Iran has reportedly resumed uranium enrichment to reach its 20% target at its underground nuclear facility Fordo and has seized a South Korean-flagged oil tanker.
Iran acknowledged that they seized the MT Hankuk Chemi, an oil tanker located in the Strait of Hormuz, according to ABC News. Iran reportedly alleged the vessel’s “oil pollution” was the reason for the seizure. Iran has been pressuring South Korea in an effort to unlock approximately $7 billion in frozen assets from oil sales that were earned prior to President Donald Trump tightening sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, ABC News reported.
The nation has also stepped up its uranium enrichment program, which was reported by Iran’s state news agency Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and a semi-official agency Mehr, according to CNN.
Ali Rabiei, a government spokesperson, said Monday that the country began the enrichment process a “couple of hours ago” at the Fordo site and that the first UF6 enriched uranium would be ready within hours, according to the report.
Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it intended to enrich uranium at 20%, an IAEA spokesman told CNN.
Under the Iran Nuclear Deal, Iran’s uranium enrichment was capped at 3.67%. The country is currently enriching its stockpile to around 4.5%, according to the report. Iran, however, has denied that they want to assemble nuclear weapons, CNN reported. (RELATED: Trump Signs Executive Order Reinstating Pre-Nuke Deal Iran Sanctions Despite UN Obligations–Adds 27 New Targeted Bodies To Sanctions List)
Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 citing Iran’s ballistic missile program, regional policies and other issues. President-elect Joe Biden is willing to re-join the deal if Iran strictly complies with the rules and has said he would lift Trump-era sanctions, according to The New York Times.
As part of the nuclear deal, Iran had agreed to stop enriching uranium at Fordo and would instead turn the site into a “nuclear, physics and technology center,” according to the Associated Press (AP). The nation has since resumed its uranium enrichment following the end of the deal. Meanwhile the U.S. has since increased sanctions.
Iran reportedly stepped up construction at the underground site in late September, according to the AP. Satellite images obtained by the AP show the construction is being done approximately 55 miles southwest of Tehran and is built within a mountain.
#Fordow Uranium Enrichment Plan #IRAN – New construction activity located in the support/R&D area, 350 meters East of the actual complex. Leveling started in September 2020. Foundation trenches were dug for a new 50x70m structure which purpose is currently unknown. #JCPOA #IMINT pic.twitter.com/k42vTZrJni
— Observer IL (@Obs_IL) December 16, 2020
Iran has also been working on construction at its Natanz nuclear facility, according to the AP.
Iran’s parliament approved a bill on Dec. 1 that would suspend United Nations inspections of its nuclear facilities and boost its uranium enrichment program should international sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas sector not be lifted, according to the state-back IRNA.