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Iran has announced that it has resumed enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, well beyond the limits set in the 2015 nuclear deal, to a measure that is likely to increase further. tensions with the United States.

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.”

Both moves came a day after the first anniversary of the assassination by the United States of senior Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, and less than three weeks before the end of Donald trumppresidency.
In this photo published Monday by the Tasnim news agency, a seized South Korean-flagged oil tanker is escorted by boats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf. Iranian state television acknowledged that Tehran seized the tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. Monday’s report alleged that the MT Hankuk Chemi had been detained by Iranian authorities for alleged oil contamination in the Persian Gulf and the Straits. (AP)

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.

A Iranian The government spokesman said yesterday that experts had restarted uranium enrichment toward a 20 percent target at its Fordow underground nuclear facility, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency and the state-run IRNA news agency.

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. “

A November 4, 2020, archival satellite photo from Maxar Technologies shows the Fordo nuclear site in Iran. Iran has told international nuclear inspectors that it plans to enrich uranium by up to 20 percent at its Fordo underground nuclear facility, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels as it increases pressure on the West over its tattered atomic deal. . (AP)

“The United States and the rest of the international community will evaluate Iran’s actions in light of this provocative story,” the spokesman said.

The development poses a challenge for the president-elect of the United States. Joe biden, who vowed to reinstate the deal after he takes office on January 20.

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.

A photo released on November 6, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows a forklift carrying a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride gas for the purpose of injecting the gas into centrifuges at Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility. An Iranian government spokesman said Tehran has begun enriching uranium by up to 20 percent in an underground facility. (AP)

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.

The MT Hankuk Chemi, a South Korean-flagged oil tanker, is escorted by ships of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. (AP)

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.

A report on Monday alleged that the MT Hankuk Chemi had been detained by Iranian authorities for alleged oil contamination in the Persian Gulf and the Straits. (AP)

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

Acting United States Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller ordered the USS Nimitz to back to the middle east after a meeting at the White House on Sunday, a senior defense official told CNN.

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 aircraft carrier USS Nimitz transits the Arabian Sea on August 17, 2020. (AP)

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.

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