News Briefs

August 17, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had produced 200 grams of uranium metal enriched up to 20 percent purity as of August 14. Iran had previously produced smaller quantities of the metal. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the international agreement imposing restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, prohibits the country from making uranium metal, which has applications in nuclear weapons. The U.S. State Department criticized Iran's production of enriched uranium metal and described the move as undermining negotiations to return Iran and the United States to compliance with the JCPOA.
-- Associated Press
August 13, 2021
On August 13, 2021, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Omani national Mahmood Rashid Amur Al Habsi and a network of shipping and trading businesses linked to him for facilitating the sale of Iranian oil. Businesses in the network were based in Oman, Liberia, and Romania. Sales by Al Habsi's network ultimately benefitted the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, according to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The new designations bar U.S. nationals from doing business with Al Habsi's network and freeze its U.S.-based and U.S. dollar-denominated assets. 
-- Reuters
August 5, 2021
The British navy announced that unidentified gunmen had departed the Asphalt Princess, an asphalt tanker sailing off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Gulf of Oman. The gunmen had boarded the Asphalt Princess the night of August 3, apparently to hijack it, but departed the vessel on August 4, according to the navy report. In a radio call to the Emirati coast guard during the attempted hijacking, one of the ship's crew reported that armed Iranians had boarded the ship. Satellite-tracking data showed the Asphalt Princess, owned by the UAE-based company Glory International, heading toward the Iranian port of Jask on August 4 before turning toward the Omani port of Sohar several hours later. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman denied Iran's involvement in the incident. The U.S. State Department said that it believed the nationality of the hijackers to be Iranian.
-- Associated Press
August 1, 2021
Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States accused Iran of using one or more explosive-carrying drones to attack the Mercer Street, an oil tanker traveling in the Arabian Sea near Oman. The strike killed two members of the Mercer Street's crew and—according to a U.S. official—blew a hole in the top of the ship's bridge. Following the attack, the U.S. Navy escorted the Mercer Street to safety. Zodiac Maritime, a London-based company controlled by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer, manages the Mercer Street, whereas the Japan-based firm Taihei Kaiun Co. owns the vessel. The deceased crewmen were nationals of the United Kingdom and Romania, respectively. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that the United Kingdom and its allies planned a joint response to the alleged Iranian strike, which he described as a violation of international law. A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry denied any Iranian involvement in the operation.
-- Associated Press
July 29, 2021
The Bahraini Higher Criminal Court convicted the defunct Bahrain-based financial institution Future Bank, six Future Bank officials, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), and other Iranian banks in a money laundering case. The court fined the parties a total of 19 million Bahraini dinars and confiscated laundered dollars, euros, Emirati dirhams, and Iranian rials worth approximately $1.3 billion. It also sentenced five of the Future Bank officials to ten years in prison and the sixth to a five-year prison term. The convictions followed an investigation by Bahraini prosecutors into a money-laundering scheme by Future Bank, a joint venture between the Iranian financial institutions Bank Melli and Bank Saderat Iran. The CBI and Iran's government allegedly directed the plot, which carried out illict financial transactions for the benefit of Iranian entities, in particular the CBI.
-- The Daily Tribune (Bahrain)
July 22, 2021
The Hong Kong-registered firm China Concord Petroleum Co (CCPC) has obtained at least 14 oil tankers over the past year to transfer Iranian and Venezuelan petroleum to China, according to industry and official sources in China, Venezuela, and Iran. The tankers are together capable of holding about 28 million barrels of oil. CCPC provides Iranian petroleum to six independent Chinese refineries colloquially known as "teapots." Iranian officials described CCPC as a key interlocutor in Iran's export of oil to China, which averaged 557,000 barrels per day between November 2020 and March 2021. Iran's total crude oil exports were over 600,000 barrels per day in June 2021, according to a Reuters survey. In 2019, the United States sanctioned CCPC for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran's petroleum industry.
-- Reuters
July 22, 2021
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran had begun operations at a new oil terminal near the port of Jask in the Gulf of Oman by loading a 100-metric-ton shipment of petroleum there. The new terminal will enable Iranian tankers to bypass the Strait of Hormuz, a major chokepoint between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Rouhani framed the new installation, which took about two years to build, as a way around a possible blockade in the event of armed conflict. According to Rouhani, Iran intends to export 1 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) from the site; the facility's present capacity is 350,000 bpd. The terminal is supplied by a 1,000-kilometer pipeline extending from the city of Goreh in Bushehr Province.
-- Al Jazeera
July 15, 2021
Facebook announced in a July 15 blog post that an Iranian hacker group had created fake profiles on the social media service to contact military personnel and defense contractors in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other European countries in a months-long bid to infect their computers with viruses and steal data. The hackers disguised themselves as journalists, corporate recruiters, employees of defense firms and nongovernmental organizations, and workers employed in the aviation, healthcare, and hospitality industries. According to Facebook, the hackers would try "to move conversations off-platform" through the use of other "collaboration and messaging platforms," then send malware to their targets. Facebook, which removed the fake profiles and blocked related domains, described the effort as part of a "much broader cross-platform cyber espionage operation" and linked the malware to Mahak Rayan Afraz, a Tehran-based firm tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It remains unclear what information, if any, the hacker group—known as "Tortoiseshell"—succeeded in obtaining from its targets.
-- Voice of America
July 14, 2021
According to an unnamed diplomat, Iran told European officials that it was waiting until Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office to return to negotiations meant to bring Iran and the United States back into compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The diplomat said that participants in the negotiations expect them to resume in mid-August; the last round of talks ended on June 20. The U.S. State Department confirmed that Iran had asked for more time to accommodate its presidential transition.
-- Reuters
July 6, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on July 6 that Iran had started the process of producing uranium metal enriched to 20 percent purity at the Fuel Fabrication Plant in Isfahan. Iran claims that it plans to use the enriched uranium metal as fuel for a research reactor. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States criticized the Iranian move as a threat to ongoing negotiations to return Iran to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA prohibits Iran from performing any work related to uranium metal, which can be used in the core of a nuclear weapon. Iran produced a small quantity of unenriched uranium metal earlier this year.
-- Reuters