News Digest: Week of January 4

January 4

Maritime: Iran seized a South Korean-flagged chemical tanker, the Hankuk Chemi, in the Persian Gulf. The ship’s 20-member crew, which included nationals from South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar, was detained at the Bandar Abbas port. Tehran denied that the crew were being held as hostages, instead accusing the vessel of polluting its waters. “If there is any hostage-taking, it is Korea’s government that is holding $7 billion, which belongs to us, hostage on baseless grounds,” said Ali Rabiei, a government spokesperson.  

Nuclear: Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent at an underground nuclear facility, a major breach of the 2015 nuclear deal. The landmark agreement, negotiated between Iran and six major world powers, stipulated that Tehran could only enrich uranium to 3.67 percent. 


January 5

Finance: The Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI seized $7 million of Iranian assets in a civil forfeiture case. The U.S. government investigated three Iranians and one U.S. citizen who had defrauded South Korean banks from 2011 to 2014. The funds would be given to American victims of state-sponsored terrorism.

Health: Iran recorded its first case of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom. No trace of the virus was found in the patient's relatives, the Health Ministry said

Military: Iran began a two-day military exercise showcasing its drones. The exercise included tests of bombers, interceptors and reconnaissance drones. "If enemies commit the slightest mistake, the armed forces will surely respond fiercely,” Mohammad Baqeri, chief of staff of the armed forces, told state media. 


January 6

Diplomacy: A South Korean delegation visited Iran to demand the release of the chemical tanker and its 20-member crew seized by Iran. South Korea's vice foreign minister was also scheduled to visit Tehran on January 10. 

Nuclear: Britain, France and Germany – all party to the 2015 nuclear deal – rebuked Iran for its decision to enrich uranium up to 20% and urged it to reverse course. “This action, which has no credible civil justification and carries very significant proliferation-related risks, is in clear violation of Iran’s commitments,” they said in a joint statement. “It also risks compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming U.S. Administration.”