Iran has marked the 40th anniversary of a hostage crisis that severed diplomatic relations with the US by announcing it has developed two new centrifuges and a tenfold increase in enriched uranium production.
On Monday, Iran announced it has a prototype centrifuge that works 50 times faster than those allowed under the deal.
Iran called the decision a direct result of US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal painstakingly negotiated in 2015.
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.
Iran announced in May it would no longer respect the limits stipulated under the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers. Picture: HO/Iranian Presidency/AFPSource:AFP
Iran has long insisted its program is for peaceful purposes, though Western fears about its work led to the 2015 agreement that saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Tehran also said it had gone from producing some 450 grams of low-enriched uranium a day to 5 kilograms, said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran.
Mr Salehi dramatically pushed a button on a keyboard to start a chain of 30 IR-6 centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, where he was being filmed, increasing the number of working centrifuges to 60.
“With the grace of God, I start the gas injection,” the US-trained scientist said.
The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.
But Mr Salehi also announced scientists were working on a prototype he called the IR-9, which worked 50-times faster than the IR-1.
As of now, Iran is enriching uranium to 4.5 per cent, in violation of the accord’s limit of 3.67 per cent. Enriched uranium at the 3.67 per cent level is enough for peaceful pursuits, but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent.
At the 4.5 per cent level, it is enough to help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant.
Mr Salehi is the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran. Picture: AFP/ABDULLAH DOMASource:AFP
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will announce further steps away from the accord sometime soon, government spokesman Ali Rabiei separately said on Monday, suggesting Mr Salehi’s comments could be followed by additional violations of the nuclear deal.
An announcement had been expected this week.
Iran has threatened in the past to push enrichment back up to 20 per cent. That would worry nuclear nonproliferation experts because 20 per cent is a short technical step away from reaching weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent.
It also has said it could ban inspectors from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The Vienna-based IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday on Iran’s announcement.
Mr Trump reinstated sanctions against Iran after announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal. Picture: SAUL LOEB / AFPSource:AFP
WHY IS IRAN DOING THIS?
Iran broke through its stockpile and enrichment limitations to try to pressure Europe to offer it a new deal, more than a year since Mr Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord. But so far, European nations have been unable to offer Iran a way to help it sell its oil abroad as it faces strict US sanctions.
Meanwhile on Monday, demonstrators gathered in front of the former US Embassy in downtown Tehran as state television aired footage from other cities across the country making the anniversary of the hostage crisis.
RELATED: The Iranian hostage crisis explained
“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.
Schoolgirls chanted “Death to America” as they rallied in front of the former US Embassy in Tehran. Picture: AP Photo/Vahid SalemiSource:AP
However, this year’s commemoration of the embassy seizure comes as Iran’s regional allies in Iraq and Lebanon face widespread protests.
The Iranian Consulate in Karbala, Iraq, a holy city for Shiites, saw a mob attack it overnight. Three protesters were killed during the attack and 19 were wounded, along with seven policemen, Iraqi officials said.
World leaders have been trying to diffuse tensions between Mr Trump and Mr Rouhani. Picture: Nicholas Kamm and HO/various sources/AFPSource:AFP
Mr Trump retweeted posts by Saudi-linked media showing the chaos outside the consulate.
#العراق: حرق جدار القنصلية الإيرانية في #كربلاءpic.twitter.com/C4jZyZkDeC— إيران إنترناشيونال-عربي (@IranIntl_Ar) November 3, 2019
The violence comes after the hard-line Keyhan newspaper in Iran reiterated a call for demonstrators to seize US and Saudi diplomatic posts in Iraq in response to the unrest.
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.
RELATED: Iran seizes foreign oil tanker in Persian Gulf
Tehran denied the allegation, though it did seize oil tankers and shoot down a US military surveillance drone.
The US has increased its military presence across the Mideast, including basing troops in Saudi Arabia for the first time since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Both Saudi Arabia and the neighbouring United Arab Emirates are believed to be talking to Tehran through back channels to ease tensions.