Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ordered the removal of all limits on nuclear research and development – the third major step to scale down commitments to the 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.

“I, as of now, announce the third step,” Rouhani said on state television late on Wednesday, just as the United States announced that it was imposing sanctions against an oil shipping network with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

“The Atomic Energy Organisation [of Iran] is ordered to immediately start whatever is needed in the field of research and development, and abandon all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development.”

The nuclear deal – agreed on by Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom,  the US and the European Union – gave Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for accepting curbs on its nuclear programme.

Since the US unilaterally withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and reimposed devastating sanctions in a “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran, Tehran has insisted it wants to save the pact but that the remaining signatories – especially Europe – must provide additional economic support.

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