Thursday July 2nd, 2020 5:23PM

The Latest: UN nuclear inspectors on the ground in Iran

By The Associated Press
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on tensions in the Persian Gulf region between the U.S. and Iran (all times local):

2:00 p.m.

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog says it has inspectors on the ground in Iran who will be able to look into reports that Tehran began injecting uranium gas into advanced centrifuges in violation of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency told The Associated Press Saturday it was aware of the reports "related to Iran's centrifuge research and development."

The Vienna-based IAEA says "agency inspectors are on the ground in Iran and they will report any relevant activities to IAEA headquarters."

Meantime, IAEA Acting Director General Cornel Feruta was traveling Saturday to Iran.

The agency said he will meet Sunday with high-ranking officials in Tehran as part of what it said were its "ongoing interactions" related to its monitoring under the nuclear deal. The IAEA, which issues compliance reports, meets in Vienna on Monday.

___

1:30 p.m.

The U.S.'s top defense official has condemned Iran's latest breach of the terms of its nuclear deal with world powers, following Tehran's announcement it was using faster centrifuges.

In Paris, U. S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Saturday the Iranian moves should not surprise anyone.

At a news conference with his French counterpart, Florence Parly, Esper said: "It's no surprise that the Iranians are going to pursue what the Iranians have always intended to pursue."

Iran denies Washington's accusations that it seeks to develop a nuclear bomb, insisting its program is for peaceful purposes.

Parly said the focus should remain on keeping Iran in the 2015 deal. She said France "will continue to push in that direction."

The U.S. unilaterally pulled out of the accord over a year ago.

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12:45 p.m.

Iran's semi-official news agency is reporting the country's coast guard has seized a foreign towboat and its 12 Filipino crew members near the Strait of Hormuz, amid regional tensions.

ISNA reported Saturday that the coast guard said the crew was smuggling nearly 280 thousand liters of fuel.

In recent months, Iran has increased its number of maritime patrols in the strategic strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, following raised tensions between Tehran and Washington.

The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier on Wednesday Iran allowed seven foreign crew members of the British-flagged Stena Impero oil tanker to leave the country.

In July, Iran seized the tanker after Britain seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar, which was released later.

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10:20 a.m.

Iran's atomic energy spokesman is issuing new warnings about its nuclear deal with world powers.

Behrouz Kamalvandi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said Saturday that Iran had the ability to go beyond 20% enrichment of uranium.

Analysts say 20% is just a short technical step away from 90% enrichment, which is weapons-grade level.

Kamalvandi also is warning that "Europeans should know that there is not much time left" to save the 2015 deal.

However, he added that Iran will continue to allow U.N. inspectors to access nuclear sites in the country.

Iran already has gone beyond the stockpile and enrichment level limits set by the deal.

This comes over a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal.

___

10:10 a.m.

Iran's atomic energy spokesman says Tehran is injecting uranium gas into advanced centrifuges, in a further breach of the 2015 deal with world powers.

Behrouz Kamalvandi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran made the remarks Saturday in a news conference carried on live television.

He spoke from a podium as centrifuges stood next to him.

Iran already has gone beyond the stockpile and enrichment level limits set by the deal.

This comes over a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions on the country.

___

8:35 a.m.

The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet says it is ready to maintain the safety of shippers in the region following an earlier American warning of a "maritime threat" in the Red Sea off of Yemen.

Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Joshua Frey declined to specifically discuss the warning.

The alert from the U.S. Transportation Department's Maritime Administration read: "A maritime threat has been reported in the Red Sea in the vicinity of Yemen. The nature of the event is potential increased hostilities that threaten maritime security."

The alert that went out early Saturday did not specify what the threat was.

___

8:10 a.m.

U.S. officials are warning that a "maritime threat" has been reported in the Red Sea off of Yemen.

The alert that went out early Saturday did not specify what the threat was. However, it comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S.

The alert from the U.S. Transportation Department's Maritime Administration read: "A maritime threat has been reported in the Red Sea in the vicinity of Yemen. The nature of the event is potential increased hostilities that threaten maritime security."

The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet and the U.S. military's Central Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

The capital and areas of war-torn Yemen remain held by the country's Houthi rebels, which are allied to Iran. Shipping in the Red Sea has been targeted previously by rebel attacks.

___

7:05 a.m.

Satellite images appear to show the once-detained Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya-1 near the Syrian port of Tartus, despite U.S. efforts to seize the vessel.

Images obtained by The Associated Press early Saturday from Maxar Technologies showed the vessel there.

Iranian officials haven't acknowledged the ship went to Syria. The ship turned off its Automatic Identification System late Monday.

The new images matched a black-and-white image earlier tweeted by John Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser.

Bolton had tweeted: "Anyone who said the Adrian Darya-1 wasn't headed to #Syria is in denial."

Authorities in Gibraltar had seized the ship in July over concerns it would break European Union sanctions on Syria. They later released it after they say they received a promise from Iran that the vessel wouldn't go there.

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