Iran also seized a South Korean-flagged chemical tanker yesterday, according to semi-official Iranian news agencies, for “creating environmental and chemical pollution in the Persian Gulf.”
As tensions continue to rise, Trump directed the Pentagon to keep a US aircraft carrier in the Middle East, reversing the decision to send it out of the region last week.
Iran currently enriches its uranium arsenal to around 4.5%, which is above the 3.67% limit imposed by the 2015 pact with world powers, but well below the 90% considered weapon-friendly. .
Iran has continuously denied that it intends to assemble nuclear weapons.
The country had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of its intention to enrich uranium by 20 percent, IAEA spokesman Fredrik Dahl told CNN on Friday.
Yesterday morning, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said the enrichment process started “a couple of hours ago” at the Fordow site, noting that the first UF6-enriched uranium would be produced in a few hours, IRNA said.
The US State Department condemned both the tanker’s seizure and Iran’s resumption of uranium enrichment, with a spokesperson noting that “Iran’s enrichment program was originally developed in secret, including at Fordow, and Iran retained a vast archive of records from its previous nuclear weapons program, along with many of the key personnel who ran that program. “
“The United States and the rest of the international community will evaluate Iran’s actions in light of this provocative story,” the spokesman said.
Trump walked away from the deal in 2018 and instead reinstated sanctions on the Iranian regime.
The increase came after the Iranian parliament passed a law last month to boost uranium enrichment to pre-2015 levels and block nuclear inspections if sanctions are not lifted.
“The law requires the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to produce at least 120 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium annually and store it within the country,” the Mehr news agency reported.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in January 2020 that Iran was enriching more uranium than before the agreement was signed, and in March, the United Nations found that the country had nearly tripled its stocks in a matter of months.
Rouhani, whose government signed the 2015 accord with the United States and other world powers, opposed last month’s bill, arguing it would undermine diplomacy.
Iran’s government has repeatedly called on the United States to reinstate the deal that Trump withdrew from in 2018.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CNN on Sunday that the incoming US administration would re-enter the pact if Iran were to abide by it again.
Sullivan also said that the Biden administration will seek a “follow-up negotiation” on Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities.
“Our view is that ballistic missiles, and Iran’s ballistic missile program, should be on the table as part of that follow-up negotiation,” Sullivan said, adding that the Biden administration would seek to bring some of the regional partners of Iran. .
Rouhani said last month that Iran’s missile program was non-negotiable, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, news agencies and the Dryad Global firm reported that Iran had seized a chemical tanker with the South Korean flag.
“Reports indicate that the South Korean-flagged chemical tanker HANKUK CHEMI (IMO: 9232369) has likely been stopped by Iranian forces in the Strait of Hormuz while en route to Fujairah,” said Dryad Global.
South Korea sent its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz in response, its defense ministry said, adding that there were 20 crew members on board, including five South Koreans.
A “ship that was sailing near the Sea of Oman in the waters of Hormuz on the afternoon of January 4 is moving into Iranian waters at the request of Iranian authorities,” the ministry said in a statement.
The South Korean ministry and embassy have asked the Iranian authorities to confirm the safety of the crew and release the ship as soon as possible.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which is part of the British Royal Navy, said that there was an “interaction” within the Strait of Hormuz between a merchant ship and the Iranian authorities, which that forced the ship to carry out “a course alteration in Iranian territory. waters”.
Iran said the ship was seized for “creating environmental and chemical pollution in the Persian Gulf,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency said.
The ship has been seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy, according to the Mehr news agency.
CNN has reached out to the South Korean government for comment.
The US will maintain aircraft carriers in the region
The decision reversed Miller’s order last week to send the carrier out of the region and home, in part, to send a de-escalation signal to Iran amid mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran.
A defense official said Miller’s de-escalation idea had not been adopted as an approved formal policy.
It took top commanders by surprise, various defense sources said.
The US Central Command wanted the carrier to stay in the region due to Iran’s deterrence policy.
The White House and NSC did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on Monday.
On Sunday, Miller announced that the USS Nimitz would remain in place due to alleged Iranian threats “against President Trump and other officials of the United States government.”
Miller said in a statement that he had “directed the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment.”
The carrier will now “remain at the station in the US Central Command area of operations,” Miller said.
“No one should doubt the determination of the United States of America,” he said.