Archive for January 17, 2021

France says Iran building nuclear weapons capacity

January 17, 2021

French FM warns Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ tactics only increased risk posed by Tehran; comments come after Iranian announcement of advancing research on uranium metal production

By TOI STAFFToday, 1:56 pm  5

The Bushehr nuclear power plant outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, File)

The Bushehr nuclear power plant outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, File)

France’s Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian on Saturday said that Iran was aiming to acquire nuclear weapons capacity with its breaches of the 2015 nuclear agreement, and only a full return to that deal could prevent Tehran from achieving its goal.

Speaking to the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Le Drain accused the outgoing United States leadership of exacerbating the crisis with Iran and pushing Tehran to advance its nuclear program.

“The Trump administration chose what it called the maximum pressure campaign on Iran. The result was that this strategy only increased the risk and the threat,” Le Drian said.

“This has to stop because Iran and – I say this clearly – is in the process of acquiring nuclear [weapons] capacity,” he warned.

Le Drian said it was urgent to “tell the Iranians that this is enough” and to try to bring both Iran and the United States back into the accord.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and his Lebanese counterpart Nassif Hitti, hold a news conference following their meeting at the Lebanese foreign ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, July. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

The landmark 2015 deal between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions has been largely in tatters since US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian government has signaled a readiness to engage with incoming president Joe Biden, who takes office on January 20 and who has expressed willingness to return to diplomacy with Tehran.

“Tough discussions will be needed over ballistic proliferation and Iran’s destabilization of its neighbors in the region,” Le Drian said.

The comments came after Iran told the UN nuclear watchdog last week that it was advancing research on uranium metal production, saying it is aimed at providing advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.File: In this photo released on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, a truck containing a cylinder of uranium hexafluoride gas leaves Ahmadi Roshan uranium enrichment facility in Natanz to the Fordo nuclear facility for the purpose of injecting the gas into Fordo centrifuges (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

European powers on Saturday voiced deep concern over the plans, warning that Tehran has “no credible civilian use” for the uranium.

“The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications,” said the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, the so-called E3, in a joint statement.

Uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons. Iran had agreed to a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys” under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 with world powers.

“We strongly urge Iran to halt this activity, and return to compliance with its JCPOA commitments without further delay if it is serious about preserving the deal,” said the ministers.

The Iranian breaches of the deal have included exceeding the stockpile limit on enriched uranium, enriching beyond the permitted purity level, and using more advanced centrifuges than permitted.

Iran recently informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of its plans to increase enrichment to 20 percent, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.Part of the Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of Tehran, Iran, Jan. 15, 2011 (Mehdi Marizad/Fars News Agency via AP, File)

A decision to begin enriching to 20% purity a decade ago nearly triggered an Israeli strike targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities. Tensions abated only slightly with the 2015 deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Iran says all of its breaches of the 2015 deal’s limits are reversible, but insists that the US has to come back to the deal and lift sanctions first.

European nations have warned that Iran’s moves risk “compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US administration.”

Last week the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said that there were “weeks” left to salvage the nuclear deal.

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the Reuters Next conference that Tehran was advancing “quite rapidly” toward enriching uranium to 20 percent, as it has announced it would, in breach of the accord. He said the IAEA has assessed Iran will be able to produce some 10 kilograms a month.

Agencies contributed to this report.

E3: Iran making uranium metal, a nuke component, has ‘grave military’ potential

January 17, 2021

Britain, France and Germany say Tehran has ‘no credible civilian use’ for the material, which it says it is now researching in breach of nuclear deal

By AGENCIES and TOI STAFF16 January 2021, 4:16 pm  6

File: An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

File: An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

BERLIN, Germany — European powers on Saturday voiced deep concern over Iran’s plans to produce uranium metal, warning that Tehran has “no credible civilian use” for the element.

“The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications,” said the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, the so-called E3, in a joint statement.

Uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons. Iran had signed up to a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys” under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 with world powers.

“We strongly urge Iran to halt this activity, and return to compliance with its JCPOA commitments without further delay if it is serious about preserving the deal,” said the ministers.

Their call came after Iran told the UN nuclear watchdog on Wednesday that it was advancing research on uranium metal production, saying it is aimed at providing advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.File: In this photo released on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, a truck containing a cylinder of uranium hexafluoride gas leaves Ahmadi Roshan uranium enrichment facility in Natanz to the Fordo nuclear facility for the purpose of injecting the gas into Fordo centrifuges (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

In a response to the foreign ministers’ statement, Iran’s atomic energy organization urged the IAEA to avoid creating any “misunderstanding,” adding that it had not yet “presented the design information questionnaire (DIQ) of the uranium metal factory” to the watchdog.

This would be done “after carrying out the necessary preparations and… within the deadline set by law,” the organization said, in reference to a five-month deadline set by the Iranian parliament in December, mandating Tehran to ready the factory.

It said it hoped the IAEA would not cause further “misunderstanding in the future, by refraining from mentioning unnecessary details in its reports.”

The landmark 2015 deal between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions has been largely in tatters since US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions.

The Iranian government has signaled a readiness to engage with President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on January 20 and who has expressed willingness to return to diplomacy with Tehran.

The Iranian breaches have included exceeding the stockpile limit on enriched uranium, enriching beyond the permitted purity level, and using more advanced centrifuges than permitted under the deal.

Iran recently informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of its plans to increase enrichment to 20 percent, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.A graphic shows the scientific process of uranium enrichment to weapons-grade level (Phil Holm/AP)

A decision to begin enriching to 20% purity a decade ago nearly triggered an Israeli strike targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities. The tensions only abated with the 2015 deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Tensions have increased since the assassination in late November of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

In the aftermath of the attack, which Iran blamed on Israel, hardliners in Tehran pledged a response and Iran’s parliament passed a controversial law calling for expanded nuclear activity and for an end to IAEA inspections.

The law also demanded Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization “operate a facility of metal uranium production” within five months.

Iran says all of its breaches of the 2015 deal’s limits are reversible, but insists that the US has to come back to the deal and lift sanctions first.Part of the Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of Tehran, Iran, Jan. 15, 2011 (Mehdi Marizad/Fars News Agency via AP, File)

European nations have warned that Iran’s moves risk “compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US administration.”

Earlier this week the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said that there were “weeks” left to salvage the nuclear deal.

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the Reuters Next conference that Tehran was advancing “quite rapidly” toward enriching uranium to 20 percent, as it has announced it would, in breach of the accord. He said the IAEA has assessed Iran will be able to produce some 10 kilograms a month.

Report: Biden team already holding talks with Iran on US return to nuclear deal

January 17, 2021


Channel 12 says officials in the incoming administration have updated Israel on the deliberations, as wary Jerusalem pushes for a broader accord

By TOI STAFF16 January 2021, 9:13 pm  5

Left: US President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 14, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware (AP Photo/Matt Slocum); Right: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 9, 2020 (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Left: US President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 14, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware (AP Photo/Matt Slocum); Right: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 9, 2020 (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Officials in the incoming Biden administration have already begun holding quiet talks with Iran on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and have updated Israel on those conversations, Channel 12 News reported Saturday.

The network gave no sourcing for the report, and no details on what was allegedly discussed.

US President-elect Joe Biden has indicated his desire to return to the accord, while Israel is pushing for any return to the deal to include fresh limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terror and destabilization around the world.

On Wednesday, Walla News reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is assembling a team to strategize for the first talks with the Biden administration on Iran’s nuclear program.

The team will include officials representing national security elements, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the military, the Mossad spy agency, and the Atomic Energy Commission, the report said, citing unnamed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office.

US President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Friday, Jan. 8, 2021 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Netanyahu is considering appointing a senior official to head the team and to serve as an envoy in talks with the US on the Iranian nuclear program, the report said.

A possible candidate to head the team is Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, the report said.

Channel 12 reported Saturday that Cohen was in Washington this week to meet with officials in the outgoing and incoming administrations.

US President-elect Joe Biden is expected to take a more conciliatory approach to Iran than the Trump administration and has said that if Iran returns to the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement, he too would rejoin, removing the crushing economic sanctions that have wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy over the past two years.

The US president-elect has indicated that he wants to negotiate more broadly with Tehran if Washington returns to the deal, notably over its missiles and influence across the Middle East. Iran has said it could welcome the return of the Americans to the agreement, but only after they lift sanctions. It has rejected negotiation on other issues.

Former US president Barack Obama, with Biden as his vice president, signed the Iran nuclear deal with world powers in 2015. The Trump administration withdrew from the accord in 2018 and pressured Iran with crippling economic sanctions and other measures.Then-US secretary of state John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, January 16, 2016 (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP, File)

Obama signed the agreement despite fierce protest from Israel, and had a rocky relationship with Jerusalem and Netanyahu, while the premier and Trump have been in lockstep on most Middle East policy issues.

The prospect of the US reengaging with Tehran has drawn warnings and alarm from Netanyahu and his allies.

Last week, speaking alongside US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in Jerusalem, Netanyahu warned against the US rejoining the nuclear agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“If we just go back to the JCPOA, what will happen and may already be happening is that many other countries in the Middle East will rush to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. That is a nightmare and that is folly. It should not happen,” Netanyahu said.

Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi said Wednesday the incoming US administration must not “appease” Iran, and warned Tehran the Jewish state will not tolerate its military presence in Syria or its development of nuclear weapons.

Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi attends an event at Kedem in the West Bank on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

In one of the most forceful statements recently made by an Israeli official, Hanegbi, considered an ally of Netanyahu, threatened that Israel could attack Iran’s nuclear program if the United States rejoined the nuclear deal.

Iran and the Trump administration have engaged in an ongoing exchange in recent months as President Donald Trump’s tenure draws to a close and Iran marked the one-year anniversary of the US assassination of its general Qassem Soleimani.

The back and forth has included threats, military maneuvers, legal action and escalating Iranian violations of the nuclear deal. Israeli and Iranian officials have also exchanged threats in recent weeks.

Channel 12 said Saturday that during his meetings with top Trump administration officials, Mossad chief Cohen was given the impression that there was no plan to attack Iran during the final days of the administration.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly accused Iran of harboring al-Qaeda terrorists on Wednesday.Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at a Tel Aviv University cyber conference, on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent last week, well in excess of the threshold set out in the nuclear deal and a short jump from the level of enrichment needed to produce weapons.

Further complicating the Biden administration’s plans to reengage with Tehran were two high profile assassinations this year in Iran that were attributed to Israel. Top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was gunned down outside Tehran in November in a hit Iranian officials blamed on Israel. In August, Israeli agents killed al-Qaeda’s second-in-command in Tehran at the behest of the US, according to a New York Times report.