UN watchdog in crisis talks as Iran boosts nuclear fuel

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iran's nuclear technology organisation chief Ali Akbar Salehi during the "nuclear technology day" in Tehran in April. (HO / Iranian Presidency / AFP)
Updated 07 July 2019
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UN watchdog in crisis talks as Iran boosts nuclear fuel

  • Regime must be held accountable, says US
  • Iran has breached the limit of 300kg for stockpiles of enriched uranium

TEHRAN/VIENNA: The UN’s atomic watchdog has called an emergency crisis meeting to discuss Iran’s growing expansion of its nuclear program.

Tehran has already breached the 300 kg limit for stockpiles of enriched uranium under the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei threatened on Saturday to further boost its uranium enrichment.

The process “will increase as much as needed for our peaceful activities,” international affairs adviser Ali Akbar Velayati said. “For the Bushehr nuclear reactor we need 5 percent enrichment.”

The 2015 deal capped Iran’s enrichment maximum at 3.67 percent, sufficient for power generation but far below the 90 percent level required for a nuclear weapon.

Bushehr, Iran’s only nuclear power station, currently runs on imported fuel from Russia that is closely monitored by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Increasing enrichment closer to weapons-grade was “unanimously agreed upon by every component of the establishment,” Velayati said.

“We will show reaction exponentially as much as they violate it. We reduce our commitments as much as they reduce it. If they go back to fulfilling their commitments, we will do so as well.”

HIGHLIGHT

Analysts say Iran’s breaches so far mean little in terms of developing a nuclear weapon, but are ‘nuclear blackmail’ to pressure the other signatories to the JCPOA into helping Iran to avoid US economic sanctions.

The emergency meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors on Wednesday was requested by Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, the US representative to the IAEA and other international organizations in Vienna.

The US mission in Vienna described as “concerning” the IAEA’s latest report on Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, confirming that Tehran had exceeded the permitted stockpile of enriched uranium.

“The international community must hold Iran’s regime accountable,” the US mission said.

Analysts say Iran’s breaches so far mean little in terms of developing a nuclear weapon, but are “nuclear blackmail” to pressure the other signatories to the JCPOA into helping Iran to avoid US economic sanctions.

However, a larger stockpile of enriched uranium combined with increased enrichment levels narrows the one-year window experts believe Iran would need to have enough material to build a nuclear bomb if it chose to do so.

“This would be a very worrisome step that could substantially shorten the time Iran would need to produce the material needed for nuclear weapons,” said Miles Pomper, a senior fellow at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ James Marin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

“Both Iran and the Trump administration should be looking for ways to de-escalate the crisis, rather than exacerbate it.”


Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process in Sudan. (Reuters)
Updated 24 July 2019
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Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

CHICAGO: US Special Envoy for Sudan Donald E. Booth on Tuesday said that leaders of the military government and the opposition in the African nation are moving toward a reconciliation, but added “there is a lot” that still needs to be done.
Booth, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in June, is charged with leading the US efforts to support a political solution to the current crisis that reflects the will of the Sudanese people.
Both sides in Sudan agreed a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new “Sovereign Council,” before constitutional changes can be made. Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.
“That political declaration really addresses the structure of a transitional government and not the entire structure,” Booth said. “(The July 17 agreement) has put off the question of the legislative council. It is a document that is the beginning of a process. We welcome the agreement on that but there are still a lot of negotiations to be conducted on what the Sudanese call their constitutional declaration.”
The envoy said he expects the Sovereign Council “will have to address what the functions of the different parts of the transitional government will be,” such as the roles and powers of “the sovereign council, the prime minister, the cabinet and, ultimately, the legislative cabinet. Who will lead that transitional government is still undecided.”
The crisis in Sudan came to a head in December 2018 when President Omar Al-Bashir imposed emergency austerity measures that prompted widespread public protests.
He was overthrown by the Sudanese military in April 2018 as a result of the unrest but the protests continued. Demonstrations in Khartoum turned violent on June 3 when 150 civilians were killed, sparking nationwide protests in which nearly a million people took part.
Booth said these protests had changed the dynamics in Sudan, forcing the military to negotiate with the people.
“The 3rd of June was a signal of the limits of people power,” he said. “But then there was the 30th of June, in which close to a million people took to the streets outside of Sudan and I think that demonstrated the limits of the military power over the people.”
Some have asked whether individuals might face prosecution for past human-rights violations, including Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Gen. Hemeti, who was appointed head of the ruling transitional military council in April after Al-Bashir was removed from power. Booth said this would be a decision for the new transitional government.
“One has to recognize that General Hemeti is a powerful figure currently in Sudan,” he said. “He has considerable forces loyal to him. He has significant economic assets as well. So, he has been a prominent member of this transitional military council. But he has been one of the chief negotiators for the forces of Freedom and Change.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Both sides in Sudan agreed on a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new ‘Sovereign Council,’ before constitutional changes can be made.

• Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.

• We will have to wait and see what type of agreement Sudanese will come up with, says US envoy.

“We will have to wait and see what type of agreement they will come up with…we don’t want to prejudge where the Sudanese will come out on that. It is their country and their decision on how they move forward. Our goal is to support the desire for a truly civilian-led transition.”
Booth noted that although sanctions on Sudan have been lifted, the designation of the nation as a state sponsor of terrorism remains in force. He also said he expects the pressures and restrictions on journalists covering Sudan’s transition to ease as progress continues toward redefining Sudan’s government.
“As you can see, there is still a lot that the Sudanese need to do,” said Booth. “But we fully support the desire of the Sudanese people to have a civilian-led transitional government that will tackle the issues of constitutional revision and organizing elections, free and fair democratic elections, at the end of the transitional period.”
He added that the US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process, including expanded religious freedoms, an end to the recruitment of children for military service, and improving Sudan’s economy.
“I think it is important we give the Sudanese space to negotiate with each other, and to continue to express our support to get to the civilian-led transition government that will be broadly supported by the Sudanese people,” said Booth.