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President of Iran Hassan Rouhani during a press conference on Jan. 2. Photo: Presidency of Iran/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Iran announced Saturday its atomic energy agency will begin enriching uranium up to 20% at its underground Fordow nuclear facility — a level of enrichment exceeding regulations set by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, AP reports.

Why it matters: The resumption of enriching uranium to pre-nuclear deal levels would bring the country's nuclear program closer to being capable of producing the levels of enrichment needed for nuclear weapons.

What they're saying: The International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged in a statement that Iran has told its inspectors of the decision to resume high-level enrichment, according to AP.

  • The IAEA said Iran did not disclose when it planned to boost enrichment, though the agency added that it “has inspectors present in Iran on a 24/7 basis and they have regular access to Fordo.”

Context: Iran is currently enriching uranium to levels above the limit set by the nuclear deal, and experts believe the country has enough low-enriched uranium for at least two nuclear weapons if it decides to produce them, according to AP.

  • Iran has long said its nuclear program exists for peaceful purposes, but Israeli and American officials believe otherwise.

The big picture: The announcement comes a day before the anniversary of the U.S. killing of top Iranian military commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani in 2020 and weeks after the assassination of the nation's top nuclear scientist.

  • The move could set off the return of brinkmanship between Iran and Israel, which considered striking the Fordow facility before the nuclear deal if Iran did not stop enriching to 20%.
  • Iran's parliament ratified a law in early December that ordered its atomic energy agency to expand uranium enrichment to match levels prior to the 2015 nuclear agreement and to expel IAEA nuclear inspectors, though the inspectors so far remain in the country.

Go deeper: U.S. flies B-52 bombers over Persian Gulf as show of force against Iran

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jan 27, 2021 - Technology

Doomsday Clock stays at 100 seconds to midnight

Robert Rosner, left, and Suzet McKinney reveal the 2021 setting of the Doomsday Clock. Photo: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists/Thomas Gaulkin

In its annual update on Wednesday morning, scientists announced the Doomsday Clock would be kept at 100 seconds to midnight.

Why it matters: The decision to keep the clock hands steady — tied for the closest it has ever been to midnight in the clock's 74-year history — reflects a picture of progress on climate change and politics undercut by growing threats from infectious disease and disruptive technologies.

DOJ seizes 36 U.S. website domains for Iranian government disinformation

Iran's President-Elect Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference at Shahid Beheshti conference hall in Tehran on Monday. Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

American officials seized 36 news website domains linked to Iran's government for spreading disinformation as part of a propaganda campaign, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The action comes at a time of heightened tension between the two countries, with Iran's hardline President-elect Ebrahim Raisi on Monday ruling out negotiating over missiles or meeting with President Biden as the two nations hold talks on returning Tehran to the 2015 nuclear deal.

NYT: Khashoggi's killers had paramilitary training in U.S.

A vigil for journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, following his killing in 2018 in Turkey. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Several Saudis who took part in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi had paramilitary training in the U.S. under a State Department contract a year before his 2018 death, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Why it matters: While there's no evidence the department knew that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sanctioned Saudi officials to detain, kidnap and torture dissidents in 2017, the approval of such training underscores how "intensely intertwined" the U.S. has become with a nation known for human rights abuses, per the NYT.