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Iran to enrich uranium up to 20 percent ‘as soon as possible’

Iran is ready to produce 20 percent enriched uranium at its underground Fordo nuclear facility “as soon as possible,” Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s civilian Atomic Energy Organization, said Saturday. “We are like soldiers and our fingers are on the triggers,” he told Iranian state television. The 20 percent figure is much higher than the threshold set in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and though it’s well below the grade required to make a bomb, The Guardian has previously reported the early stages of enrichment are the most challenging, and it gets easier over time.

The plan came to light Friday, and both Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency have since confirmed that Tehran has informed the agency of its preparations. The decision comes amid escalating tensions between Tehran and both Washington and Jerusalem following assassinations of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani — which was carried out by the U.S. in a drone strike almost exactly one year ago — and Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who founded the country’s military nuclear program two decades ago.

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Iran has blamed Israel for Fakhrizadeh’s death, and the country’s parliament subsequently passed a law calling for the production and storage of 20 percent enriched uranium, as well as an end to IAEA inspections, which are meant to ensure the country is not developing an atomic bomb. It does not appear Tehran has followed through on the latter step, however, The Associated Press reports. Salehi said the enrichment “should be done under IAEA supervision.” Read more at The Associated Press and France 24.