Iran says it will not "retreat" and will speed up its enrichment of uranium from June 27 as it continues to back away from its commitments to a nuclear deal amid escalating tensions with the United States.
"The most vicious officials of the [U.S.] government accuse Iran and insult it. The Iranian nation will not give in and retreat in the face of such insults," Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying by his official website on June 26.
Hours earlier, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization told state broadcaster IRIB on June 26 that the acceleration will coincide with the ending of a deadline limiting the country from enriching more than 300 kilograms (...) of uranium.
“With the end of this deadline, the speed of enrichment will speed up,” he said.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have spiraled since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew last year from a deal with world powers under which Iran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
The situation disintegrated on June 25 into a war of words, with Iran saying the White House was “mentally disabled,” while Trump threatened to use "overwhelming force" which in some areas "will mean obliteration," if Iran attacked "anything American."
The schoolyard taunts came after Trump signed an order imposing new "hard-hitting" sanctions on Iran on June 24.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani dismissed the move against the country’s top leaders, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as "idiotic."
On June 26, Rohani warned that Washington was pursuing the wrong path.
"Today I tell the Americans that the path you have chosen is an incorrect path," Rohani said, according to the IRIB news agency..
His statement came after he appeared to attempt to ease the situation on June 25 with comments during a telephone conversation with French President Emannuel Macron that Iran "never seeks war."
"Iran has no interest in increasing tensions in the region and it never seeks war with any country, including [the] U.S.," Rohani said, according to the state news agency IRNA.
In imposing the new sanctions, Trump said he was looking to deny Iran’s leader and those close to him "access to key financial resources and support."
Trump also said he will "continue to increase pressure" on Iran until the regime ends its "dangerous activities and its aspirations," including its pursuit of nuclear weapons, development of ballistic missiles, and support of terrorism.
Concerns that Tehran and Washington are heading toward a military confrontation have spiked since an Iranian missile destroyed a U.S. Global Hawk surveillance drone on June 20.
Trump said on June 21 that he came within minutes of executing strikes against Iran in retaliation for the downing of the drone, which the United States says was in international waters when Iran knocked it out of the sky with a surface-to air missile.
Iran has insisted the aircraft was flying over its territory.
This followed two attacks earlier this month on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The United States blamed Iran, which denied it was behind the sabotage.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on June 24 with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as he seeks to build a "global coalition" on Tehran.
Trump has said the United States doesn’t "ask for conflict" with Iran and hoped to reach an agreement with Tehran soon.
Trump made taking a tough stance toward Iran and its nuclear program a key element of his 2016 campaign and has followed through on that promise since coming to power.
Last year, he withdrew the United States from a 2015 Iran nuclear deal, calling the agreement “short-sighted.” He claimed that under the accord's terms, Iran would have been able to develop nuclear weapons in a few years.
Former U.S. officials and allied nations have called Trump’s withdrawal flawed.
The president has imposed sanctions on more than 900 Iranian individuals and companies since 2018, squeezing the oil-producing nation financially.
As a result, Iran’s economic growth contracted 4 percent in 2018 and is forecast to tumble 6 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The nation’s currency has plummeted and there are reports of shortages of food and medicine.