Iran began enriching uranium Monday to levels unseen since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and also seized a South Korean-flagged tanker near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, a double-barreled challenge to the West that further raised Mideast tensions. Both decisions appeared aimed at increasing Tehran's leverage in the waning days in office for President Trump, whose unilateral withdrawal from the atomic accord in 2018 began a series of escalating incidents, the AP reports. Increasing enrichment at its underground Fordo facility puts Tehran a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%, while also pressuring President-elect Joe Biden to quickly negotiate. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seemed to acknowledge Tehran's interest in leveraging the situation in a tweet about its nuclear enrichment.
"Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL," Zarif wrote. At Fordo, Iranian nuclear scientists under the watch of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors loaded centrifuges with over 285 pounds of low-enriched uranium to be spun up to 20%, Iranian officials said. Meanwhile, Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard seized the MT Hankuk Chemi, The ship had been traveling from a petrochemicals facility in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. Iran claimed it seized the vessel over it allegedly polluting the Persian Gulf. The seizure comes as a South Korean diplomat was due to travel to the Islamic Republic to discuss the release of billions of dollars in Iranian assets now frozen in Seoul.
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