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Tehran, Iran – Iranian officials ratcheted up pressure Wednesday ahead of a weekend nuclear deadline for European nations to come up with a solution for Iran to sell its oil abroad in the aftermath of escalated U.S. sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani reiterated a threat that Tehran would take additional steps away from the 2015 nuclear accord on Friday and accelerate nuclear activities if Europe fails to provide a solution, calling it Iran’s third, “most important step” away from the deal.

“Iran’s third step is of an extraordinarily significant nature,” Rouhani said, without giving details.

Later on Wednesday, Rouhani elaborated, saying in comments aired on state TV that starting on Friday, Iran’s atomic agency would work on the research and development of “all kinds” of centrifuge machines that can more quickly enrich uranium. However, he said the activities will be “peaceful” and under surveillance of the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Under the nuclear deal, Iran has been limited to operating 5,060 older-model IR-1 centrifuges. A centrifuge is a device that enriches uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.

The country is allowed to test no more than 30 of the stronger, IR-6 centrifuges once the deal has been in place for 8 1 / 2years. The deal is murky about limits before that point, which will arrive in 2023.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Ministry announced that seven members of the 23-member crew of the seized British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero held in the Persian Gulf would be released – an apparent good-will gesture meant to defuse tensions.

Iran seized the tanker on July, saying it violated Iranian laws, after authorities in the British territory of Gibraltar seized an Iranian tanker said to be to be carrying fuel to Syria in violation of EU sanctions on oil sales to Damascus.

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