A technician works in the control room at the uranium conversion facility in Isfahan, Iran [File: Caren Firouz/Reuters]

Iran has always insisted it pursued a peaceful nuclear programme, even as the United States and other countries suspected it might be developing nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian programme.

Its economy has been languishing under the effects of increasingly severe international sanctions since the 1980s, but in 2015 a deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was struck between Iran and world powers.

Under the landmark pact, Tehran would scale down its nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief, the resumption of oil and gas trading on the international market and the unfreezing of some $100bn of its assets held worldwide.

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