Iran's foreign ministry said Monday it is suspending cooperation with the European Union in various fields following the bloc's decision to blacklist several Iranian security officials over a 2019 protest crackdown. On Tuesday, Iran said it intends to ramp up uranium enrichment to what experts say are unprecedented levels of 60 percent next week as talks over the future of the 2015 deal limiting its nuclear programme hang in the balance.
Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh "strongly condemned" the sanctions and said Iran is "suspending all human rights talks and cooperation resulting from these talks with the EU, especially in (the fields of) terrorism, drugs and refugees".
He said Iran rejects "such actions from those falsely claiming to champion human rights", adding Tehran is considering reciprocal sanctions.
The EU added eight Iranian security officials, including the commander of the Islamic republic's Revolutionary Guards, and three prisons to its sanctions blacklist, effective immediately with publication in the bloc's official journal.
The listing said Guards commander Hossein Salami "bears responsiblity for serious human rights violations".
Also hit with sanctions is the head of the Basij paramilitary force, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' ground forces and Iran's police chief.
Asset freezes and visa bans
In November 2019, a surprise fuel price hike sparked a wave of protests across Iran, before they were put down amid a near-total internet shutdown.
At least 304 people died in the unrest, according to London-based Amnesty International, while some authorities in Iran have announced 230 deaths during what they called "riots".
The move to impose asset freezes and visa bans comes at a sensitive time, as Brussels mediates efforts to revive the tattered 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
In an announcement that cast a shadow over the ongoing multinational talks, Iran warned Tuesday it will start enriching uranium up to 60 percent purity, two days after an explosion it blamed on Israel damaged its enrichment plant in Natanz.
Tehran has written to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency to announce "that Iran will start 60 percent enrichment", the state-run IRNA news agency reported.
Such a move would bring Iran closer to the 90 percent purity threshold for military use. Under the nuclear deal, Iran had committed to keep enrichment to 3.67 percent.
The US withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed punishing sanctions on Iran that had been lifted in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme.
Negotiations in Vienna are currently focused on trying to persuade Washington to drop sanctions and Tehran to roll back breaches of the agreement made in retaliation.
Khatibzadeh accused the bloc of having "stayed silent in the face of" Washington's sanctions and only "expressing regret", while "cooperating" with the US.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani had on several occasions threatened to cease all cooperation with Europe on drug trafficking and refugee flows if the bloc did not help the Islamic republic circumvent US sanctions.
The United Nations has praised Iran for hosting millions of refugees fleeing conflict in Afghanistan, which is also a major producer of illicit drugs.
Iran regularly announces large-scale seizures of opioids from the neighbouring country.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)