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Iran announced new violations of its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers as it also marked Monday the 40th anniversary of the 1979 student takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and a subsequent 444-day hostage crisis that has set the tone for decades of animosity and fraught relations with the United States.
The head of Iran's nuclear program, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the Middle Eastern nation is now operating 60 IR-6 advanced centrifuges in violation of its 2015 landmark atomic deal with world powers. An IR-6 centrifuge can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as allowed under the accord.
The move cuts into the one-year time limit that most experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon, although there is little evidence to indicate that Iran is trying to weaponize its nuclear materials.
Salehi made the announcement on state TV as demonstrators gathered in front of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran and footage was aired from cities across the country that revived decades-old cries of "Death to America." Others at protests burned U.S. flag replicas and waved signs mocking the U.S.
Speaking in front of the former embassy, known locally as the "U.S. Den of Espionage," Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander of the Iranian army, referred to the U.S. as a "scorpion" and said the "era of imposing pressure with zero expense" was finished.
"Thanks to God, today the revolution’s seedlings have evolved into a fruitful and huge tree that its shadow has covered the entire" Middle East, he said.
The 1979 takeover of the embassy was rooted in popular anger after a 1953 CIA-engineered coup that toppled Iran's elected prime minister and cemented the power of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
For months, Iran had faced widespread unrest, ranging from separatist attacks to worker revolts and internal power struggles.
The shah, dying from cancer, fled Iran to seek medical treatment in New York in January 1979, paving the way for the country’s Islamic Revolution.
Islamist students initially planned a sit-in at the embassy. But the situation quickly spun out of their control.
Some hostages would be released as the crisis unfolded, while others fled and found safety with Canada’s ambassador and left Iran via a CIA-planned escape.
Fifty-two American hostages were held for more than a year until the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, when they were freed.
The White House said in a brief statement Monday, noting the anniversary, that the "Iranian regime continues to target innocent civilians for use as pawns in its failed foreign relations." It also imposed additional sanctions on its military and members of the inner circle of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The slow disintegration of the 2015 nuclear deal that saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions followed President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the accord.
It has coincided with a tense summer of mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied the allegation, though it did seize oil tankers and shoot down a U.S. military surveillance drone.
The U.S. has since increased its military presence across the Middle East, including basing troops in Saudi Arabia for the first time since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Both Saudi Arabia and the neighboring United Arab Emirates are believed to be talking to Tehran through back channels to ease tensions.
This year's Iranian commemoration of the embassy seizure comes as Iran's allies in Iraq and Lebanon face widespread protests. The Iranian Consulate in Karbala, Iraq, a holy city for Shiites, saw a mob attack it overnight. Three protesters were killed during the attack and 19 were wounded, Iraqi officials said.
Trump retweeted posts Sunday by Saudi-linked media showing the chaos outside the consulate. The violence comes after Iran's hard-line Keyhan newspaper reiterated a call for demonstrators to seize U.S. and Saudi diplomatic posts in Iraq.
Trump has signaled he's willing to meet with Khamenei but the latter reiterated his opposition to direct talks, saying Sunday that Tehran has outmaneuvered the U.S. in the four decades since its Islamic Revolution.
Holly Dagres, an expert on Iran at the Atlantic Council think tank, noted on Twitter that "Iran is technically not violating the (nuclear deal)" as a result of its new advanced centrifuges. "Article 26 (of the deal, known as the JCPOA) says Iran has the right to withdrawal from some or all aspects of the deal if sanctions are reimposed."
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Iran announces nuclear deal violations on hostage crisis anniversary