Iran officially started restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities Tuesday, a bid to pressure European countries and President Joe Biden’s administration to lift crippling economic sanctions and restore the 2015 nuclear deal. World powers slammed the restrictions as a “dangerous” move. It came as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press that Iran had added 17.6 kilograms (38.8 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 20% to its stockpile as of Feb. 16.
The UN nuclear watchdog said on February 23 that it is "deeply concerned" that Iran secretly kept "undeclared nuclear material" at an "undeclared location" as the agency warned that Tehran continued to exceed "many limits" set by its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also confirmed in a pair of reports that Iran was already enriching uranium up to 20 percent purity, and that its enriched-uranium stockpile had reached 14 times the limit established by the 4-year-old Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA).
Iranian crude oil exports have fallen in February by about 250,000 barrels per day, tanker tracker Petro-Logistics said Tuesday, suggesting a jump in shipments has run out of steam. The OPEC member’s oil exports climbed in January after a boost in the fourth quarter, despite U.S. sanctions, in a sign that the end of Donald Trump’s term as U.S. President may be changing buyer behaviour. But Geneva-based Petro-Logistics, which assesses the exports by tracking tanker shipments, told Reuters that shipments had fallen to levels seen in November and December, “before the surge in January.”
UANI IN THE NEWS
Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served as Democrats' vice-presidential nominee in 2000, argues the reported meeting 'is the kind of thing that shouldn't happen.'
John Kerry's meetings with Iranian officials after then-President Donald Trump removed the United States from the Iran nuclear deal were "not illegal," but they were "inappropriate," former Sen. Joe Lieberman, who now chairs United Against Nuclear Iran, said Tuesday. "It was very much like what we were upset with Gen. (Michael) Flynn about, with the Russians and others," the Connecticut Democrat and one-time vice presidential candidate said on Fox Business' "Mornings With Maria."
…The two tankers that were flying the Cook Islands flag – the Ermis and the Laka – are alleged to have been involved in shipping Iranian crude by a group called United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) – an American group led by politicians and intelligence officials whose stated goal is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. According to analyst Michelle Wiese Bockmann with shipping industry news outlet Lloyd’s List, UANI provided satellite imagery on the vessel’s movements last October to Maritime Cook Islands (MCI), which operates the country’s ship registry.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran said it was open to a European proposal that would bring its officials together with American negotiators for the first time since the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, even as Tehran took another step to violate the accord by limiting international monitoring of its nuclear activities. Tehran said Tuesday that it is weighing whether to participate in the talks suggested by European Union officials. Iran has rejected direct negotiations with the U.S., as long as American sanctions remain in place and the U.S. remains outside the 2015 deal.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s chief described his weekend deal with Iran on continued monitoring of its nuclear activities for up to three months as one where data is gathered but his agency is only able to access it afterwards. The International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran announced on Sunday that although Tehran would go ahead with its plan to reduce cooperation with the IAEA this week, including ending snap inspections, they had struck a deal on continuing “necessary” IAEA monitoring and verification activities in Iran.
Iran enriched its stockpile of uranium closer to levels needed for a weapon for the first time in eight years, as international inspectors reported they detected traces of the heavy metal at previously undeclared sites. The findings published in two International Atomic Energy Agency reports underscore the difficult road ahead for diplomats trying to defuse an escalating nuclear crisis. With Tehran and Washington at loggerheads over how to return to a 2015 deal, Iran is rapidly advancing its nuclear activities even as new questions arise among investigators looking into places where work may have occurred decades ago.
Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday said they “deeply regret” Iran’s decision to restrict site inspections by the UN’s nuclear watchdog after a US refusal to lift existing sanctions. The three European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran said they were “united in underlining the dangerous nature of this decision.” “It will significantly constrain the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency’s) access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information,” they added.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran said South Korea has begun to release some of the $7 billion it has trapped in the Asian country because of U.S. sanctions, progress toward ending a spat linked to the seizure of an oil tanker. Seoul will free $1 billion in an “initial step” that could eventually resolve the dispute, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said at a news conference in Tehran on Tuesday. Iran has said it wanted to use the funds to purchase medicines during the coronavirus outbreak. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported the unfreezing of the funds would involve consultations with “related countries,” including the U.S., citing the Foreign Ministry in Seoul.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
An Iranian woman who was sentenced to hang for the killing of her husband died from a heart attack, but was strung up anyway, according to her lawyer. The Times U.K. reports Zahra Ismaili collapsed while waiting in line behind 16 other convicts for her turn to be executed. Ismaili’s attorney, Omid Moradi, said his dead client was hanged as a measure of deference to the victim’s family. Arab News reports the victim’s mother was allowed to kick the chair from under Ismaili’s limp and hanging body.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Three people were killed over two days in clashes in the southeastern Iranian town of Saravan near the border with Pakistan, the semiofficial ILNA news agency reported. An angry mob stormed the district governor’s office Tuesday, a day after shootings at the border left at least two people dead. Tuesday’s ILNA report quoted Malak Fazeli, Saravan’s representative in parliament, as saying: “As far as I know, three people lost their lives while being transferred to the hospital.”
CONGRESS & IRAN
Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee this week urged President Biden to reconsider lifting sanctions on Iran, warning that doing so would be a "historic mistake" while saying that the nation poses an "ever-imminent threat to American democracy and national security." The letter, signed by committee Ranking Member John Katko, R-N.Y., and Republicans on the panel, comes after the Biden administration ended the Trump administration’s position on the "snapback" of U.N. sanctions on Tehran.
NORTH KOREA & IRAN
A leaked report on North Korean sanctions by a UN Security Council committee reportedly states that Kim Jong Un's regime and Tehran are working together... again, to develop long range ballistic missiles. Some experts say those missiles could hit the American mainland. "North Korea is a serial proliferator," says Professor Sung-Yoon Lee, a leading North Korean expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. "This is a long and very close partnership between North Korea and Iran."
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Inconsistencies in the Iran government’s explanation of the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane last year raise questions over whether it was intentional, an independent U.N. investigator said on Tuesday, but she had found no concrete evidence that it was. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they shot down the Ukraine International Airlines plane on Jan. 8, 2020, in error shortly after takeoff, mistaking it for a missile at a time when tensions with Washington were high over the U.S. assassination five days earlier of Guards General Qassem Soleimani.
Twitter said on Tuesday it had taken down 373 accounts which it said had ties to Russia, Armenia and Iran and had breached its platform manipulation policies. The company said it had taken down 238 accounts operating from Iran for various violations of its policies. Twitter said 100 accounts with Russian ties were removed for amplifying narratives that undermined faith in NATO and targeted the United States and the European Union.