Until now, Iran's angry outbursts in response to alleged breaches of Obama's nuclear deal as well as extensions of the Iran sanctions, have been relegated to verbal outbursts, culminating most recently with the threat by Iran's defense minister Denghan that should Trump end Obama's landmark arrangement with Iran, it would result in a war which "would mean the destruction of the Zionist regime (Israel) ... and will engulf the whole region and could lead to a world war."
Overnight, however, Iran moved beyond the merely verbal and in its first concrete response to last month's decision by the US Congress to extend legislation making it easier for Washington to reimpose sanctions on Tehran, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani ordered scientists from the national nuclear agency, and specifically Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, to prepare a project for development of both reactors for maritime use and fuel production for this purpose in three months.
"The United States has not fully delivered its commitments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the nuclear deal)," Rouhani wrote in a letter published by state news agency IRNA. "With regards to recent (U.S. congress) legislation to extend the Iran Sanctions Act, I order the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to ... plan the design and construction of a nuclear propeller to be used in marine transportation to be used in marine transportation."
Rouhani described the technology as a "nuclear propeller to be used in marine transportation," but did not say whether that meant just ships or possibly also submarines. Iran said in 2012 that it was working on its first nuclear-powered sub.
While the technology is different from nuclear weapons, banned by last year's nuclear deal, it has a definite military leaning. The only operator of nuclear-powered civilian vessels at the moment is Russia, mostly due to its fleet of icebreakers. The US and Germany had nuclear-propelled merchant ships in the past, while the Japanese ship ‘Mutsu’ was finished but never carried commercial cargo.
U.S. Congress members have said the extension of the bill does not violate the nuclear deal agreed last year to assuage Western fears that Iran is working to develop a nuclear bomb. The act, Congress added, only gave Washington the power to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it violated the pact. Washington says it has lifted all the sanctions it needs to under the deal between major powers and Iran.
But Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last month that the extension was a definite breach and Iran would "definitely react to it".
The Iran nuclear deal was negotiated by Tehran and six leading world powers, and sought to address concerns that Iran may have a clandestine project to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denied the accusation, but agreed to restrict its nuclear industry in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, the US and the EU. The deal also allowed Iran to resume oil exports, leading to this year's Saudi relent over oil production cuts, after it started losing market share to Tehran.
The deal was hailed as a breakthrough at the time of its signing in 2015 by all parties involved, despite dissenting voices from Republicans in the US, hardliners in Iran and Israel in the Middle East. Iran has since held its part of the bargain and is complaining that the US continues its anti-Iranian policy and imposes new sanctions under different pretexts.
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While it is debatable whether Congress breached the terms of the Iran deal, Iran's actions will certainly stoke tensions with Washington, already heightened by comments from Donald Trump who has vowed to scrap the deal, under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for lifted sanctions. It is certain that Trump will see Iran's escalation as further evidence of Iran non-compliance with the terms of the agreement, potentially leading for a stronger push to pull the US out of the atomic deal.
Meanwhile, there was no immediate reaction from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran's nuclear work.
Iran always argued its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes.