Trump threatens more sanctions as Iran tries to seize British ship, and diplomatic efforts end inconclusively

US President Donald Trump charged on Wednesday that Iran was secretly enriching uranium as he vowed more sanctions for the country, while an emergency meeting of...

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) — US President Donald Trump charged on Wednesday that Iran was secretly enriching uranium as he vowed more sanctions for the country, while an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), called by the US, ended without result, as did a French attempt at mediation.

“Iran has long been secretly ‘enriching,’ in total violation of the terrible 150 Billion Dollar deal made by John Kerry and the Obama Administration,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

Trump’s tweet marked the first time a US official has charged that Iran is involved in secret uranium enrichment. The tweet also included the warning, “Sanctions will soon be increased, substantially!”—although the existing sanctions are quite tough.

As the US Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, told Al-Arabiya, on Wednesday, the sanctions are costing Iran “$50 billion in revenue annually,” and “the pressure is going to continue.”

“This is not sustainable for the Iranian regime,” Hook affirmed, as he also stressed the need for Iran to end its support for terrorism and proxy groups in the region.

“There is no acceptable level of lethal assistance to its proxies,” Hook continued. “There is no acceptable level of threatening your neighbors day in and day out. They've got to change their behavior.”

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), however, seemed to do the opposite. On Wednesday, the IRGC tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, in retaliation for the earlier British seizure of a tanker, laden with Iranian oil, bound for Syria.

On July 4, British Royal Marines captured a supertanker off the coast of Gibraltar, a small, rocky peninsula, which commands entry into the western Mediterranean. The strategic territory, once part of Spain, was acquired by Britain in the 18th century.

The European Union, of which Britain is still a member, does not enforce the US sanctions on Iran, but the tanker was also violating EU sanctions on Syria. That was the basis for the British seizure of the vessel, which has remained in Gibraltar.

On Friday, an IRGC commander threatened, "If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, the relevant authorities will be duty-bound to take reciprocal action and seize a British oil tanker.” 

Following a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, warned that Britain would face “consequences” for seizing the tanker.

Later that day, five IRGC boats approached a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and tried to force it into Iranian waters. However, the tanker was accompanied by a British frigate, which turned its guns on the Iranian boats, warning them to leave—which they did.

Meanwhile, two diplomatic efforts on Wednesday to find common ground between the US and Iran that would allow for negotiations seem to have made little progress.

In a meeting of the IAEA board of governors at its Vienna headquarters, the US and Iran exchanged insults. Iran wants sanctions lifted before any discussions occur, but the US representative insisted there can be no preconditions to talks.

“The only path to sanctions relief is through such negotiations, not nuclear extortion,” she stated.

For its part, Tehran accused the US of “economic terrorism,” as its ambassador to the IAEA denounced “the sadistic tendency of the United States to use illegal, unilateral sanctions” as an instrument of coercion.

European countries sought to establish a middle ground to save the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA.) They explained, in a shared statement, that they were “deeply concerned that Iran is pursuing activities inconsistent with its JCPOA commitments,” urging Tehran “immediately reverse its actions and avoid any further escalatory steps.”

Moscow however, sided with Iran, blaming the US for the breakdown. As its representative in Vienna tweeted, “many states, including Russia” had “called upon the US to return to the nuclear deal without delay.”

Iran has said that it is no longer bound by the JCPOA and will be taking steps to abrogate it in 60-day intervals, until the European parties to the agreement produce a vehicle for circumventing US sanctions.

On July 1, Iran announced it had produced a uranium stockpile slightly above the limit set by the JCPOA. On July 8, it announced it had enriched uranium to a level slightly above the 3.67 percent limit, also set by the JCPOA.

A senior French diplomat, Emmanuel Bonne, was in Tehran on Wednesday and held talks with Rouhani, as well as Rear-Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, and Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The French are proposing that both the US and Iran stop increasing pressure: “a freeze for freeze.” The US should agree to stop increasing its sanctions and Iran should agree to stop increasing its violations of the JCPOA.

However, as Politico noted in its European Edition, “Iranian officials maintained their publicly defiant position on Wednesday in their meetings with Bonne.”

And the US, for its part, has shown no inclination, at least publicly, to commit to any limits on the sanctions it imposes. Indeed, Trump just tweeted the reverse.

Editing by Nadia Riva