Iran seizes a South Korean oil tanker, announces plans to enrich uranium to 20%

Iran is once again doing what it always does when it wants attention on the world stage: Making threats and taking hostages. This morning Iran seized a South Korean tanker which was traveling through the Straight of Hormuz.


The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it detained the Hankuk Chemi vessel at 10 a.m. local time on Monday “due to repeated violations of marine environmental laws.”…

The vessel was carrying 7,200 tons of petrochemicals from Jubail in Saudi Arabia when it was intercepted, the IRGC said. The guard corps took it to Bandar Abbas port in Iran, the semi-official Fars News Agency said. Crew members from Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar were arrested, according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.

Here are photos of the tanker:

There was nothing random about this seizure. Iran is currently negotiating with South Korea for the release of funds: “Tehran said a South Korean diplomat was expected to visit in the coming days to negotiate the release of billions of dollars in its assets now frozen in Seoul.” No doubt the release of the tanker will be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over the frozen funds.

Earlier in the day, before the seizure of the tanker, Iran also announced it was starting enrichment of uranium up to the 20% level.


The state-run IRNA news agency on Monday quoted Ali Rabiei saying President Hassan Rouhani had given the order for the move at the Fordo facility…

Uranium enriched to 20% is far below the 90% needed to construct nuclear bombs, but the jump from 20% to 90% is actually rather quick compared to the work needed to move from 4% to 20%.

Since the assassination in late November of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which Iran has blamed on Israel, hardliners in Tehran pledged a response and parliament passed a controversial law calling for the production and storage of “at least 120 kilograms per year of 20 percent enriched uranium” and to “put an end” to the IAEA inspections intended to check that the country is not developing an atomic bomb.

Iran’s demands are pretty simple. If we can’t terrorize and control the region through non-nuclear means, we’ll have to build a bomb. Israeli PM Netanyahu pointed to this as proof Iran is looking to build a bomb, something Iran has always denied, and said that would not be allowed to happen. “Israel will not allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons,” he said.

The Biden administration has said it plans to re-enter the the Iran nuclear deal and remove sanctions on Iran as part of that process.

If Biden formally reёnters the accord, Tehran is nervous about what rights that gives any future U.S. President, notably the ability to demand that the whole world impose “snapback” sanctions.

The deal allows any one of the six powers that negotiated the deal—Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S.—to call for “snapback” sanctions if it believes Iran is cheating; the other five countries automatically have to comply. The Trump Administration invoked “snapback” sanctions in September, but, because the U.S. had previously withdrawn from the deal, the other parties refused to comply. “We don’t know who is going to be President four years from now,” Hadian told me. “So we don’t want the U.S. to have the right to ‘snapback.’ ” Iran’s new position, a person familiar with Biden’s thinking told me, “adds confusion when the benefit of what Biden proposes is clarity. The Iranians are hurting their own case. It’s a bizarre interpretation and will slow everything down.”


Now that Iran is clearly violating the agreement, will the other members re-impose sanctions? And what happened to not negotiating with terrorists?

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