News Briefs

March 22, 2021
March 22: Western intelligence agencies have concluded that Iran is hiding aspects of its nuclear program, including machinery, pumps, spare parts for centrifuges, and carbon fiber—a key component for producing advanced centrifuges—from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). According to intelligence officials, the material and equipment is concealed in 75 containers spread across locations under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). These containers regularly move between sites administered by the AEOI or the IRGC, with most of the containers recently moved from the AEOI's Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan to IRGC-controlled sites. Iran must declare certain equipment and material relevant to its nuclear program to the IAEA under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The intelligence agencies believe that Iran possessed some of the undeclared equipment before the 2015 accord took effect, but obtained other components on the black market afterwards.
-- The Telegraph
March 20, 2021
U.S. prosecutors charged 10 Iranians with concealing $300 million in transanctions over two decades to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran on behalf of Iran's government. At the same time, prosecutors filed a civil forfeiture action to seize $157 million. According to U.S. officials, defendants Issa Shayegh, Salim Henareh, and Seyed Ziaeddin Taheri Zangakani started the Los Angeles-based company Persepolis Financial Services in 1999 to illicitly transfer U.S. dollars to Iran. Henareh, Shayegh, and Zangakani later moved to Canada and the United Arab Emirates, where they allegedly employed Persepolis and a front company, Rosco, to engage in further transanctions with assistance from co-defendants Abbas Amin and Reza Karimi. Among the specific transactions alleged by U.S. prosecutors were a transfer of $20 million to Malaysia in 2012 to purchase piping equipment for an Iranian oil company and the $50 million purchase of two oil tankers that same year through a front company in Hong Kong. The defendants reside abroad, and U.S. prosecutors declined to say whether foreign governments had been asked to detain them.
-- Reuters
March 18, 2021
According to satellite imagery, Iran has completed underground launch positions at the Khorgo ballistic missile site in the southwest of the country, which began construction three years ago. Photographs show four holes dug into the side of a nearby mountain, three of which appear to be hardened vertical launch positions. Each launch position can quickly fire two ballistic missiles. On March 15, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) unveiled an underground facility equipped with dozens of missiles, apparently for naval use, at an undisclosed location.
-- Fox News
March 16, 2021
On March 15, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had begun enriching uranium with a cascade of 174 advanced IR-4 centrifuges at the underground portion of the Natanz nuclear facility. The deployment of these centrifuges violates the international agreement restricting Iran's nuclear program, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which requires Iran to only enrich uranium using less efficient IR-1 centrifuges. Iran intends to add another IR-4 cascade at the Natanz site but has yet to begin installation. Iran is also currently using 522 IR-2m centrifuges in three cascades to enrich uranium in the underground plant at Natanz, after having begun to install them there last year.
-- Reuters
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