Iran plans to enrich uranium up to 20% at its underground Fordo nuclear facility, international inspectors said on January 2, pushing its program a technical step away from weapons-grade levels as it increases pressure on the West over its tattered atomic deal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged Iran had informed its inspectors of the decision after news leaked overnight on January 1.
The move comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. in the waning days of the administration of President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal in 2018. That set in motion an escalating series of incidents capped by a U.S. drone strike killing a top Iranian general in Baghdad a year ago, an anniversary coming Sunday that has American officials now worried about possible retaliation by Iran.
The decision comes after parliament passed a bill, later approved by a constitutional watchdog, aimed at hiking enrichment to pressure Europe into providing sanctions relief. It also serves as pressure ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he’s willing to re-enter the nuclear deal.
“Iran has informed the agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium … up to 20% at the Fordo Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the IAEA said in a statement.