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Iran steps up pressure with plan to boost uranium enrichment capacity

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran said Tuesday it has launched a plan to boost uranium enrichment capacity with new centrifuges, raising the pressure on European diplomats scrambling to rescue the crumbling nuclear deal after Washington pulled out.

“If conditions allow, maybe tomorrow night at Natanz (plant), we can announce the opening of the centre for production of new centrifuges,” said Vice-President Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, according to conservative news agency Fars.

“What we are doing does not violate the (2015 nuclear) agreement,” he said, specifying this was just the start of the production process and “does not mean that we will start assembling the centrifuges”.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed it had received a letter from Iran, which Salehi said was submitted on Monday and outlined Tehran s plans.

Under the 2015 nuclear agreement that Iran signed with world powers, it has the right to build and test certain centrifuges, though detailed restrictions exist for the first 10 years on the types and quantities of the machines.

Salehi also emphasised that these moves “do not mean the negotiations (with Europe) have failed.”

European governments have been trying to salvage the nuclear deal ever since the United States announced its withdrawal last month and said it would reimpose sanctions on foreign companies working in the Islamic republic by November.

The remaining parties — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — have vowed to stay in the accord but many of their companies have already started to wind down Iranian operations.

The European Union said a first assessment indicated the new steps announced by Iran did not constitute a violation of the agreement.

“However, at this particularly critical juncture, they will not contribute to build confidence in the nature of the Iranian nuclear programme,” Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, told AFP.

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