The United States says Iran's expansion of uranium enrichment activities is "a big step in the wrong direction" after Tehran said it would start injecting uranium gas into centrifuges at the Fordow facility where enrichment was banned in a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department on November 5 furthermore accused Tehran of "nuclear extortion" in response to Iranian President Hassan Rohani's announcement that uranium gas would start being injected into 1,044 centrifuges the following day.
'Iran has no credible reason to expand its uranium enrichment program, at the Fordow facility or elsewhere, other than a clear attempt at nuclear extortion that will only deepen its political and economic isolation,' a State Department spokesperson said.
"Maximum pressure" on Iran would continue to be exerted, the spokesperson said, "until it abandons its destabilizing behavior, including proliferation-sensitive work.'
Rohani announced Iran's latest step away from commitments to the nuclear agreement since the United States withdrew from it more than a year ago in an address carried live by Iranian state TV.
The move comes a day after Iran announced it was now operating twice as many advanced IR-6 centrifuges that can enrich uranium more efficiently, and that it had a prototype IR-9 centrifuge that works 50 times faster than those allowed under the pact.
Enriched uranium can be used to make fuel for reactors but also nuclear weapons.
U.S. President Donald Trump in May 2018 withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear pact between Tehran and six world powers and has since reimposed and expanded punishing sanctions as part of a stated campaign of 'maximum pressure' against Iran.
Meanwhile, Tehran has gradually reduced some of its commitments under the pact, which had curbed its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iranian officials complain that the remaining parties to the deal have failed to mitigate the effects of the U.S. sanctions.
Iran's latest move is the country's fourth step in reducing its nuclear obligations, Rohani said on November 5.
The Iranian president insisted that all of the steps his country had taken to reduce its commitments to the nuclear agreement were 'reversible.'
Tehran will uphold all of its commitments under the accord when the remaining signatories - Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China -- do the same, he said.
France's Foreign Ministry said that Paris remained committed to the nuclear deal and urged Iran to 'fully adhere to its obligations.'
European Union spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic called on Iran to "reverse all activities that are inconsistent with its commitments" under the agreement, saying it was becoming 'increasingly difficult' to save the accord.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said the Kremlin was "monitoring the development of the situation with concern.'
'We support the preservation of this deal,' Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Russia understood Iran's concerns over the 'unprecedented and illegal sanctions' against the country.
On November 4, Washington announced it had imposed sanctions on nine people connected to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, among them his chief of staff, one of his sons, and the head of Iran's judiciary.
The U.S. Treasury Department said Washington also sanctioned Iranian armed forces general staff members.
Trump wants to force Iran to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear accord, arguing that the terms were not tough enough to prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons, agree on curbs to its ballistic-missile program, and end its destabilizing activities in the Middle East.
Iran has denied it supports insurgent activity and says its nuclear program is strictly for civilian energy purposes. Iranian officials have also ruled out any negotiations on the country's missile program.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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