Iran steps up nuclear programme, holds South Korean tanker

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TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran said Tuesday it had stepped up its uranium enrichment at a time of heightened tensions with the United States and after it seized a South Korean tanker in strategic Gulf waters.

Tehran said it was now refining uranium to 20 percent purity — far above the level permitted under its 2015 agreement with world powers, but far below the 90 percent required for an atomic bomb — in a step Washington condemned as “nuclear extortion”.

The European Union noted Iran s step “with deep concern” and said it planned to “redouble our efforts to preserve the agreement and return to its full implementation by all parties”.

It was the most striking suspension yet of Tehran s commitments under its landmark deal with six nations, which has been fraying since US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.

A war of words has flared again in the final weeks of Trump s presidency and as Iran and its allies have marked one year since a US drone strike in Baghdad killed Iran s most revered military commander, Qasem Soleimani.

Washington has meanwhile reversed an order to bring home its USS Nimitz aircraft carrier from the Gulf, citing “threats” against Trump, after recently also flying B-52 bombers over the region.

Iran s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has warned it is ready to respond to any attack.

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