Iran To Begin Enriching Uranium Up To 20%, As Soleimani Killing Anniversary Nears

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Iran To Begin Enriching Uranium Up To 20%, As Soleimani Killing Anniversary Nears

From November 2020, after US President Donald Trump was announced the loser of the presidential election, there’s been constant chatter of an incoming US and Israeli strike against it.

On January 1st, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reported Iran’s forces in the Persian Gulf are now on high alert, possibly in preparation for some level of either offensive or defensive action. She cited an unnamed US official.

“Iranian maritime forces in the Persian Gulf raised readiness levels in last 48 hours,” Starr writes based on a US defense official. But it remains that it’s “not clear if moves are ‘defensive’ because expect US attack, or are signals Iran preparing for operations in the Gulf against the US,” the official said.

The top commander of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami said on January 1st that his country was fully prepared to respond to any U.S. military pressure as tensions between Tehran and Washington remain high in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Gen. Salami said at a commemoration event Friday at Tehran University that “Today, we have no problem, concern or apprehension toward encountering any powers. We will give our final words to our enemies on the battlefield.”

However, the USS Nimitz was sent back to the US from the Persian Gulf in a presumed sign of deescalating tension, but this is likely not the case.

In mid-December, reports surfaced that Iran has begun construction on a site at its underground nuclear facility at Fordo amid tensions with the U.S. over its atomic program, according to satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press.

While the purpose of the building remains unclear, any work at Fordo likely will trigger new concern in the waning days of the Trump administration before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Construction on the Fordo site began in late September. Satellite images obtained from Maxar Technologies by the AP show the construction taking place at a northwest corner of the site, near the holy Shiite city of Qom, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Tehran.

Iran is also building at its Natanz nuclear facility after a mysterious explosion in July there that Tehran described as a sabotage attack.

“Any changes at this site will be carefully watched as a sign of where Iran’s nuclear program is headed,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who studies Iran.

Asked for comment, Iran’s mission to the United Nations told the AP that “none of Iran’s nuclear activities are secret,” given the ongoing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

We have always maintained that our current activities, which are in line with (the nuclear deal), can and will be immediately reversed once the other parties, including the U.S., come into full compliance with what was agreed upon, in particular on removing sanctions,” mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi said.

The Vienna-based IAEA, whose inspectors are in Iran as part of the nuclear deal, declined to comment. The agency as of yet has not publicly disclosed if Iran informed it of any construction at Fordo.

On January 1st, reports surfaced that Iran plans to enrich uranium up to 20% at its underground Fordo nuclear facility.

This was confirmed by the IAEA.

The decision comes after parliament passed a bill, later approved by a constitutional watchdog, aimed at hiking enrichment to pressure Europe into providing sanctions relief. It also serves as pressure ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he’s willing to reenter the nuclear deal.

“Iran has informed the agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium … up to 20 per cent at the Fordo Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the IAEA said in a statement.

The IAEA added Iran did not say when it planned to boost enrichment, though the agency “has inspectors present in Iran on a 24/7 basis and they have regular access to Fordo.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to the Vienna-based IAEA, wrote on Twitter on Friday that Tehran planned to resume enrichment up to 20% after a Wall Street Journal journalist reported the news.

IRNA later reported Ulyanov’s comments, linking the decision to the parliament bill aimed at restarting higher enrichment at Iran’s underground Fordo facility. It also offered no timeframe for starting the higher enrichment.

Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, called the letter “self-explanatory,” but declined to answer questions about when the 20% enrichment would begin.

Many experts expect that the upcoming Biden administration will work to at least partly de-escalate the situation with Iran by limiting the Trump-initiated ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against the country and considering to return to the nuclear deal (JCPOA). At the same time, Israel and its best friends in the White House have been undertaking active actions to create conditions in which any de-escalation with Iran would become almost impossible.

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