“We are enriching more uranium before the deal was reached … Pressure has increased on Iran but we continue to progress,” Rouhani said on Thursday in a televised speech.
Iran has gradually scaled back its commitments under the nuclear deal, signed with the US, China, Russia, Germany, France and the UK, in retaliation to Washington’s withdrawal from the pact in 2018 and its reimposition of sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
Earlier in the week, the United Kingdom, France and Germany challenged Tehran over breaking the limits set out in the deal. The European nations announced that they triggered the dispute mechanism provided for in the landmark agreement in order to force Tehran to honour its commitments under the accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Tensions in the region have simmered in recent months after a series of attacks in the Gulf region that the US blamed on Iran and aligned groups, despite denials from Tehran.
Fears of a military escalation soared in early January after the US killed Iran’s top military commander Qassem Soleimani in an air strike in Baghdad, prompting Iran to fire a barrage of missiles at a military base housing US troops in Iraq.
Despite the continuing tensions, President Rouhani said Tehran was working daily “to prevent military confrontation and war” and that dialogue with the world remained “possible”.
The 2015 nuclear deal imposed restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme in exchange for a reprieve from international sanctions.
After unilaterally withdrawing, the US has reimposed a range of sanctions on Tehran and called for negotiations over a new accord. Iran has rejected the idea of negotiating a new deal while it is under sanctions.
In response to the US move, Tehran has begun enriching uranium above the cap agreed in the deal and taken further steps to enhance its nuclear programme, while also accusing the European parties to the deal of failing to live up to their own commitments to provide economic relief to Tehran.
Iran had been enriching uranium at 20 percent purity before it signed the deal, which capped enrichment at 3.67 percent.