Archive for September 5, 2019

Rouhani: Starting Friday, Iran to develop faster nuclear enrichment centrifuges

September 5, 2019

Source: Rouhani: Starting Friday, Iran to develop faster nuclear enrichment centrifuges | The Times of Israel

Iranian president says third step away from 2015 nuclear deal will be of ‘an extraordinarily significant nature’ unless Europe comes up with solution

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (L) addresses parliament in the capital Tehran on September 3, 2019. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani (L) addresses parliament in the capital Tehran on September 3, 2019. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian officials ratcheted up pressure Wednesday ahead of a weekend nuclear deadline for European nations to come up with a solution for Iran to sell its oil abroad in the aftermath of escalated US sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani reiterated a threat that Tehran would take additional steps away from the 2015 nuclear accord on Friday and accelerate nuclear activities if Europe fails to provide a solution, calling it Iran’s third, “most important step” away from the deal.

“Iran’s third step is of an extraordinarily significant nature,” Rouhani said, without giving details.

Later on Wednesday, Rouhani elaborated, saying in comments aired on state TV that starting on Friday, Iran’s atomic agency would work on the research and development of “all kinds” of centrifuge machines that can more quickly enrich uranium. However, he said the activities will be “peaceful” and under surveillance of the UN nuclear watchdog.

“From Friday, we will witness research and development on different kinds of centrifuges and new centrifuges and also whatever is needed for enriching uranium in an accelerated way,” the president said in an address broadcast on state TV. “All limitations on our Research and Development will be lifted on Friday.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a conference in Tehran, Iran, August 26, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Under the nuclear deal, Iran has been limited to operating 5,060 older-model IR-1 centrifuges. A centrifuge is a device that enriches uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.

The country is allowed to test no more than 30 of the stronger, IR-6 centrifuges once the deal has been in place for 8 1/2 years. The deal is murky about limits before that point, which will arrive in 2023.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Ministry announced that seven members of the 23-member crew of the seized British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero held in the Persian Gulf would be released — an apparent good-will gesture meant to defuse tensions.

Iran seized the tanker on July, saying it violated Iranian laws, after authorities in the British territory of Gibraltar seized an Iranian tanker said to be to be carrying fuel to Syria in violation of EU sanctions on oil sales to Damascus.

The Iranian vessel — the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1 — was released earlier this month and set sail for eastern Mediterranean. It turned off its tracking beacon off the coast of Syria this week, leading to renewed speculation that its oil will end up there, despite earlier assurances to the contrary.

Both Rouhani and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi expressed doubts Europe would succeed in salvaging the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

A view of the Grace 1 super tanker with the name removed is seen in the British territory of Gibraltar, August 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

US sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the deal have curbed Iran’s oil exports and sent its economy into freefall while what was left of the deal steadily unraveled.

French officials said the US has a pivotal role in the European bid to get Iran to comply, notably that Washington issue waivers for specific oil deals, according to French officials.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters Tuesday that Trump must “obligatorily issue waivers on this or that point.” The French president’s top diplomat had the same message: The diplomat said, credit lines or not, a potential deal “only works with American waivers” so that transactions can be made, notably with China, Japan, and India, three main clients of Tehran. The official asked to remain anonymous, given the sensitive nature of the subject.

The official suggested that a new step by Iran away from the nuclear deal does not kill efforts to save it.

Tensions have spiked across the Persian Gulf over mysterious tanker explosions, the shooting down of a US military surveillance drone by Iran and America deploying more troops and warplanes to the region.

Under the nuclear agreement, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. But since Trump’s pullout, Iran has already taken steps contrary to the terms of the deal although it insisted they remained within the framework of the deal.

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iran-made Bavar-373 air-defense missile system is seen after being unveiled by President Hassan Rouhani, Iran, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the deal. The UN agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed under the deal but still far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.

French President Emmanuel Macron is leading talks seeking relief for Iran and de-escalation of tensions. This week, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif travelled to Moscow while Araghchi went to Paris and elsewhere in Europe to press for a solution.

Little seems to have come out of those trips.

“I see that it’s unlikely a conclusion will be reached with Europe today or tomorrow,” Rouhani said.

Araghchi was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying “it is unlikely European countries can take an effective step” before the deadline.

Meanwhile, the idea of a phased credit line to pre-purchase Iranian oil has been floated amid the diplomatic efforts, something Araghchi reiterated.

Europe, he said, needs to compensate Iran in the “amount of $15 billion over a 4-month span” and “after that, Iran is ready for talks.”

Rouhani indicated that after Friday’s deadline expires and Iran takes the next step, another two-month deadline to Europe will follow with the aim to resume talks.

“They know what we want, and we know what they want,” Rouhani said.

Later on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state TV that while judicial procedure on the British-flagged oil tanker is still underway, the captain of the ship has been asked — under Iran’s “humane policy” — to let seven of the crew return to their country.

He said the captain decided seven crew members from India would be the ones to leave.

Erik Hanell, CEO of the Swedish shipping group Stena Bulk that owns the Stena Impero, said it wasn’t immediately clear when the seven would be freed. The remaining 16 crew members are to stay onboard the vessel.

“Their ordeal may soon be over, and they may return to their families, however, we cautiously await official confirmation of their release date,” Hannell said, adding the announcement was “a positive step on the way to the release of all the remaining crew, which has always been our primary concern and focus.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this article.


Now is not time to talk to Iran, Netanyahu says en route to London 

September 5, 2019

Source: Now is not time to talk to Iran, Netanyahu says en route to London | The Times of Israel

A day after Tehran announces further violation of nuclear deal, and with Trump saying meeting with Rouhani is ‘possible,’ PM urges increased pressure on regime

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, left, and Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, center, at the Nevatim Air Force Base on July 9, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, left, and Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, center, at the Nevatim Air Force Base on July 9, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Amid efforts to broker a diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse between the United States and Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday morning called for amping up the pressure on the regime in Tehran.

“This is not the time to conduct talks with Iran — this is the time to increase the pressure on Iran,” he declared as he made his way to London for meetings with his British counterpart and a a top US defense official.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump did not rule out meeting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in the near future. Asked by reporters at the White House whether he might meet with Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, which takes place in New York later this month, Trump responded: “Sure, anything is possible.”

Also on Wednesday, Rouhani announced additional steps away from the 2015 nuclear agreement, vowing to accelerate nuclear activities if Europe fails to provide satisfy Tehran’s demands.

As of Friday, Iran’s atomic agency would work on the research and development of “all kinds” of centrifuge machines that can more quickly enrich uranium, he vowed. However, the activities will be “peaceful” and under surveillance of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rouhani said.

“This morning we were informed of another violation, more defiance, by Iran, this time in its striving to attain nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told reporters Thursday as he boarded a Boeing 777 to London. “This joins Iran’s aggressive acts against international shipping and against countries in the region, as well as its efforts to carry out murderous attacks against the State of Israel, efforts that have not ceased.”

During the hastily arranged trip to the British capital, Netanyahu will meet with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was busy this week handling a revolt within his Conservative party over his controversial plan to leave the European Union by the end of next month.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) shakes hands with his British counterpart Boris Johnson during a meeting in Tehran on December 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

The UK is one of the signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and continues to firmly back the agreement, but has recently clashed with the Islamic Republic after it detained a UK-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. British authorities had previously seized a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the coast of Gibraltar.

Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who is currently in London.

With Esper, who was sworn into office less than two months ago, Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, wants to talk about “Israel’s security needs,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office. The two spoke by telephone on Tuesday night and decided to expand on their conversation in London, Netanyahu’s office said.

In this July 8, 2019, photo, acting US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper waits for the arrival of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Earlier this week, Hebrew media reported that Jerusalem has been discussing with the US administration a grand presidential gesture underlining America’s commitment to Israeli security in the coming days, including a possible statement on the two allies’ intent to enter into a defense pact.

The most likely action, the newspaper said, was a vow by Trump that the US will defend the Jewish state from any potential existential threat, though such a statement would have few practical implications. The proposed declaration has largely been seen as an effort by Trump to boost Netanyahu ahead of the September 17 elections.

Israel Air Force chief Major General Amikam Norkin and IDF Head of Operations Directorate Major General Aharon Haliva are accompanying Netanyahu on the snap visit, which was announced by the Prime Minister’s Office the day before.

The timing of Netanyahu’s trip to London raised some eyebrows among political analysts, given the turmoil currently engulfing the British political system that is sure to take priority over any other matter in 10 Downing Street.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.


Pompeo to Lebanon: Get rid of 2nd Iranian missile factory or face US-backed Israeli attack – DEBKAfile

September 5, 2019

Source: Pompeo to Lebanon: Get rid of 2nd Iranian missile factory or face US-backed Israeli attack – DEBKAfile

DEBKAfile Exclusive: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Lebanon on Wednesday, Sept. 4, that Israel knows about a second, larger Iranian-Hizballah missile factory and is preparing to bomb it.
Pompeo addressed this urgent message directly to Lebanese Foreign Minister Jubran Basil, who is close to Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah, instead of through the usual embassy channels. He sent it on the day after the IDF showed reporters detailed evidence of the existence of a factory at Nebi Shait for arming Hizballah’s surface missiles with precision kits.

The Secretary wrote that Israel intelligence is fully apprised that Iran and Hizballah were building another, more substantial factory in Lebanon, to accommodate their main missile upgrade project. They had hoped to use the Nebi Shait plant as window dressing to throw Israel off the scent.

Pompeo directed Lebanon to dismantle this second factory without delay since Israel was in advanced preparations for its destruction. He stressed that Israel would be acting with full American support, whatever the consequences of the operation. Our sources note that the American message did not specify the location of Missile Factory No. 2.

In support of the US ultimatum to Beirut, Israel on Wednesday night boosted its air defense array on the Lebanese and Syria borders with extra Patriot missiles. They were deployed in case Hizballah retaliated for the potential destruction of its main missile project by launching explosive drones into Israel.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s surprise trip to London – this time in his additional capacity as defense minister – fits in with these preparations. In addition to meeting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Netanyahu will meet separately with the US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper. With him are the Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Nurkin and head of the IDF Operations Directorate Maj. Gen. Aharon Havilah. They will present Israel’s plans of action in Lebanon in the days ahead.