Iran yesterday confirmed that it had stepped up uranium enrichment beyond the limits of its nuclear deal with world powers, amid heightened tensions with the US and after it seized a South Korean tanker in strategic Gulf waters.
The Islamic republic said it was now refining uranium to 20 percent purity — far above the level permitted under its 2015 agreement, but significantly below the 90 percent required for an atomic bomb — in a step Washington condemned as “nuclear extortion.”
The EU noted Iran’s steps “with deep concern” and planned to “redouble our efforts to preserve the agreement and return to its full implementation by all parties,” EU spokesman Peter Stano said.
It was the most striking suspension yet of Tehran’s commitments under its landmark deal with six nations, which has been fraying ever since US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.
A war of words has flared again in the final weeks of the Trump presidency, and at a time when Iran and its allies have marked one year since a US drone strike in Baghdad killed Iran’s top military commander, Qassem Soleimani.
Commemorations in honor of Soleimani — whom the US blamed for attacks on its interests in Iraq and elsewhere — saw angry mourners in Iraq chant anti-US slogans, but passed without violence.
The Iranian armed forces on Monday also announced a two-day drill of domestically made drones, including “combat, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare.”
On Monday, its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched a dramatic action on the high seas, near the strategic Straits of Hormuz, a chokepoint through which a fifth of world oil output passes.
Its speedboats seized the South Korean-flagged Hankuk Chemi carrying oil chemical products and its multinational crew of 20, accusing it of having polluted sea waters.
South Korea has demanded the ship’s release and deployed a destroyer carrying its anti-piracy unit to the area.
Seoul is to send a government delegation to Iran “at the earliest possible date” to negotiate the release of the vessel and its crew, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.
Iran’s move came after it had urged Seoul to release billions of dollars of Iranian assets frozen in South Korea as part of the US sanctions.
“We are not hostage-takers,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said.
“We are used to such allegations... It is the government of [South] Korea that has taken over US$7 billion of ours hostage on baseless grounds,” he said.
South Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choi Jong-kun would go ahead with a planned three-day trip to Tehran early next week, his office said.
SECRET OUT: Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung yesterday accidentally revealed that the infections occurred at the ministry’s Taoyuan General Hospital The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday reported the fifth COVID-19 case in a cluster infection at a Taoyuan hospital, where four other medical workers were confirmed to have been infected over the past week. The latest case is a nurse who had tested negative on Tuesday last week, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the CECC, told a news conference. However, on Thursday, she developed symptoms, such as nasal congestion and a cough, and a second test yesterday found that she was infected, Chen said. She is the head nurse of a ward where two
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