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US fires flare in tense sea face-off

DUBAI, June 21, (Agencies): A U.S. Navy warship fired a warning flare to wave off an Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat coming straight at it during a tense encounter in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, officials said Tuesday. The incident on Monday involving the Guard and the Navy comes as tensions remain high over stalled negotiations over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers and as Tehran enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels under decreasing international oversight.

In this photo made available by the U.S. Navy, a boat of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) operates in close proximity to patrol coastal ship USS Sirocco (PC 6) and expeditionary fast transport USNS Choctaw County (T-EPF 2) in the Strait of Hormuz, Monday, June 20, 2022. (AP)

Meanwhile, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said Iran now plans to enrich uranium through a second set of advanced centrifuges at its underground Fordo facility amid the standoff. The Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Sirocco and Spearheadclass expeditionary fast transport USNS Choctaw County found themselves in the close encounter with three Iranian fast boats while coming through the Strait of Hormuz to enter the Arabian Gulf, the Navy said. In a video released by the Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, a high-speed Guard Boghammar is seen turning head-on toward the Sirocco. The Sirocco repeatedly blows its horn at the Boghammar, which turns away as it closes in. The flare shot can be heard, but not seen, as the Boghammar passes the Sirocco with the Iranian flag flying above it.

The Navy said the Boghammar came within 50 yards (45 meters) of the Sirocco, raising the risk of the vessels running into each other. The overall encounter lasted about an hour, the Navy said. The Guard’s “actions did not meet international standards of professional or safe maritime behavior, increasing the risk of miscalculation and collision,” the Navy said. Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident in the strategic waterway – a fifth of all traded oil passes through the strait. The Navy separately told The Associated Press that this marked the second so-called “unsafe and unprofessional” incident it had with Iran in recent months.

On March 4, three Guard ships had a tense encounter for over two hours with Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels as they traveled out of the Arabian Gulf through the strait, the Navy said. In that incident, the Guard’s catamaran Shahid Nazeri came within 25 yards (22 meters) of the USCGC Robert Goldman, the Navy said. “The two U.S. Coast Guard cutters issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and deployed warning flares,” the Navy said. The Navy did not elaborate on why it did not announce the previous incident, particularly since a larger vessel came even closer to an American warship. However, that was just as a deal in Vienna between Iran and world powers on restoring the nuclear deal looked possible, before the talks broke down.

On Tuesday, the IAEA said its inspectors verified Iran was preparing to enrich uranium through a new cascade of 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Fordo facility. Already, Iran has one cascade of IR-6s operating at Fordo, near the holy Shiite city of Qom, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Tehran. They enrich up to 20% purity. The IAEA said Iran has not told it yet the level at which the second cascade will be enriching.

The European Union Tuesday expressed concern over Iranian non-compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal following recent media reports alleging that Tehran has begun installing advanced IR-6 centrifuges at the underground enrichment plant at Natanz. “EU High Representative Josep Borrell is the coordinator of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ) and as such he is trying his best to make sure that we go back to the full compliance and full delivery by this very important nuclear agreement,” Peter Stano, lead EU Spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy told a news conference in Brussels today. Iranian authorities have detained a number of “agents who worked for the Israeli intelligence network the Mossad.” The official news agency, IRNA, said in a report, on Tuesday, that the Mossad agents plotted to kill Iranian scientists. It quoted Mehdi Shamsabadi, the public prosecutor in Sistan and Baluchestan, as saying that the agents were apprehended after marathon efforts by the national intelligence apparatus that had lasted for eight months.

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