Iran is continuing to enrich uranium to up to 20% purity, which is a major violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards have seized a South Korean ship « for chemical pollution of the Persian Gulf » as tensions between Iran and the US increased in the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Iranian news outlets released photos of Revolutionary Guard speedboats escorting tanker MT Hankuk Chemi and said the ship’s crew, including nationals of South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar, had been arrested. The tanker will be held in the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry called for the ship to be released immediately, saying the South Korean forces stationed in the Strait of Hormuz had been deployed to the region.
The incident occurred ahead of an expected visit by the South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister to Tehran amid mounting tensions between Iran and the Trump administration.
On Monday, Iran resumed enrichment of uranium up to 20% purity, which is a major violation of the 2015 nuclear deal and cuts the time it takes to reach weapons levels.
The move Iran informed the UN nuclear watchdog about last week was one of many mentioned in a law the Iranian parliament passed last month in response to the assassination of the country’s best nuclear scientist that Tehran accused Israel.
Iran began violating the deal in 2019 in retaliation for Washington’s withdrawal from the deal and reintroduction of US sanctions against Tehran. The enrichment takes place at the Fordow site, which was built in a mountain, apparently to protect it from air raids. The 2015 deal does not allow any enrichment there.
« Iran, which is enriching uranium to 20% in Fordow, is a clear attempt to step up its nuclear extortion campaign, an attempt that will continue to fail. The United States and the international community will continue to reach out to the IAEA inspectors to provide the facts on the ground, « said a State Department spokesman.
“We are confident that the IAEA will monitor and report on new Iranian nuclear activity. ”
« The regime continues to threaten navigation rights and freedoms in the Persian Gulf as part of a clear attempt to blackmail the international community in order to ease the pressure of sanctions, » a spokesman said.
Iran, which has seized ships in the past when the national airline has a dispute with Tehran, is furious that South Korea has refused for months to release billions of dollars in Iranian oil export revenue it deems necessary to buy from Anti-coronavirus drugs, including possible vaccines.
In June, the Iranian central bank announced that banks in South Korea were preventing Iran from using the money to buy food and medicines – trade that is exempt from US sanctions.
Iran announced in June that it was selling 500 drugs after two years of negotiations. Received $ 000 from South Korea. At the time, the Iranian State Department said the deal had been approved by Washington. It was also said that South Korea was about 7 billion behind. USD for exported oil before the Trump administration re-imposed penalties on Iranian crude oil sales last year. South Korea has always insisted on working within the sanctions regime imposed by the US and ensuring exemptions for humanitarian supplies.
Analysts asked whether the seizure of the ship was part of an internal Iranian power struggle. Esfandyar Batmanghelidj of the & Bazaar exchange said there had recently been diplomatic progress on repatriating Iranian money from South Korea with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, who is due in Tehran shortly to discuss possible humanitarian payments. It could be that the Iranian hardliners viewed the ship’s seizure as a way to disrupt the fledgling diplomacy with the intent of claiming credit and saying it was their tougher approach that resulted in a breakthrough.
South Korea said the ship did not spill any chemicals or break the rules, adding that the ship was hit by Iranian naval speedboats in international waters.
Sunday marked the first anniversary of a US drone attack that killed Supreme General Qassem Suleimani, and Washington appears to have braced itself for possible retaliation. Both sides are cautiously watching the other in the final days of the Trump administration.
After the US stepped up its military operations and threatened the language, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused it on New Year’s Eve of trying to create a « pretext for war ». .
On Sunday the US reversed its decision to bring home an aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon said the USS Nimitz would remain in position because of « recent threats » from Iran. The original plan to leave the region was intended to send a de-escalation signal to Iran. The US has already sent additional B-52 bombers to the region.
The European Union had warned that a 20% enrichment would represent a « serious departure » from the commitments Iran made under the 2015 nuclear deal. There will also be fears in Europe that Iran’s brinkmanship could provoke Israel into a military strike.
The main goal of the Iranian nuclear deal was to extend the time it takes to produce enough fissile material for an atomic bomb to at least a year, from roughly two to three months. It also lifted international sanctions against Tehran.
The decision to increase the enriched uranium content is more likely to be aimed at strengthening Tehran’s negotiating hand with the future Biden government.
Iran, Enriched Uranium, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Nuclear Power
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