Archive for November 4, 2019

European Union warns Iran over nuclear deal after uranium claims 

November 4, 2019

Source: European Union warns Iran over nuclear deal after uranium claims | The Times of Israel

EU says it will wait for UN confirmation on Tehran’s announcement of increased production, cautions that Europe’s commitment to 2015 pact depends on Iranian compliance

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels, October 28, 2019. (Francisco Seco/AP)

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels, October 28, 2019. (Francisco Seco/AP)

The European Union on Monday warned that it could back away from supporting the Iran nuclear deal, after Tehran announced a major increase in enriched uranium production.

Following a series of steps away from its commitments under the 2015 accord, the head of the Iranian atomic energy agency said Monday that production of enriched uranium had reached five kilos a day and two new advanced centrifuges had been developed.

Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, said that the EU’s backing for the deal depends on Tehran keeping up its end of the pact.

She said the bloc “took note” of the announcement but would wait for confirmation by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency before responding.

“We have continued to urge Iran to reverse such steps without delay and to refrain from other measures that would undermine the nuclear deal,” Kocijancic told reporters in Brussels, saying the EU “remained committed” to the nuclear deal.

“But we have also been consistent in saying that our commitment to the nuclear deal depends on full compliance by Iran.”

The Vienna-based IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday on Iran’s announcement. The UN agency is tasked with monitoring Tehran’s nuclear activities to assess its compliance with the 2015 agreement with major powers, which has been severely undermined by Washington’s abandonment of it in May last year.

There was also no immediate reaction from Israel or the United States, which backed away from the deal last year.

Tehran decided in May to suspend certain commitments under the accord, a year after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic republic.

By starting up the advanced centrifuges, Iran further cut into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon — if it chose to pursue one. Iran long has insisted its program is for peaceful purposes, though Western fears about its work led to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Iran has so far hit back with three packages of countermeasures and threatened to go even further if the remaining partners to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — fail to help it circumvent US sanctions.

 

Iran announces fresh violations of nuclear deal with extra, advanced centrifuges

November 4, 2019

Source: Iran announces fresh violations of nuclear deal with extra, advanced centrifuges | The Times of Israel

Tehran’s nuclear chief says domestically made centrifuge in development is 50 times faster than those allowed under 2015 accord

Screen capture from video showing Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear agency, right, and three Iranian-produced uranium enrichment centrifuges in the background. (YouTube)

Screen capture from video showing Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, right, and three Iranian-produced uranium enrichment centrifuges in the background. (YouTube)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Monday broke further away from its collapsing 2015 nuclear deal with world powers by announcing it’s doubling the number of advanced centrifuges it operates, calling the decision a direct result of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement.

The announcement — which also included Iran saying it now has a prototype centrifuge that works 50 times faster than those allowed under the deal — came as demonstrators across the country marked the 40th anniversary of the 1979 US Embassy takeover that started a 444-day hostage crisis.

By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon — if it chose to pursue one. Iran long has insisted its program is for peaceful purposes, though Western fears about its work led to the 2015 agreement that saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Tehran has gone from producing some 450 grams (1 pound) of low-enriched uranium a day to 5 kilograms (11 pounds), said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

Salehi dramatically pushed a button on a keyboard to start a chain of 30 IR-6 centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, where he was being filmed, increasing the number of working centrifuges to 60.

“With the grace of God, I start the gas injection,” the US-trained scientist said.

The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. Salehi also announced that scientists were working on a prototype he called the IR-9, which worked 50-times faster than the IR-1.

As of now, Iran is enriching uranium to 4.5%, in violation of the accord’s limit of 3.67%. Enriched uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. At the 4.5% level, it is enough to help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will announce further steps away from the accord sometime soon, government spokesman Ali Rabiei separately said Monday, suggesting Salehi’s comments could be followed by additional violations of the nuclear deal. An announcement had been expected this week.

Iran has threatened in the past to push enrichment back up to 20%. That would worry nuclear nonproliferation experts because 20% is a short technical step away from reaching weapons-grade levels of 90%. It also has said it could ban inspectors from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Vienna-based IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday on Iran’s announcement.

Iran’s uranium conversion facility near Isfahan, which reprocesses uranium ore concentrate into uranium hexafluoride gas, which is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment, March 30, 2005. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Iran broke through its stockpile and enrichment limitations to try to pressure Europe to offer it a new deal, more than a year since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord. But so far, European nations have been unable to offer Iran a way to help it sell its oil abroad as it faces strict US sanctions.

Meanwhile Monday, demonstrators gathered in front of the former US Embassy in downtown Tehran as state television aired footage from other cities across the country making the anniversary.

“Thanks to God, today the revolution’s seedlings have evolved into a fruitful and huge tree that its shadow has covered the entire” Middle East, said Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander of the Iranian army.

However, this year’s commemoration of the embassy seizure comes as Iran’s regional allies in Iraq and Lebanon face widespread protests. The Iranian Consulate in Karbala, Iraq, a holy city for Shiites, saw a mob attack it overnight. Three protesters were killed during the attack and 19 were wounded, along with seven policemen, Iraqi officials said.

Trump retweeted posts by Saudi-linked media showing the chaos outside the consulate. The violence comes after the hard-line Keyhan newspaper in Iran reiterated a call for demonstrators to seize US and Saudi diplomatic posts in Iraq in response to the unrest.

The collapse of the nuclear deal coincided with a tense summer of mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities that the US blamed on Iran. Tehran denied the allegation, though it did seize oil tankers and shoot down a US military surveillance drone.

The US has increased its military presence across the Mideast, including basing troops in Saudi Arabia for the first time since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Both Saudi Arabia and the neighboring United Arab Emirates are believed to be talking to Tehran through back channels to ease tensions

 

Russia deactivates its S-400 batteries at the Khmeimim air base – and all Syria – DEBKAfile

November 4, 2019

Source: Russia deactivates its S-400 batteries at the Khmeimim air base – and all Syria – DEBKAfile

Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense batteries at the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria have been quietly “deactivated,” according to Russian military sources and publications. This has not been officially confirmed or denied. One source said that today, not a single S-400 is operational anywhere in Syria.

Three months ago, DEBKAfile’s military sources cited the Syrian military as reporting that the Russian S-400s posted outside the important Syrian military compound at Masyaf in the west had been “deactivated” indicating the shutdown of their radar systems.

Our sources note that, although Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems have been deployed in Syria for the past four years, they have never been used against the assaults mounted by Israel’s Israeli Air Force against Iranian military targets. All the same, in spite of the coordination and understandings forged between Russia and Israel, Israeli air crews have always taken the presence of these advanced weapons into careful consideration whenever they flew into Syrian air space.
The reason for the Russian decision to switch off its air defense is a matter of speculation, whether because of budgetary pressure or perhaps preparatory to the evacuation of all those systems from Syria. Another theory is that Moscow has been so successful in marketing its S-400s to foreign countries, that it has run short of them for Russia’s own fronts, such as the Black Sea or opposite the Baltic states.

This week, for the first time since the Russians military intervention in the Syrian war began in 2015, an American B-52 strategic bomber flew over Khmeimim and then headed down the Syrian coast before turning east and landing in Jordan. Our sources report that the lone US bomber was likely on a mission to test Russia’s reported neutralization of its state-of-the-art defense systems in Syria.