Tehran has announced efforts to speed up its uranium enrichment, a third breach of its faltering nuclear deal with world powers. As Iran gave European countries more time to save the pact, the US imposed fresh sanctions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Wednesday that the 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 Iran insisted was for civilian use aimed to produce weapons. US President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord last year and reimposed sanctions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on Thursday, urging world leaders not to open dialogue with Iran.
"This is not the time to hold talks with Iran. This is the time to increase the pressure on Iran," he said. "We have the challenge of Iran's aggression and terrorism," he added, before describing what he called "attempts to carry out murderous attacks in the State of Israel, attempts which have not ceased."
According to a Downing Street spokeswoman, "Both prime ministers agreed on the need to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon and stop wider destabilizing Iranian behavior. Prime Minister Johnson stressed the need for dialogue and a diplomatic solution."
Netanyahu was also scheduled to meet with US Defence Secretary Mark Esper in London.
Rouhani gives Europe more time
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.
US imposes fresh sanctions
At the same time, the United States imposed further sanctions, this time targeting what it called an "oil for terror" network of companies, ships and people it alleges is run by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah. Washington said the network moved oil in violation of earlier sanctions and benefits the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The US also warned anyone dealing with blacklisted entities that they might be subject to US sanctions and offered a $15 million reward for information that disrupts the financial operations of the IRGC, or its elite paramilitary arm the Quds Force. It's part of the US campaign aimed at forcing Iran to renegotiate the nuclear deal and curb its regional influence.
"We did sanctions today. There will be more sanctions coming. We can't make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers," US special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, told reporters.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday tweeted that the US Treasury is nothing more than a "jail warden."
"OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control of U.S. Treasury) is nothing more than a JAIL WARDEN: Ask for reprieve (waiver), get thrown in solitary for the audacity. Ask again and you might end up in the gallows," Zarif wrote on his Twitter account.
sri,se,ed/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)