The move is the latest of several recent announcements by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans to further breach the deal, which it started violating in 2019 in retaliation for Washington's withdrawal from the agreement.

Flags flutter in the wind in front of the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, December 16, 2020.
Flags flutter in the wind in front of the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, December 16, 2020. (Reuters)

Iran has told the United Nations nuclear watchdog it plans to enrich uranium to up to 20% purity, a level it achieved before its 2015 accord, at its Fordow site buried inside a mountain.

The move is the latest of several recent announcements by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans to further breach the deal, which it started violating in 2019 in retaliation for Washington's withdrawal from the agreement and the reimposition of US sanctions against Tehran.

This step was one of many mentioned in a law passed by Iran's parliament last month in response to the killing of the country's top nuclear scientist, which Tehran has blamed on Israel. Such moves by Iran could complicate efforts by US President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin the 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 (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant," the IAEA said in a statement.

An IAEA report to member states earlier on Friday obtained by Reuters used similar wording in describing a letter by Iran to the IAEA dated December 31.

"Iran's letter to the Agency ... did not say when this enrichment activity would take place," the IAEA statement said.

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READ MORE: IAEA: Iran enriched uranium 12 times over limit set in 2015 deal

2015 nuclear deal 

Fordow was built inside a mountain, apparently to protect it from aerial bombardment, and the 2015 deal does not allow enrichment there. Iran is already enriching at Fordow with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.

Iran has breached the deal's 3.67 percent limit on the purity to which it can enrich uranium, but it has only gone up to 4.5 percent so far, well short of the 20 percent it achieved before the deal and the 90 percent that is weapons-grade.

The deal's main aim was to extend the time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, to at least a year from roughly two to three months. It also lifted international sanctions against Tehran.

US intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons programme that it halted in 2003. Iran denies ever having had one.

READ MORE: If the Iran nuclear deal can be saved, there is no time left to waste

Military ready to respond to pressure

Meanwhile, the top commander of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said on Friday that his country was fully prepared to respond to any US military pressure as tensions between Tehran and Washington remain high in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration.

General Hossein Salami spoke at a ceremony at Tehran University commemorating the upcoming one-year anniversary of the US drone strike in Baghdad that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who headed the expeditionary Quds force, on January 3, 2020.

The head of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, said all those who had a role in Soleimani’s killing will not be able to “escape law and justice,” even if they were a US president.

Also, Iran's Foreign Ministry tweeted that Iran will not rest until perpetrators of Soleimani's killing are brought to justice.

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'US violated int’l law & the UN Charter'

“By committing a craven act of terror against Gen Soleimani, the US violated int’l law & the UN Charter in a blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” said a post on the ministry's Twitter account. “The US’ lawlessness in full show. #Iran won’t rest until bringing those responsible to justice.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday that Washington would bear responsibility for the consequences of any possible “adventure” in the region. His comments came during a call with his Kuwaiti counterpart, according to the ministry's website.

Already, America has conducted B-52 bomber flyovers and sent a nuclear submarine into the Persian Gulf over what Trump administration officials describe as the possibility of an Iranian attack on the anniversary of Soleimani's killing.

Strategic calculations on both sides have been complicated by the political transition in Washington to President-elect Biden’s administration, which may seek new paths in dealing with Iran.

Also on Friday, Iranian video sharing services released an English-language song filmed abroad that praises Soleimani. Footage of Soleimani's funeral and some videos of him in the battlefield were also shown.

READ MORE: Iran: Qasem Soleimani’s killers 'will not be safe on earth'

Source: TRTWorld and agencies