News Digest: Week of January 11

January 11

Diplomacy: Iran told South Korea that it had initiated legal proceedings to recoup Iranian funds frozen in Korean banks. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Korean diplomats visiting Tehran that freezing the funds was "illegal" and were the biggest impediment to improved bilateral relations. 

Nuclear: The incoming Biden administration had only "weeks" to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, Rafael Grossi, the world's atomic watchdog chief, said. “It is clear that we don’t have many months ahead of us," he told Reuters. Grossi warned that Iran was "quite rapidly" enriching uranium at 20 percent, a step that could bring Tehran closer to attaining fuel for a bomb.


January 12

Nuclear: Tehran said that it would demand the removal of the snapback provision – which allows a single nuclear deal participant to reimpose all U.N. sanctions on Iran – in any future talks. Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, called the mechanism "irrational" and said that the supreme leader had opposed its inclusion in the 2015 nuclear deal. 

Tourism: Turkish Airlines agreed to resume flights to Mashhad on January 24, Iranian aviation officials said. The popular airliner halted flights to Iran in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Flights had been set to resume in September, but Turkish Airlines extended its suspension of flights to Iran due to the spike of coronavirus cases in the autumn. 


January 13

Nuclear: Iran began research on producing uranium metal, which can be used as a core component of a nuclear weapon, the Wall Street Journal reported. Iran claimed that the metal would be used to develop advanced fuel for its civilian research reactor. The metal would be produced at a manufacturing site in Isfahan.

Military: Israeli warplanes struck Iranian-backed forces in eastern Syria, the Associated Press reported. At least 57 fighters were reportedly killed and several warehouses used to store Iranian weapons were destroyed. The Trump administration provided intelligence to Israel for the strikes, a senior U.S. official told the AP.

Wargames: Iran's conventional navy began a two-day military exercise in the Gulf of Oman. Its largest ship, the Makran, and a missile-launching warship, the Zereh, participated in the exercise.