Iran resumes enriching uranium to 20% purity at Fordo facility

Thousands attend Soleimani's assassination anniv, fake funeral

A seized South Korean-flagged tanker is escorted by Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats in the Persian Gulf, in a photo released Monday by Iran's Tasnim News Agency.

Iranian lawmakers ratified the bill on 1 December and on 14 December, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his administration would put the parliamentary bill into effect, "boosting Iran's nuclear capability" unless the signatories to the JCPoA, including the U.S., "comply with their undertakings and let Iran enjoy the economic merits of the nuclear deal", Fars news agency said.

In a move likely to increase tensions during President Trump's final weeks in office, Iranian semi-official media are reporting Tehran is enriching nuclear fuel to 20% purity.

Iran says it has at least $7 billion from oil sales trapped in South Korea and the money is needed to purchase humanitarian goods, including coronavirus vaccines.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that arch foe Iran's renewal of uranium enrichment proves that it is seeking to build nuclear arms despite its denials.

The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, informed member states Monday that Iran began to feed uranium already enriched up to 4.1 percent U-235 into six centrifuge cascades at the Fordo plant for further enrichment up to 20 percent, the agency said in an emailed statement.

"We are now installing a thousand IR-2m centrifuges, but 2 cascades are installed and working".

The Iranian parliament approved a bill in December aimed at the lifting of sanctions after the failure of JCPOA's European parties to fulfil commitments and in wake of the assassination of an Iranian scientist.

Announcement of the uranium enrichment also comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S.in the waning days of President Trump's term in office, which saw the USA leader unilaterally withdraw from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers and set off months of escalating incidents between the two countries.

On Jan 1, the IAEA said Tehran had told the watchdog it planned to resume enrichment up to 20% at Fordow site, which is buried inside a mountain.

The outgoing administration deplored Iran's plan to step up uranium enrichment.

Iran is now enriching uranium to 20 percent purity (a process used to develop nuclear weapons) marking its most significant breach of the 2015 nuclear deal. A resumption of 20% enrichment could see the brinksmanship return.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dampened hopes last month that it would be possible to extend the scope of the deal, saying Iran's ballistic missile program and its regional influence were nonnegotiable.

USA intelligence agencies believe Iran had a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons program that it halted in 2003.

"Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons", he added.

The US State Department spokesperson strongly condemned the move, calling it "a clear attempt to increase its campaign of nuclear extortion".

The move at its underground Fordow facility was also confirmed by United Nations watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran's Tasnim News Agency published pictures described as showing Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps speedboats escorting the tanker, which is reportedly being held at the port city of Bandar Abbas. The vessel carries a chemical shipment including methanol, according to data-analysis firm Refinitiv.

Since the USA pulled out of the pact in May 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions, Tehran has steadily breached its commitments, prompting alarm among the five other parties to the deal: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China.

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