Tehran denounces move targeting nine people close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as ‘a sign of desperation’.
Iran has taken further steps away from its crumbling nuclear deal with world powers by announcing it is doubling the number of its advanced centrifuges, calling the move a direct result of the United States‘ withdrawal from the agreement last year.
As well as operating twice as many advanced centrifuges banned by the 2015 accord, Tehran is working on a prototype that is 50 times faster than those allowed by the deal, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, said on Monday.
Salehi said Iran is now operating 60 IR-6 advanced centrifuges. Such a centrifuge can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as the first-generation IR-1s allowed under the accord.
By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon – if it chose to pursue one.
Daryl Kimball, director of the US-based Arms Control Association, told Al Jazeera that though Iran was taking worrisome steps, these were quickly reversible if there were to be some diplomatic arrangement to bring both sides back into compliance.
“Our interpretation is that Iran is trying to increase the pressure on Britain, France and Germany in particular to find some arrangement that will allow them to sell the oil they were buying when Iran was not under sanctions.”
“That requires some level of US support to waive sanctions against European firms by the United States. So far, the US has no agreed to do that.”
Salehi also announced that scientists were working on a prototype he called the IR-9, which worked 50-times faster than the IR-1.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari reporting from Tehran said the feeling in Iran is that since the US withdrew from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, the remaining signatories – France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Europe and Russia – have yet to uphold their end of the deal.
“Salehi stressed that is why Iran is moving forward with its nuclear program,” Jabbari said.
“This deal has been on its final legs for the last few months. Various European diplomats have been trying to salvage it by convincing the US and Iran to come back to the negotiating table, but Iran’s position is that until the US lifts its sanctions that it has imposed on the country since last year, they will not come back to any negotiations,” Jabbari said.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Iranian government said on Monday that President Hassan Rouhani will announce further steps away from the accord sometime soon. An announcement had been expected this week.
Iran has previously broken through its stockpile and enrichment limitations, trying to pressure Europe to offer it a new deal, more than a year since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew Washington from the accord.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that the announcement jeopardised the 2015 nuclear accord, urging Tehran to return to the pact.
“Iran has built very advanced centrifuges, which do not comply with the agreement,” Maas told a news conference. “They have announced in early September that they would not comply with the nuclear accord and we think this is unacceptable.”
Salehi’s announcement came as Iran on Monday marked the 40th anniversary of the 1979 US Embassy takeover that started a 444-day hostage crisis.
Demonstrators gathered in front of the former US embassy in central Tehran as state television aired footage from other cities across the country marking the anniversary.
“Thanks to God, today the revolution’s seedlings have evolved into a fruitful and huge tree that its shadow has covered the entire” Middle East, said General Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander of the Iranian army.
On Sunday, during a speech to mark the upcoming anniversary, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei again ruled out negotiations with Washington, citing its untrustworthiness.
“Nothing will come out of talking to the US, because they certainly and definitely won’t make any concessions,” Khamenei said, according to his official website.
The collapse of the nuclear deal coincided with a tense summer of mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities that the US blamed on Iran.
Tehran denied the allegation, though it did seize oil tankers and shoot down a US military surveillance drone.