retaliation from Iran.
The decision to start enriching Iran by 20% a decade ago almost brought the Israeli strike to the forefront of its nuclear facilities, with tensions only consistent with the 2015 nuclear deal. A resumption of 20% enrichment could lead to the return of Brinksmanship.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the U.S.-educated head of Iran’s civilian nuclear watchdog, even offered a military analogy to describe his agency’s readiness to take the next step.
“We are like soldiers and our fingers are on the triggers,” Salehi told Iranian state television. “The commander should command and we will shoot. We are ready for this and will produce (20% enriched uranium) as soon as possible. “
Iran’s decision comes after parliament passed a bill, which was later approved by a constitutional watchdog, which was to increase enrichment for Europe to release sanctions. It also served as a prelude to the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he is willing to re-enter the nuclear deal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) acknowledged that Iran had informed its inspectors of the decision in a letter following Friday night’s news leaks.
“Iran has told the agency that it wants to produce up to 20 percent low-enriched uranium at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Center in compliance with a law recently passed by the country’s parliament,” the IAEA said in a statement.
The IAEA added that Iran did not say when it planned to increase prosperity, although the agency said “inspectors are present in Iran on a 24/7 basis and they have regular access to Fordo.” The parliamentary bill also called on Iran to expel the inspectors, although it appears that Tehran has not yet decided to do so.
Salehi said Iran already needs to convert natural uranium to Fordo centrifuges for a 4% improvement to begin the process of going 20%.
“This should be done under IAEA supervision,” Salehi added.
Following the breach of the agreement, Iran has begun re-enrichment in Fordo, near the Shiite holy city of Qom, about 60 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Tehran.
Edal by the hill, Fordo is bound by anti-aircraft guns and other forts. It’s about the size of a football field, enough to hold about 3,000 centrifuges, but was made small and harsh enough to lead U.S. officials to suspect it had a military purpose when they publicly opened the site in 2009.
In the 2015 agreement, Iran agreed to limit its prosperity in exchange for sanctions relief. The agreement also called for turning Fordo into a research and development facility.
Tehran began enriching 20% under former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Tehran feared that Israel had its own undeclared nuclear weapons program and was building bombs.
After Fordo’s discovery, the United States worked on so-called “bunker buster” bombs designed to strike such facilities. As Israelis threatened to bomb Iranian nuclear sites such as Fordo at one point, U.S. officials reportedly showed them a video of a bunker-booster bomb destroying a mock-up in Fordo in the southwestern U.S. Desert.
Israel, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has continued to criticize Iran’s nuclear program, with no immediate comment on Saturday.
Iran has so far enriched uranium to 4.5% in violation of the 3.67 3.% limit of the agreement. Experts say Iran has enough enriched uranium for at least two nuclear weapons if it chooses to follow suit. Iran has long maintained a peaceful nuclear program.
According to satellite images obtained by the Associated Press in December, Iran has begun construction on a new Fordo site separately.
Iran’s announcement coincides with the anniversary of the death of Revolutionary Guards General Qasim Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad last year. The bomber struck shortly after noon in front of a U.S. military base. The bomber struck shortly after noon in front of a U.S. military base. The bomber struck shortly after noon in front of a U.S. military base. Tehran also accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane that night, killing all 176 people on board.
As the anniversary approaches, the United States has sent nuclear-powered submarines to the Persian Gulf, sending B-22 bombers to the region.
On Thursday, sailors discovered a limpet mine on a tanker in the Persian Gulf of Iraq near the Iranian border while it was preparing to transfer fuel to another tanker owned by a trading company on the New York Stock Exchange. No one has claimed responsibility for the mining, although in 2019 it came after a similar series of attacks that the U.S. Navy blamed on Iran. Tehran has denied any involvement.
In November, an Iranian scientist who founded the country’s military nuclear program two decades ago died in an attack blaming Tehran against Israel.
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