Archive for February 20, 2021

Israel reportedly expands Dimona nuclear complex

February 20, 2021


Construction work at top-secret facility visible in satellite imagery, The Guardian reports

By TOI STAFFToday, 4:25 am  1

View of the nuclear reactor in Dimona, southern Israel, in 2016. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

View of the nuclear reactor in Dimona, southern Israel, in 2016. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Israel’s top-secret nuclear research facility near the southern city of Dimona is undergoing a major expansion, according to a British report.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported the development on Thursday, saying the construction work is visible in satellite imagery published by an independent expert group.

The section of the complex under construction is several hundred meters (yards) from the complex’s reactor and reprocessing plant, and the purpose of the construction is not known, the report said.

A researcher with the International Panel on Fissile Material, which first noticed the construction in the satellite images, told The Guardian that the construction appeared to have started in early 2019 or late 2018.

Israel’s Dimona nuclear research facility is officially called the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center.

To this day, Israel has never acknowledged that it has a nuclear arsenal, instead maintaining a policy of “nuclear ambiguity” while vowing that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

In major speech, Biden indicates US ready to reengage with Iran on nuke deal

February 20, 2021


President says US ‘prepared to reengage in negotiations’ within UN Security Council framework; tells Munich Security Conference: ‘We must tackle Iran’s destabilizing activity’

By AGENCIES and TOI STAFF19 February 2021, 7:37 pm  3

US President Joe Biden speaks virtually to the Munich Security Conference in Germany, from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 19, 2021. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

US President Joe Biden speaks virtually to the Munich Security Conference in Germany, from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 19, 2021. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

US President Joe Biden indicated Friday he is ready to reengage with Iran on the 2015 nuclear accord, which was abandoned by the Trump administration and which Iran has since been avowedly breaching.

Addressing the Munich Security Conference, Biden said his administration was ready to reenter talks with the UN Security Council on Tehran’s nuclear program.

“We’re prepared to reengage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program,” he said. The P5+1 countries are the six world powers that negotiated the deal with Iran — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

Biden said it was imperative that the United States work with other leading global powers to curb Iran’s “destabilizing” ambitions

“We must also address Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East, and we’re going to work in close cooperation with our European and other partners as we proceed,” Biden said, according to a transcript of the speech released by the White House.

Biden’s administration had said Thursday it was ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has demanded that the US lift sanctions before it returns to talks. It has also rejected discussing other issues, such as its regional activities.

Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have long opposed the agreement and repeatedly warned against the US returning to the deal.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Netanyahu said Israel believes the old agreement will “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.”

Biden was making his first big appearance on the global stage as president, offering allies and other foreign leaders a glimpse into his plans to dramatically reshape US foreign policy even as he deals with a number of international crises that are coming to a head.

A picture taken on February 19, 2021 at the Elysee Palace in Paris shows the screen as French President Emmanuel Macron attend a video-conference meeting with US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during 2021 Munich Security Conference, amidst the coronavirus outbreak. (BENOIT TESSIER / POOL / AFP)

In advance of Biden’s virtual appearances at a G-7 meeting and the Munich Security Conference, the White House sought to underscore that the new administration will move quickly to reorient the US away from Donald Trump’s “America First” mantra by announcing major reversals of Trump administration policies.

Biden declared that the “transatlantic alliance is back,” and that “The United States is determined, determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, earn back our position of trusted leadership.”

He said his administration was again stressing alliance building, in contrast to Trump’s isolationist policies and abrasive treatment of US partners.

“Our partnerships have endured and grown through the years because they are rooted in the richness of our shared democratic values. They’re not transactional. They’re not extractive,” Biden said in clear reference to Trump’s emphasis on redefining allies as economic rivals.

Biden said he was not seeking a return to “the rigid blocs of the Cold War,” insisting that the international community must work together on issues like the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, even where deep disagreements exist on other issues.

But he delivered harsh warnings about the threats he said are posed by Russia and China.

“The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponizes corruption to try and undermine our system of governance,” he said. President Vladimir Putin “seeks to weaken the European project and our NATO alliance.”

Again urging Western unity, Biden said, “it’s so much easier for the Kremlin to bully and threaten individual states than to negotiate with a strong, closely united transatlantic community.”

Similarly, US partners should stand together against “the Chinese government’s economic abuses and coercion that undercut the foundations of the international economic system,” he said.

“Chinese companies should be held to the same standard” as US and European companies facing onerous restrictions on their presence in China, he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a video-conference meeting with US President Joe Biden (on the screen), during 2021 Munich Security Conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris on February 19, 2021 amidst the coronavirus outbreak. (BENOIT TESSIER / POOL / AFP)

And he called on European allies to double down on commitments to fight climate change, warning of a “global existential crisis.”

“We can no longer delay or do the bare minimum to address climate change,” Biden said, just hours after the United States formally rejoined the Paris accord on global warming.

“This is a global existential crisis. We will all suffer consequences.”

“Our partnerships have endured and grown through the years because they are rooted in the richness of our shared democratic values,” Biden said. “They’re not transactional. They’re not extractive. They’re built on a vision of the future where every voice matters.”

His message was girded by an underlying argument that democracies — not autocracies — are models of governance that can best meet the challenges of the moment.

“We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future direction of our world,” Biden said. “Between those who argue that – given all of the challenges we face, from the fourth industrial revolution to a global pandemic – autocracy is the best way forward and those who understand that democracy is essential to meeting those challenges.”

On Thursday at the United Nations, the Biden administration notified the Security Council that it had withdrawn Trump’s September 2020 invocation of the so-called “snapback” mechanism under which it maintained that all UN sanctions against Iran had been reimposed. That determination had been vigorously disputed by nearly all other UN members and had left the US isolated at the world body.

In another move, officials said the administration has eased extremely strict limits on the travel of Iranian diplomats accredited to the United Nations. The Trump administration had imposed the severe restrictions, which essentially confined them to their UN mission and the UN headquarters building in New York.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, June 16, 2020. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

“The idea here is to take steps to remove unnecessary obstacles to multilateral diplomacy by amending the restrictions on domestic travel. Those had been extremely restrictive,” a State Department official told reporters.

Also Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France urged Iran to allow continued United Nations nuclear inspections and stop nuclear activities that have no credible civilian use. They warned that Iran’s actions could threaten delicate efforts to bring the US back into the 2015 deal and end sanctions damaging Iran’s economy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the media in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 2, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Iran is “playing with fire,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who took part in the talks Thursday in Paris with his British and French counterparts. Blinken had joined via videoconference.

Iran has said it will stop part of International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities next week if the West doesn’t implement its own commitments under the 2015 deal. The accord has been unraveling since Trump pulled the US out of the agreement.

Inspectors found suspicious uranium particles at Iranian nuclear sites — report

February 20, 2021


IAEA visited the 2 locations last summer after Iran tried for months to block it, Reuters reports; finding could complicate US return to negotiations with Tehran

By TOI STAFFToday, 2:43 am  0In this Feb. 3, 2007

In this Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, a technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

file photo, a technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors found uranium particles at two Iranian nuclear sites that Iran tried to block access to, according to a Friday report.

Iranian authorities had stonewalled the inspectors from reaching the sites for seven months before the inspection, and Iranian officials have failed to explain the presence of the uranium, the Reuters news agency reported, citing diplomats familiar with the UN agency’s work.

The inspections took place in August and September of 2020, the report said. The IAEA keeps its findings secret and only shared the details of the find with a few countries.

The Wall Street Journal reported the suspicious findings earlier this month, without identifying the material.

The Reuters report did not identify the sites. Earlier reports said one of the sites was in Abadeh, south of Isfahan — a location that in September 2019 was flagged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the site of an alleged secret nuclear facility. Iran denies that it seeks nuclear weapons; Netanyahu is adamant that the regime is fooling the world, and has said that a trove of nuclear documents concerning its rogue program, smuggled out of Tehran by the Mossad two years, proves Iran’s duplicity.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reveals what he says is a nuclear weapons development site in Abadeh, Iran, at the Prime Ministers Office, on September 9, 2019. (Screenshot: YouTube)

The sites the inspectors visited are believed to have been out of use for years. The IAEA and Western intelligence services all believe Iran had a clandestine nuclear weapons program until 2003, though Tehran denies ever attempting to obtain such weapons.

Enriched uranium can be utilized as part of the core of a nuclear weapon, and Iran is required to account for all of its uranium so inspectors can make sure it is not being used for weapons.

The IAEA asked Iran to explain the presence of the uranium particles, but Iranian authorities failed to adequately explain its presence, the report said.

A senior Iranian official told Reuters, “We have nothing to hide. That is why we allowed the inspectors to visit those sites.”

The Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, and the agency, both declined to comment on the report.Illustrative: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran, Jan. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno, File)

The uranium the inspectors found was not enriched, the report said, but could indicate there were clandestine nuclear activities or other hidden materials at the sites.

The findings, and Iran’s failure to explain them, may complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to resume negotiations with Iran. The new administration has repeatedly said it is willing to return to a “longer and stronger” version of the deal, if Iran first returns to compliance.

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 former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Iran has since been steadily violating restrictions on the amount of uranium it can enrich and the purity it is allowed to enrich to, and other limits.

The White House formally announced on Thursday it was ready to resume discussions on the Iranian nuclear program, and US President Joe Biden said Friday in his first major foreign policy speech that his administration was ready to “reengage in negotiations” and also address Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the Middle East.

Iran has demanded that the US lift sanctions before it returns to talks. It has also rejected discussing other issues, such as its regional activities.

Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu, have long opposed the nuclear agreement and repeatedly warned against the US returning to the deal.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Netanyahu said Israel believes the old agreement will “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.”

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France urged Iran to allow continued United Nations nuclear inspections and stop nuclear activities that have no credible civilian use. They warned that Iran’s actions could threaten delicate efforts to bring the US back into the 2015 deal and end sanctions damaging Iran’s economy.

Iran is “playing with fire,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who took part in the talks Thursday in Paris with his British and French counterparts. Blinken had joined via videoconference.

Iran has said it will stop part of IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities next week if the West doesn’t implement its own commitments under the 2015 deal. The agency is also expected to put out a quarterly report on Iranian nuclear activities next week.