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Iran on Monday seized a South Korean oil tanker and announced it would boost uranium refinement, moving the country closer to nuclear weapons.
The developments occurred on the first anniversary of the US killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
The head of Iran’s elite Quds Force was taken out in a US airstrike at Baghdad International Airport — a blistering attack that left the warmonger’s body “torn to pieces,” officials said at the time.
“At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” the Pentagon said in a statement last January.
They added that Soleimani was planning attacks on American diplomats and soldiers in Iraq when he was killed.
US officials had since feared a retaliatory attack on the anniversary of Soleimani’s death.
Instead, Iran took possession of the South Korean ship, ostensibly to prevent pollution, and provocatively announced it would advance its uranium refinement processes.
The South Korean ship seizure coincided with an Iranian announcement that a South Korean official would visit to discuss un-freezing billions of dollars in Iranian assets, The Associated Press reports.
The uranium enhancement boost, meanwhile, will see Iran resume 20 percent enrichment of uranium, which reportedly is one technical step away from the 90 percent purity required for bomb-making.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on state TV that President Hassan Rouhani gave the go-ahead for 20 percent refinement at the country’s Fordo nuclear facility.
The AP reports that Israel, which has its own nuclear weapons but has vowed to block Iran’s program, nearly attacked Iranian facilities in 2005 when the country last began 20 percent enrichment.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the news by saying, “Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture a nuclear weapon.”
An Iranian nuclear facility mysteriously caught fire in July. A leading Iranian nuclear scientist was murdered in November, allegedly by remote-controlled machine gun while traveling with his wife.
The change in uranium enrichment comes as President Trump prepares to hand over power to President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20.
Ahead of the Soleimani anniversary, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned Trump to avoid “adventurism on his way out” after Trump threatened punishment if Iran killed Americans in Iraq in revenge for the general’s death.
Trump withdrew the US in 2018 from former President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and reimposed harsh economic sanctions. Some Democrats want Biden to rejoin the deal.
Trump said the Obama agreement did little to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and didn’t block Iran from involvement in several Mideast conflicts. Trump recently said the quieting of regional civil wars was linked to.Iran’s economic hobbling.
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