News Briefs

March 4, 2021
Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), announced that Iran and the IAEA had agreed to hold "technical" meetings in early April to discuss the IAEA's concerns about the truthfulness of Iran's past declarations about its nuclear facilities. In response to the agreement, European countries paused plans to censure Iran at a meeting of the IAEA's board; Iran had earlier threatened to cease cooperation with the IAEA if the censure motion went ahead. The Iranian newspaper Vatan-e-Emrooz also reported that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had ordered a halt to Iran's recent production of uranium metal. Grossi said he had received no new information about Iran's production of the metal, which violates a 15-year ban contained in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but Iran's government did not dispute the newspaper report.
-- The Guardian
February 28, 2021
Iran declined an invitation from the European Union (EU) to engage in direct negotiations with the United States about the Iranian nuclear program. The EU had raised the idea of an informal meeting between all the countries party to the JCPOA, the 2015 nuclear accord from which the United States withdrew in 2018. The United States agreed to attend the meeting as an observer. Iran cited unspecified recent actions of the E3 (France, Germany, the United Kingdom) and the United States in its rejection of the proposal, instead calling on the United States to immediately lift economic sanctions and rejoin the JCPOA. Iran suggested that the EU could mediate a process where Iran and the United States make limited concessions as trust-building measures before arranging a meeting; the United States has yet to respond to that offer. EU officials expressed concern that a window for diplomatic progress could soon close. The start of the Iranian new year holiday on March 20 could further delay talks, and Iranian officials told their European counterparts that negotations during the Iranian presidential campaign beginning in April or May could prove challenging. Iran also threatened to abandon a recent interim agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in response to E3 plans to introduce a resolution censuring Iran for accelerating its nuclear program early this year.
-- The Wall Street Journal
February 27, 2021
In an "initial assessment" given to the public broadcaster Kan, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz blamed Iran for an explosion a day earlier on the MV Helios Ray, a vessel owned by the Israeli company Ray Shipping operating in the Gulf of Oman. According to Israeli media, Israeli defense officials suspect that the Iranian Navy struck the ship with two missiles in a precision strike meant to damage but not sink the vessel. An Israeli delegation reportedly planned to travel to the Dubai port where the vessel had docked to investigate. An unnamed U.S. official said that the explosion left holes above the waterline on both sides of the ship.
-- Reuters
February 16, 2021
Iran and Russia began a three-day military exercise in the northern part of the Indian Ocean. Participants in the "Maritime Security Belt" drill include the Iranian Navy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy, and the Russian Navy; the Indian Navy will also participate. The exercise will span 17,000 square kilometers of the Indian Ocean. Iranian Rear Admiral Gholamreza Tahani described the goals of the drill as combating piracy and terrorism and supporting international trade. China, Iran, and Russia conducted another naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean in December 2019, and Russia hosted drills with China and Iran in September 2020.
-- Voice of America
February 15, 2021
According to the U.S. Defense Department and unnamed Israeli officials, Iran organized a 16-person cell to surveil the embassies of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa as part of a wider operation to identify potential targets in Africa. The Israeli officials accused the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security of involvement. Ethiopian authorities detained 15 members of the cell, which had explosives and weapons in its possession. Sweden arrested the alleged leader of the cell, Ahmed Ismail, who had been staying in the country. Iran denied any role in the alleged scheme. An unnamed American official described the detentions in Ethiopia as connected to a purported Iranian plot to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, revealed by the news media last year. Ethiopian and Sudanese officials claimed that another cell had been plotting to bomb the Emirati embassy in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
-- The New York Times
February 10, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran began producing uranium metal at a nuclear facility in Isfahan on February 6. Iran produced 3.6 grams of natural uranium metal in a "laboratory experiment," according to the IAEA. About half a kilogram of highly enriched uranium metal can be used in the core of a nuclear weapon. Earlier, Iran said it would make uranium metal to prepare fuel for a nuclear research reactor in Tehran. The 2015 nuclear accord prohibits Iran from producing uranium metal for 15 years.
-- The Wall Street Journal
February 9, 2021
Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi threatened that Iran would consider pursuing a nuclear weapon if U.S. sanctions continued to "push Iran in that direction." This statement is counter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's 2003 fatwa forbidding the pursuit of nuclear weapons. At the same time, an Israeli Defense Forces intelligence assessment estimates that Iran would need at least two years to develop a nuclear weapon, due in part to a lack of components and scientific and technical expertise. However, unnamed Israeli intelligence officials also said that Iran had accumulated enough uranium for almost three nuclear weapons if the material were enriched to weapons grade. Such enrichment is theoretically possible in about five months, according to the Israel officials.
-- The New York Times
February 8, 2021
A report by a United Nations expert panel determined that Iran and North Korea cooperated on long range missile projects in 2020. Citing information from a member state, the U.N. report noted that the cooperation included "the transfer of critical parts," with the most recent shipment taking place in 2020. According to the report, Shahid Haj Ali Movahed Research Center received "support and assistance" on a space launch vehicle from North Korean missile experts. Iran denied the allegations in the report.
-- Bloomberg
February 6, 2021
Iran opened a factory for the production of shoulder-fired missiles and a plant for the production of hybrid solid fuel for missiles. According to Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami, the second plant will produce solid fuel for anti-tank, surface-to-air, and surface-to-surface missiles.
-- Kayhan
February 5, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) determined that samples taken from two locations in Iran last fall contain traces of radioactive material, suggesting evidence of undeclared nuclear activities in Iran. Iran had denied IAEA inspectors access to the two sites for seven months last year. In a report last June, the IAEA listed other areas of concern for nuclear weapons work, including a suspicion that Iran had drilled a uranium metal disk, the presence of nuclear material at a site where Iran also tested high explosives, and an undeclared location where Iran might have converted and processed uranium illicitly.
-- The Wall Street Journal