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Iran seizes oil tanker, ramps up uranium enrichment to near-nuclear weapon levels


Tensions are rising

Photo by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Iran has begun enriching uranium at 20% — a technical step away from the 90% level needed to produce a nuclear weapon — at its underground facility at Fordo, officials in the country announced Monday.

What are the details?

The regime had previously been enriching uranium at 4.5%, which is still in violation of its 2015 nuclear agreement, though at a significantly lower level, NBC News reported.

The move is the latest in a series of escalating actions against the West and comes on the same day that Iran's Revolutionary Guard seized a South Korean oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

The news also comes just days after satellite photos obtained by the Associated Press showed new construction under way at the facility. Under the nuclear pact, Iran is not permitted to enrich uranium at over 3.5% and is not permitted to enrich uranium at all at its Fordo site, which is located deep within a mountain near the holy city of Qom.

In exchange for limiting enrichment, Iran receives sanctions relief from other parties to the deal: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China.

President Donald Trump removed the United States from the agreement in 2018, arguing the regime could not be trusted and was in fact continuing to construct a bomb in spite of the pact's restrictions.

What else?

Iran has been ramping up its aggressive rhetoric and actions against the U.S. in the waning days of the Trump administration, making some worry that a military conflict may soon commence.

Just last week, top Iranian officials suggested they may attempt to assassinate Trump in retaliation for U.S. forces killing terrorist leader Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike a year ago. Soleimani was the commander of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, which is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S.

At the same time, U.S. military leaders said they were bracing for an attack as the anniversary of Soleimani's death approached.

Anything else?

Officials in Iran apparently feel much better about their prospects with new leadership coming to the White House.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently bragged he has "no doubt" the incoming U.S. administration under Democratic President-elect Joe Biden will "bow" to Iran and rejoin the nuclear deal forged when Biden was vice president.

While on the campaign trail, Biden indicated he would rejoin the deal as a starting point for future negotiations with the terror-sponsoring regime.

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