Iran president orders lifting of all nuclear R&D limits
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday ordered all limits on nuclear research and development to be lifted, the country's third step in scaling down its commitments to a 2015 deal with world powers.
His announcement came shortly after the US hit the Islamic Republic with further sanctions, the latest in a series of punitive measures including an embargo on Iranian oil exports.
Iran and three European countries - Britain, France and Germany - have been engaged in talks to reduce tensions and save the nuclear deal that has been unravelling since US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in May last year.
But late Wednesday, Rouhani made good on a declared intention to take another step away from the multilateral deal signed with the permanent five United Nations Security Council powers and Germany (P5+1).
"I, as of now, announce the third step," he said on state television.
"The atomic energy organisation (of Iran) is ordered to immediately start whatever is needed in the field of research and development, and abandon all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development," he said.
He referred to "expansions in the field of research and development, centrifuges, different types of new centrifuges, and whatever we need for enrichment".
Iran in July abandoned two other nuclear commitments: to keep its stockpile of enriched uranium below 300-kilogrammes, and a 3.67-percent cap on the purity of its uranium stocks.
Rouhani had earlier on Wednesday told a cabinet meeting: "I don't think that... we will reach a deal".
But the Iranian president had also said Tehran and the European powers had been getting closer to an agreement on a way to resolve burning issues.
"If we had 20 issues of disagreement with the Europeans in the past, today there are three issues," he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron, meeting Trump last month in France, encouraged him to offer economic incentives for Tehran and dangled the possibility of a summit between the US and Iranian presidents.
Trump made clear Wednesday that he was still interested in meeting Rouhani when the Iranian leader visits New York for the annual UN General Assembly.
"Sure, anything is possible," Trump told reporters.