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Iran announced Sunday it will raise its enrichment of uranium, breaking another limit of its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and further heightening tensions between Tehran and the U.S.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference that Iran will go beyond the limit of 3.67% enrichment Sunday and that the new percentage "will be based on our needs," without specifying.
Iran made the decision a year after U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal. Iran has repeatedly warned Europe in recent weeks that it would begin walking away from an accord neutered by a maximalist American campaign of sanctions that blocked Tehran's oil sales abroad and targeted its top officials.
Sunday's decision came less than a week after Iran acknowledged breaking the deal's 300-kilogram (661-pound) limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile. Experts warn higher enrichment and a growing stockpile narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.
In a last-minute diplomatic bid, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, by phone Saturday, saying he is trying to find a way by July 15 to resume dialogue between Iran and Western partners.
Hopes for saving the faltering deal appear increasingly dim, as the Europeans have been unable to offer Iran any effective way around U.S. sanctions. While the steps are concerning to nuclear non-proliferation experts, they could be easily reversible if Europeans offer Iran the sanctions relief it seeks.
Tensions began rising in May when the U.S. rushed thousands of additional troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Mideast. Mysterious oil tanker blasts near the Strait of Hormuz, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and Iran shooting down a U.S. military drone have raised fears of a wider conflict engulfing a region crucial to global energy supplies.