News Briefs

January 5, 2021
Iran is producing 17-20 grams of uranium enriched to 20 percent every hour, according to Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). He added that Iran intends to continue producing this material until it amasses the 120 kilograms required under a law enacted by the Iranian Parliament.
-- Islamic Republic News Agency
January 4, 2021
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized a South Korean flagged tanker and its crew in the Strait of Hormuz, while pressing Seoul to release $7 billion in funds frozen as a result of U.S. sanctions. Iran denied that it was holding the MT Hankuk Chemi and its crew as hostages, claiming that the ship was held as a result of environmental violations. According to Iranian and South Korean news agencies, Iran is seeking to use the funds to finance the purchase of coronavirus vaccines.
-- Reuters
December 20, 2020
Iran has completed a planned merger of six banks with ties to Iran's military, according to a statement by Abdolnaser Hemmati, the head of the Central Bank of Iran. State-owned Sepah Bank will take over Ansar Bank, Ghavamin Bank, Hekmat Bank, the Kosar Credit Institution, and Mehr Eqtesad Bank. Iran first outlined plans for the merger in March 2019 in a bid to increase transparency and reduce the military's footprint in Iran's financial sector.
-- Bloomberg
December 18, 2020
Construction is underway at Iran's Fordow nuclear site, according to satellite images. The imagery indicates that construction began in September and was ongoing in December. The construction work is taking place northwest of an underground uranium enrichment facility, near support and research and development buildings such as the National Vacuum Technology Center.
-- Associated Press
December 18, 2020
A U.S. court sentenced Colin Fisher, a British citizen, to two years and six months in prison and fined him $5,000 for attempting to smuggle industrial equipment to Iran. According to the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Florida, Fisher sought to export a $500,000 Solar Mars 90 S turbine core engine and related parts from the United States to an end user in Iran between 2017 and 2020. He falsified invoices and used coded language to communicate with his co-conspirators. U.S. law enforcement agencies seized the engine before it reached Iran. Fisher was arrested in August upon his arrival in Florida from the United Arab Emirates. In September, he pleaded guilty to violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. James Meharg, head of Turbine Resources International, was previously convicted of conspiring with Fisher on the export.
-- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
December 9, 2020
Satellite images of Iran's Natanz nuclear facility show two tunnel entrances related to the construction of an underground facility that may be intended to house a new centrifuge assembly building. The entrances are on either side of a ridge, which appears large enough to accommodate a building of similar size to a centrifuge assembly plant destroyed in a July explosion in Natanz. After the explosion, Iran pledged to replace the building with a new one in "the heart of the mountains." The satellite images also show evidence of excavation and two regraded roads that lead to the tunnels.
-- The New York Times
December 8, 2020
After analyzing photographs of an anti-tank guided missile used by a militia in Libya, the United Nations Secretary General reported that the weapon "had characteristics consistent with the Iranian-produced Dehlavieh." However, the Secretary General was unable to determine whether the missile had been transferred to Libya in violation of a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which expired in October 2020. The photographs allegedly surfaced on social media in November 2019. Libya is subject to an ongoing U.N. arms embargo, and an interim report by the Security Council's Libya sanctions committee concluded that what the photographs show is "almost certainly an Iranian manufactured Dehlavieh." The committee said the transfer of the missile system is a violation of the arms embargo on Libya but did not say who transferred it.
-- Reuters
December 4, 2020
Iran will install three cascades of advanced IR-2m centrifuges in an underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran has already moved one cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges to this facility and is using that cascade to enrich uranium alongside the 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges that have been enriching uranium at the plant for years. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is supposed to use only the less efficient IR-1 centrifuge for the production of enriched uranium.
-- Reuters
December 2, 2020
Iran passed a law requiring the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to resume enriching uranium to the level of 20 percent, in response to the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top scientist in Iran's nuclear program. The law also compels Iran to expel inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) within two months unless the United States lifts sanctions on Iran's financial and petroleum sectors. The law was subsequently ratified by Iran's Guardian Council. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized the law, which he described as "damaging for diplomacy." The production of higher levels of enrichment will require Iran to adjust the infrastructure at its Natanz nuclear facility.
-- The New York Times
December 1, 2020
Citing Iraqi military sources, Lebanese and Saudi news agencies reported that a drone strike killed Muslim Shahdan, a senior commander in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The reports suggest that three operatives working alongside Shahdan also died in the strike, which took place along the border between Iraq and Syria. According to the reports, Shahdan's vehicle was carrying weapons from Iraq to Syria.
-- The Times of Israel