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Iran has begun work on advanced centrifuges to boost enriched uranium for its controversial nuclear program. It is the third time in the past few months that Tehran has reduced its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal.
The spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said Saturday that the Islamic Republic had activated 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges to boost its stockpile of enriched uranium.
"The centrifuge machines, as they are engaged in research and development, will help with increasing the stockpile," Behrouz Kamalvandi said.
"The capacity of these machines is many times more than the previous machines. This started as of yesterday [Friday]," he told reporters.
The spokesman said the latest move would not hinder the UN monitoring of Iran's nuclear program.
"Regarding the monitoring and accesses of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] ... so that everything is clear [Iran's] commitments regarding transparency will be followed as before," he said.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters in Paris that Iran's latest move was expected.
"It's no surprise that the Iranians are going to pursue what the Iranians have always intended to pursue," Esper said at a news conference with his French counterpart, Florence Parly.
Parly said that France would focus on keeping Iran in the 2015 deal.
Iran denies it is seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, insisting that its atomic program is aimed at fulfilling its energy needs.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Wednesday that his country would soon begin researching and developing improved centrifuges to speed up the process of enriching uranium.
"All limitations on our research and development will be lifted on Friday," Rouhani said.
The long-signaled move marks Iran's third breach of the international deal it signed in 2015, under which it agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief.
In July, Iran abandoned two of its commitments under the deal by allowing its stockpile of enriched uranium to exceed the 300-kilogram limit and breaching the cap on the purity of its uranium stocks.
The 2015 deal was struck after concerns from the US and its allies that the nuclear program, which Iran insisted was for civilian use, aimed to produce weapons. US President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord last year and reimposed sanctions.
Iran ready to reverse measures
European powers opposed the US implementation of sanctions and have sought to keep the deal alive, in part by trying to shield Iran from the impact of the US penalties.
The new measures from Iran would be peaceful, watched over by the United Nations and could be reversed if European powers kept their promises, Rouhani said. He gave the parties to the deal another two months to fully implement its terms, saying if that happened Iran would return to implementing the agreement.
Iran has said it could again fully comply with the deal if it secures an agreement with France on a proposed $15 billion (€13.6 billion) credit line, to be repaid once it resumed oil exports.
The US has not categorically rejected the idea.
Read more: European powers warn on Iran nuclear deal
shs/aw (AP, dpa, Reuters)