Iran has said it would no longer abide by any of the limits of its unravelling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after a United States air raid killed its top general in Baghdad on Friday.
Sunday’s announcement means Iran is abandoning the accord’s key provisions that block it from having enough material to build an atomic weapon.
Iran insisted in a state television broadcast it remained open to negotiations with European partners, who so far have been unable to offer Tehran a way to sell its crude oil abroad despite US sanctions.
It also did not back off of earlier promises that it would not seek a nuclear weapon.
However, the announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in May 2018.
It also further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to be able to produce an atomic bomb.
The announcement came on Sunday night after another Iranian official said it would consider taking even-harsher steps over the US killing of General Qassem Soleimani on Friday.
Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Iran on Sunday to walk alongside a casket carrying the remains of Soleimani, the former leader of its expeditionary Quds Force.
Iran’s state TV cited a statement by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration saying the country will not observe limitations on its enrichment, the amount of stockpiled enriched uranium as well as research and development in its nuclear activities.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has in a statement announced its fifth and final step in reducing Iran’s commitments under the JCPOA,” a state TV broadcaster said, using an acronym for the deal. “The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operations.”
It did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its programme.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog observing Iran’s programme, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, Iran said that its cooperation with the IAEA “will continue as before”.
Soleimani’s killing has escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of trading attacks and threats that have put the wider Middle East on edge.
The conflict is rooted in Trump pulling out of Iran’s atomic accord and imposing sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the US attack, which shocked Iranians across all political lines. Many saw Soleimani as a pillar of the country at a moment when it is beset by US sanctions and recent anti-government protests.
Moving away from deal
In November, Iran stepped up activity at its underground Fordow nuclear plant – a move France said showed for the first time that Tehran explicitly planned to quit a landmark deal with world powers that curbed its disputed nuclear work.
“With the presence of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], Iran started injecting [uranium] gas into centrifuges in Fordow,” state television reported.
Iran insisted that the latest move is not a violation of the nuclear deal, but is based on the Articles 26 and 36 of the agreement.
The incident involving an IAEA inspector appeared to be the first of its kind since Tehran’s landmark deal with major powers was struck in 2015, imposing restraints on its uranium enrichment programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
The nuclear accord, signed in 2015 by Iran, the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia, bans nuclear activity at Fordow, a plant located near the city of Qom and capped the level of purity uranium can be enriched at 3.67 percent – suitable for civilian power generation and far below the 90 percent threshold of nuclear weapons-grade.
Before the deal, Iran used Fordow to enrich uranium to 20 percent fissile purity. Officials have said Tehran could again enrich uranium to 20 percent but there is no need for that right now.