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Tuesday , August 20 2019

Iraqis say Gulf Arab States can secure waterways alone

Iran ups enriched uranium

BAGHDAD, Aug 13, (Agencies): Iraq’s foreign minister says Iraq and Gulf Arab states don’t need foreign powers to secure navigation in the Arabian Gulf as that would only increase regional tensions.

Mohammed al-Hakim tweeted Monday that regional states are capable of securing the strategic waterway themselves. Al-Hakim’s tweet was in response to efforts by the Trump administration to set up a US-led naval security mission in the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran’s recent seizures of vessels has raised tensions with the West.

The US wants an international coalition to monitor and potentially escort commercial ships there. Britain said last week it would join the mission; no other US allies have committed themselves so far. Al-Hakim stressed Israel’s participation in such a mission was unacceptable. It’s not clear if Israel has been asked to participate. Iran on Tuesday increased its stockpile of enriched uranium 4.5 percent to about 370 kg, said the Iranian news agency (IRNA). “Iran increased its stockpile of enriched uranium about 360 to 370 kg,” IRNA quoted Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi as saying.

Last month, Iran announced that it had enriched uranium with a purity of 4.5 percent as part of a decision to reduce its nuclear pledges after the expiration of the 60-day deadline it gave two months ago to the EU countries. Iran believes that these measures are in response to the withdrawal of the US from the nuclear agreement last year and the failure of the European countries to fulfill their obligations under the agreement reached in 2015 between Tehran and the Group P5+1.

Earlier Tuesday, Iran laid the cornerstone of the National Research Center to separate and develop stable isotope uses at the Fordow nuclear facility. Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi said, “The stable isotopes are diverse and have many uses and methods of obtaining them are numerous, including centrifuges.” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States on Monday of turning the Gulf region into a “matchbox ready to ignite”, according to Al Jazeera television.

Oil tanker traffic passing through the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz has become the focus of a US-Iranian standoff since Washington pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions to strangle Tehran’s oil exports. After explosions that damaged six tankers in May and June and Iran’s seizure of a British-fl agged tanker in July, the United States launched a maritime security mission in the Gulf, joined by Britain, to protect merchant vessels. Zarif, in interview remarks cited by Qatar-based Al Jazeera, said the Strait “is narrow, it will become less safe as foreign (navy) vessels increase their presence in it”.

“The region has become a matchbox ready to ignite because America and its allies are fl ooding it with weapons,” he said. Zarif, who arrived on Sunday in Doha, met on Monday with Qatari Amir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani for talks to convey that message, Iranian state-run media reported. Qatar, which hosts one of the biggest US military bases in the Middle East, is trying not to be drawn into the escalating confl ict between Washington and Tehran. The British territory of Gibraltar will not yet release an Iranian oil tanker seized by Royal Marines in the Mediterranean despite an Iranian report that it could do so on Tuesday, an official Gibraltar source said. The commandeering of the Grace 1 on July 4 exacerbated frictions between Tehran and the West and led to retaliatory moves in Gulf waterways used to ship oil. Britain accused the vessel of violating European sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a charge Tehran denies.

The deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation, Jalil Eslami, said on Tuesday that Britain was thinking of freeing the Grace 1 following an exchange of documents. “The vessel was seized based on false allegations,” Eslami said in comments reported by state news agency IRNA. “We hope the release will take place soon.” Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, quoting unidentified Gibraltar authorities, said the tanker would be freed by Tuesday evening. However, a senior source in the government of British overseas territory denied that would happen on Tuesday. Although Grace 1 was seized by British forces, Britain said on Tuesday that investigations into the tanker Grace were a matter for Gibraltar.

The territory has denied Iran’s claim that the action was taken on the orders of Tehran’s longtime foe Washington. “As this is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to comment further,” a British Foreign Office spokesman said. Tehran has denied the vessel was doing anything improper and in retaliation Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps troops seized the British-fl agged Stena Impero tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 for alleged marine violations.

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