22:26 GMT03 March 2021
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    Khamenei's statement comes just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signalled that Washington sought to "lengthen and strengthen" the agreement on Iran's nuclear programme.

    Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed that Tehran's stance on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, will not change, and that the country will not yield to international pressure, as he stressed that the United States and European countries have been treating Iran unfairly.

    The supreme leader suggested that Iran might continue enriching uranium by increasing the percentage up to 60%.

    "Iran's uranium enrichment level will not be limited to 20%. We will increase it to whatever level the country needs... We may increase it to 60%", Khamenei said.

    While emphasising that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, Khamenei pointed out that "no one" could stop Tehran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction if it wanted to.

    “What prevents the Islamic Republic from building nuclear weapons is the Islamic way of thinking and principles, which prohibit production of all kinds of weapons, including nuclear or chemical, which would be used to massacre ordinary people”.

    Khamenei's remarks echoed a Sunday statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who stressed that Tehran was not trying to create nuclear weapons.

    Zarif, for his part, made it clear that Tehran's steps to scale back some of its commitments under the deal following the US' unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear agreement were are reversible.

    "The United States must return to the deal and lift all sanctions ... The United States is addicted to sanctions but they should know that Iran will not yield to pressure", the foreign minister added.

    Ayatollah Khamenei's statement came just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington was looking to deal with Tehran's "destabilising regional behaviour and ballistic missile development". According to Blinken, the US also seeks to "lengthen and strengthen the nuclear agreement".

    Incumbent US President Joe Biden has stated that Washington was ready to hold informal talks with Tehran, which would be hosted by the EU and attended by Russia, China, and the UK. However, Iran has repeatedly said that it wants the crippling sanctions lifted before sitting down for talks.

    In December, Iran passed a law to increase its uranium enrichment and freeze IAEA inspections of its nuclear sites in a bid to achieve the removal of US economic sanctions.

    In early January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Iran's decision to increase uranium enrichment meant that Tehran sought to develop nuclear weapons. Iranian officials dismissed the allegations as baseless, saying "a regime that has nuclear weapons cannot accuse Iran of seeking to obtain nuclear weapons". Netanyahu's comments followed reports about the Islamic Republic resuming 20 percent uranium enrichment.

    Relations between Iran and the United States have been in a downward spiral since May 2018, when then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the nuclear deal and reinstated all sanctions against Tehran with an eye to bringing its oil exports down "to zero".

    On the one-year anniversary of the US withdrawal, Tehran announced that it would suspend some of its voluntary commitments under the 2015 accord and would resume enriching uranium at a higher level within 60 days unless the five remaining signatories - Russia, China, the UK, France, and Germany - ensured that Tehran's interests were protected.

    Once the deadline expired, Iran said it would begin enriching uranium beyond the 3.67 percent level set by the agreement and gradually scale back on its nuclear obligations every 60 days.

    Tags:
    Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, uranium enrichment, nuclear program, Iran
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