Dubai: Iran has begun enriching uranium by up to 20 percent in an underground facility and has seized a South Korean flag oil tanker in the crucial Strait of Hormuz, which is causing tensions in the Middle East between Tehran and the West further tightened.
The announcement of an enrichment at Fordo came when fears arose that Tehran had confiscated the MT Hankuk Chemi. Iran later acknowledged the seizure, claiming that the ship’s “oil spill” had triggered the move. However, hours earlier, Tehran said a South Korean diplomat would be visiting in the coming days to negotiate the release of billions of dollars in its fortune, which is now frozen in Seoul.
The tanker MT Hankuk Chemi, sailing under the South Korean flag, is accompanied by boats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf. Photo credit: Tasnim News Agency via AP
The double incidents occur amid mounting tensions between Iran and the United States in the dwindling days of President Donald Trump’s tenure. During Trump’s tenure, the US leader unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with the world powers in 2018, triggering tense episodes that lasted for months that increasingly strained relations between the countries.
Iranian state television quoted spokesman Ali Rabiei as saying that President Hassan Rouhani had given the order to move to the Fordo plant.
Iran’s decision to begin enriching it to 20 percent purity a decade ago almost sparked an Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities, tensions that only eased with the 2015 nuclear deal. A resumption of the 20 percent enrichment could lead to a return to the Brinks manner, as this degree of purity is only a technical step away from a weapons content of 90 percent.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, which has its own undeclared nuclear weapons program, criticized Iran’s decision to enrich itself, saying that it could « only be declared on the pursuit of its goal of developing a military nuclear program ». .
Tehran has long peacefully maintained its nuclear program. The US State Department said that as recently as last year it « continued to assess that Iran is currently not engaged in key activities related to the design and development of a nuclear weapon. ». .
Iran’s move comes after its parliament passed a law, later approved by a constitutional guard, aimed at augmenting enrichment in order to put pressure on Europe to grant sanctions relief. It also serves as pre-election pressure for President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he is ready to resume the nuclear deal.
Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency last week that it was planning to take this step. The IAEA said Monday that « agency inspectors have been overseeing activities at Fordo » and that its director general Rafael Mariano Grossi intended to send a report to member states of the UN organization later that day.
Meanwhile satellite data from MarineTraffic. com showed the MT Hankuk Chemi in front of the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas on Monday afternoon without finding an explanation for the abrupt change in the ship’s path. It had traveled to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates from a petrochemical plant in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. The ship had carried an unknown chemical shipment, according to data analysis firm Refinitiv.
Calls to the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and listed ship owner DM Shipping Co Ltd from Busan, South Korea were not answered immediately after business hours on Monday. Iran has not recognized the location of the ship.
The MT Hankuk Chemi was stopped by the Iranian authorities because of alleged « oil pollution » in the Persian Gulf. Photo credit: Tasnim News Agency via AP
The semi-official Iranian news outlets reported that the authorities had arrested the crew on the seized ship and found that they were citizens of Korea, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam. The Iranian report didn’t say how many seamen were on board, but Dryad Global, a maritime security company, previously said the ship had 23 seafarers from Indonesia and Myanmar. The ship had 7, according to the news sites affiliated with state television. 200 tons of ethanol transported.
The United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations, an information exchange monitored by the British Royal Navy in the region, has confirmed an « interaction » between a merchant ship and Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf 20 percent of all oil passes in the world. As a result, the merchant ship « changed course » north into Iranian territorial waters, the UKMTO said.
In the past few months, Iran has tried to increase pressure on South Korea to free up around $ 7 billion ($ 9). 07 billion) in frozen assets from oil sales made before the Trump administration tightened sanctions on the country’s oil exports.
Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the 5th. U.S. Navy fleet in Bahrain said authorities there were aware of the situation and were monitoring it.
Iran’s announcement coincides with the anniversary of the US drone attack that killed Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last year. Iran responded by launching ballistic missiles at US bases in Iraq, injuring dozens of US troops. Tehran also accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet that night, killing all 176 people on board.
As the anniversary approached and fears of possible Iranian retribution increased, the US sent B-52 bombers over the region and ordered a nuclear-powered submarine into the Persian Gulf.
In yet another sign of US-Iran tension, incumbent Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced late Sunday that he had changed his mind about sending the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz home from the Middle East, and instead the ship would be kept on duty. He cited Iranian threats against President Trump and other US government officials as the reason for the redeployment, without going into detail.
Last week, seafarers discovered a limpets mine stuck on a tanker in the Persian Gulf off Iraq near the Iranian border as it prepared to transfer fuel to another tanker owned by a company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Nobody took responsibility for the mining industry, despite the fact that it came near the Strait of Hormuz in 2019 after a series of similar attacks that the US Navy accused Iran of. Tehran denied involvement.
In November, an Iranian scientist who had founded the country’s military nuclear program two decades earlier was killed in an attack accused by Tehran of Israel.
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