News Briefs

September 27, 2019
A British tanker detained by Iran was released and has left Iranian territory. The Stena Impero, which is owned by the Swedish company Stena Bulk, was seized in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), two weeks after an Iranian tanker was detained in Gibraltar. Iranian authorities held the Stena Impero in Bandar Abbas port under accusations of colliding with a fishing boat and not responding to calls. Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization announced that it had released the Stena Impero "despite there being an open court case" against it. The tanker has since reappeared on shipping tracking websites.
-- BBC
September 26, 2019
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed that Iran is now enriching uranium with advanced centrifuges in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). An IAEA report verified that two R&D lines at Iran's Natanz facility, each of which contains up to 20 centrifuges, "were accumulating, or had been prepared to accumulate, enriched uranium." The Agency also reported that Iran is in the process of installing 164-machine cascades of IR-4 and IR-2m models, both of which were removed under the JCPOA. Iran informed the IAEA in a letter on September 25 of the additions, which also include a 165-machine cascade of IR-6 centrifuges. Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran can only use first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz, with a small number of more advanced models allowed for research purposes.
-- Reuters
September 25, 2019
The United States sanctioned several state-owned Chinese companies for allegedly shipping Iranian oil to China. The sanctioned entities include two subsidiaries of shipping giant Cosco Group: Cosco Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Co. and Cosco Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Seaman & Ship Management Co. The sanctions also affect more than four dozen Cosco Group ships. Additionally, the United States blacklisted Kunlun Shipping Co. and Kunlun Holding Co., which are connected to the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).
-- The Wall Street Journal
September 19, 2019
A new intelligence report from the German state of Hesse found that Iran engaged in proliferation efforts connected with weapons of mass destruction in 2018. The report states that Iran "attempted to acquire and redistribute such weapons in the context of proliferation," as did North Korea, Pakistan, and Syria. It details the use of foreign academics in fields such as electrical engineering and chemical-biological processes in support of proliferation. The report also highlights Iran and China's use of cyber activities to facilitate "scientific goals." The conclusions are similar to those in reports released earlier in 2019 from the German states of Bavaria and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. 
-- The Jerusalem Post
September 15, 2019
The United States says that Iran was likely behind attacks on key Saudi Arabian oil facilities. The U.S. government released satellite photos showing at least 17 points of impact on the facilities which indicate that the strikes came from the north or northwest. These findings suggest that the attack likely originated in Iranian or Iraqi territory rather than in Yemen, where Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the strikes. According to U.S. intelligence, the attacks involved a combination of drones and cruise missiles, which also indicates a level of military sophistication beyond that which Houthi rebels alone have shown. Iran rejected the accusations, while Iraq affirmed that Iranian operatives did not initiate the attacks from Iraqi territory.
-- The New York Times
September 10, 2019
Israel accused Iran of destroying a secret facility where it had conducted nuclear weapon experiments. In a televised speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed satellite images from the past summer of the facility south of Isfahan which allegedly showed that Iran had destroyed the site. Netanyahu claimed that Iran destroyed the facility after learning that Israel had discovered it, adding that the intelligence was based on documents from the Tehran archive obtained by Mossad in a covert operation last year. Netanyahu gave no additional details of the alleged nuclear work or when it occurred, but said that Israel has shared its intelligence with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 
-- The Wall Street Journal
September 8, 2019
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) took samples from a Tehran facility that showed traces of uranium, according to two diplomats. Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flagged the site -- which Iran never declared under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- as a "secret atomic warehouse" containing 15 kg of radioactive material. The IAEA inspected the site in April and took environmental samples, which can show the presence of radioactive particles even after the material has been removed. Previous reports indicated that the IAEA had found unspecified radioactive material, which the two diplomats now reveal was uranium. IAEA Acting Director-General Cornel Feruta met with Iranian officials in recent days and "stressed that these interactions (on its nuclear commitments) require full and timely cooperation by Iran."
-- Reuters
September 7, 2019
Iran announced that it would begin using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA capped Iran at approximately 6,000 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges with a small number of more advanced models allowed for research purposes. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said that Iran would lift limitations on "research and development imposed by the deal," including the implementation of 20 IR-6 centrifuges as well as tests of the IR-8 model. Iran says that these steps are reversible if European partners can restore its access to international trade, setting another 60-day deadline for Europe before it will further reduce JCPOA commitments.
-- Reuters
September 3, 2019
Iran is building a new military base in Syria where it plans to deploy thousands of troops, according to multiple Western intelligence sources. Top leaders in Tehran approved the classified project and charged the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force with building the Imam Ali Compound on the Syria-Iraq border, less than 200 miles from a U.S. Army position. Satellite images from Image Sat International (ISI) confirmed the ongoing construction, which began in recent months and is already in advanced stages. ISI analysts say that the images show five buildings capable of housing precision-guided missiles as well as a number of fortified storehouses, likely for ammunition. The construction reportedly marks the first time that Iran is building a base of this scale in Syria from scratch.
-- Fox News
September 3, 2019
China has reportedly agreed to invest $500 billion in Iran's energy, transportation, and manufacturing industries over the next 25 years. According to a source from Iran's petroleum ministry, the two sides met at the end of August to discuss the agreement, which is part of the China-Iran comprehensive strategic partnership signed in 2016. China plans to invest $280 billion in Iran's oil, gas, and petrochemical sectors with payments over five-year periods, and $120 billion in its transportation and manufacturing infrastructure with a similar payment structure. China also agreed to increase imports of Iranian oil in defiance of U.S. sanctions. China will also be able to buy Iranian energy at a discount, can delay payments for up to two years, and can pay in soft currencies, meaning it will not have to use U.S. dollars.
-- Petroleum Economist