In one of the greatest departures yet from the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran said Tuesday it will begin injecting uranium gas into more than 1,000 centrifuges at its Fordow enrichment plant.
President Hassan Rouhani said the gas injections will begin Wednesday. Since the deal was struck in 2015, the centrifuges at the Fordow plant have spun empty.
The move is the fourth step away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was brokered four years ago between Tehran and a coalition including the United States, Britain, Russia, France, Germany, China and the European Union.
Under the pact, Iran had agreed to turn the plant into a research facility and suspend uranium enrichment. The Trump administration abandoned the deal last year and began a “maximum pressure” campaign intended to force Iran back to the bargaining table. Tuesday’s announcement coincided with the one-year anniversary of the start of the U.S. pressure campaign.
The Iranian leader said, however, that each step Tehran has taken away from the agreement can be reversed if the United States agrees to lift economic sanctions it imposed in place of the nuclear deal.
“We know their sensitivity with regard to Fordow [and] these centrifuges,” Rouhani said. “But at the same time, when they uphold their commitments, we will cut off the gas again. So it is possible to reverse this step.”
The move is a direct response to new sanctions imposed by the Trump administration Monday — against Iran’s Armed Forces General Staff and nine individuals who are appointees of, or have acted for or on behalf of, religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. U.S. officials described Khamenei as “the Iranian regime’s unelected supreme leader whose office is responsible for advancing Iran’s radical agenda.”
The sanctions came on the 40th anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which resulted in a hostage crisis that kept dozens of American diplomatic officers captive for more than a year.
“This action seeks to block funds from flowing to a shadow network of Ali Khamenei’s military and foreign affairs advisers, who have for decades oppressed the Iranian people, exported terrorism and advanced destabilizing policies around the world,” the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said in imposing the new sanctions. “Specifically, the action targets Ali Khamenei’s appointees in the Office of the Supreme Leader, the Expediency Council, the Armed Forces General Staff and the Judiciary. Treasury’s action coincides with the 40th anniversary of Iranian militants seizing the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, holding more than 50 Americans hostage for 444 days.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin added, “These individuals are linked to a wide range of malign behaviors by the regime, including bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in 1994, as well as torture, extrajudicial killings and repression of civilians. This action further constricts the supreme leader’s ability to execute his agenda of terror and oppression.”
Iranian Ambassador to Britain Hamid Baeidinejad on Tuesday urged the remaining parties to the JCPOA to abide by the agreement.
Trump called the nuclear deal “defective at its core” and completed a campaign promise in 2018 to step away from it. In September, Rouhani said Trump had agreed to remove sanctions if they met at the United Nations General Assembly, but Trump swiftly denied it.