News Briefs

May 24, 2021
May 24: After discussions between Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), and Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran agreed to a one-month extension of a deal allowing the IAEA to maintain surveillance cameras at Iranian nuclear facilities. However, the AEOI has continued to deny the IAEA access to the cameras' recordings until the United States lifts economic sanctions on the country. The AEOI and the IAEA struck the initial three-month deal in February, after Iran's parliament passed a law curtailing Iranian compliance with the IAEA's Additional Protocol, an agreement that enhances the IAEA's ability to inspect Iranian nuclear sites. Iran had threatened to delete the recordings from the cameras after the end of that three-month window. Grossi described the arrangement as "not ideal" and likened it to "an emergency device."
-- Associated Press
May 19, 2021
Bahrain's public prosecution office referred the Central Bank of Iran, Bank Melli Iran, Bank Saderat Iran, and other Iranian banks for criminal trial after accusing them of laundering $1.3 billion through Future Bank, a Manama-based financial institution that Bahrain shuttered in 2016. According to Bahraini authorities' investigation of Future Bank's activities between 2008 and 2012, the Central Bank of Iran instructed Future Bank on how to exploit an illicit alternative transfer system to hide the origin and movement of money, so as to circumvent sanctions on Iranian entities. Additional investigations into similar violations involving Future Bank and the Iranian banks are ongoing and are expected to identify more suspect entities, according to Bahraini authorities.
-- Asharq Al-Awsat
May 15, 2021
Unnamed Western intelligence officials assert that Iran helped the Palestinian militant group Hamas develop weapons used to strike Israel. The officials believe that Hamas commanders routinely traveled to Iran to receive training in the production and operation of weapons and to tour the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC's) own rocket-production facilities. According to the intelligence officials, Iran has also provided Hamas with technical advice for building weapon-production facilities in the Gaza Strip. One official said that Iranian support, which increased after Hamas' 2014 war with Israel, has led to "significant improvements in terms of range, precision, and the extent of destruction" of Hamas' weapons. Israeli defense officials have also concluded that Hamas' medium-range M-75 and J-80 rockets, while manufactured in Gaza, are based on Iranian designs.
-- The Daily Telegraph
May 12, 2021
Advocate General Gerard Hogan, an official at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, said in a nonbinding opinion that an EU company may not legally stop doing business with an Iranian company if the EU company acted solely out of concern of being affected by U.S. sanctions on Iran. The opinion was a response to a request for advice from judges who were hearing a case in German courts. A German company, Telekom Deutschland, terminated a contract with Bank Melli, an Iranian financial institution that has a branch office in Hamburg, in response to the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran in 2018, leading Bank Melli to file a lawsuit. Hogan stated that Iranian companies should have the ability to invoke an EU blocking statute that prohibits EU companies from complying with U.S. sanctions. He added that the statute obliges EU companies to explain their decisions to end commercial relations with U.S.-sanctioned Iranian companies. The reach of U.S. secondary sanctions has been a point of contention between the European Union and the United States.
-- Reuters
May 11, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on May 11 that "fluctuations" of enrichment levels at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility increased the fissile purity of uranium enriched there to up to 63 percent, citing environmental samples taken on April 22. Iran had begun enriching uranium to 60 percent purity in April. The IAEA report also noted that Iran was using a cascade of 27 IR-5 and 30 IR-6 centrifuges to enrich depleted uranium left over from that process to 5 percent purity. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 international agreement placing restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, requires that Iran enrich uranium to no more than 3.67 percent purity.
-- Reuters
May 9, 2021
On May 9, the U.S. Navy announced that the cruiser USS Monterey had confiscated weapons from a stateless dhow in the Arabian Sea, which appeared to be transporting the cargo to Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The arms hidden below the vessel's deck included almost 3,000 Chinese-made assault rifles, hundreds of machine guns and sniper rifles, hundreds of optical sights and rocket-propelled grenades, and dozens of Russian-manufactured anti-tank guided missiles. A U.S. defense official said that interviews with the dhow's crew and an inspection of the weapons indicated that the ship had originated in Iran. An arms embargo imposed by the U.N. Security Council in 2015 prohibits the provision of weapons to the Houthis.
-- Associated Press
April 22, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on April 21 that Iran was using just one cascade of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium to 60 percent purity at the aboveground portion of the Natanz nuclear facility, instead of the two it had been using previously. A single cascade of IR-6 centrifuges continued to enrich uranium to 60 percent while the other cascade, comprised of IR-4 centrifuges, now enriched the depleted uranium from the IR-6 centrifuges to 20 percent. The IAEA did not clarify the reason for the shift, nor did it specify the number of centrifuges in each cascade. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 international agreement placing limits on Iran's nuclear program, obliges the country to enrich uranium to no more than 3.67 percent purity.
-- Reuters
April 21, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on April 21 that Iran had installed six cascades of "up to" 1,044 IR-2m centrifuges and two cascades of "up to" 348 IR-4 centrifuges at the underground portion of the Natanz nuclear site. The IAEA did not specify how many of the newly installed centrifuges Iran was using to enrich uranium. Iran also informed the IAEA that it plans to install four additional cascades of IR-4 centrifuges in the underground facility, where an explosion and power outage earlier in the month damaged an unknown number of centrifuges. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 international agreement restricting Iran's nuclear program, limits the country to the use of less efficient IR-1 centrifuges at the underground portion of Natanz.
-- Reuters
April 16, 2021
Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, speaker of the Iranian Parliament, announced on April 16 that Iran had begun enriching uranium gas to 60 percent purity. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), specified that Iranian centrifuges were producing nine grams of uranium enriched to 60 percent per hour but that this amount would decrease to five grams per hour in the near future. Earlier in the week, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited the Natanz nuclear facility and said that Iran’s planned 60-percent enrichment would take place at the aboveground portion of the site. Iranian officials and state media cast the move to 60-percent enrichment as a response to the previous week’s sabotage at Natanz, which damaged centrifuges there. Before then, Iran had been enriching uranium to 20 percent. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 international agreement placing limits on Iran’s nuclear program, prohibits Iran from enriching uranium to more than 3.67 percent. The European Union, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom expressed concern at the Iranian decision.
-- Associated Press
April 11, 2021
Iran's Natanz nuclear facility suffered a power outage that Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), described as "nuclear terrorism" on April 11. Unnamed Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials said that an Israeli-orchestrated explosion had destroyed an internal power system feeding electricity to underground centrifuges at Natanz. The officials said that Iran could need at least nine months to return Natanz's enriched uranium production to previous levels. Behrouz Kamalvandi, an AEOI spokesman, reported that the entire complex had lost power but claimed that there were no casualties or damage. Israel neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the action.
-- The New York Times