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Iran Withdraws From Key Enrichment Aspect of Nuclear Deal

Arsalan Shahla

(Bloomberg) -- Iran said it will no longer comply with a key enrichment aspect of the 2015 nuclear deal, a response to the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general that raises the prospect of the Islamic Republic working to develop weapons-grade uranium.

Tehran will suspend all limits on uranium enrichment activities and remove all curbs on the number of centrifuges required to induce a fission chain reaction.

“The Islamic Republic will no longer observe any limits on the operational aspects of its nuclear program,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported Sunday, citing a statement from the government.

The decision looks set to further raise tensions in the region, particularly in Israel, which is most threatened by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Friday’s U.S. airstrike in Baghdad that killed Qassem Soleimani prompted Iran’s President Hassan Rouhini to vow retaliation that would reverberate for “many, many years to come.”

While the announcement appears to signal the deal’s ultimate collapse, Tehran will continue to cooperate with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and plans to return to full compliance to the deal’s original terms once U.S. sanctions on the economy are lifted.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in a tweet, made clear that all the steps in withdrawing from the accord can be reversed.

Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting firm, noted that Iran’s first official response to the Soleimani killing was to take another step back from the nuclear agreement, rather than direct military action against the U.S.

“The more they’re able to do, short of taking military actions against the U.S., the more likely we are to avoid escalation into direct war between the two countries, which is both in Trump’s interest but also very much in the interest of the Iranian government,” Bremner said in an interview.

Iran began gradually retreating from the accord after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the agreement last year and reimposed crippling sanctions. Two months ago, the country was accused of violating the deal when it began the process of enriching uranium at its Fordow research plant.

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--With assistance from Golnar Motevalli and Danielle Moran.

To contact the reporter on this story: Arsalan Shahla in Tehran at ashahla@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Matthew G. Miller at mmiller144@bloomberg.net, James Ludden

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