Trump accuses Iran of secret nuclear enrichment and warns of ‘substantial’ new sanctions

Iran's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Kazem Gharib Abadi under pressure at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting in Vienna Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 11 July 2019
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Trump accuses Iran of secret nuclear enrichment and warns of ‘substantial’ new sanctions

  • Washington accuses Iran of 'nuclear extortion' during IAEA governors meeting
  • IAEA inspectors confirm that Iran was now enriching uranium to 4.5% purity

WASHINGTON/VIENNA: President Donald Trump accused Iran on Wednesday of secretly enriching uranium for a long time and said US sanctions would be increased “substantially” soon, as the UN nuclear watchdog held an emergency meeting on Tehran’s breach of a nuclear deal.
Washington used the session of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors to accuse Iran of extortion after it inched past the deal’s limit on enrichment levels, while still offering to hold talks with Tehran.
Iran says it is reacting to harsh US economic sanctions imposed on Tehran since Trump pulled out of world powers’ 2015 nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic last year, and says all its steps were reversible if Washington returned to the deal.

“Iran has long been secretly ‘enriching,’ in total violation of the terrible 150 Billion Dollar deal made by John Kerry and the Obama Administration,” Trump said on Twitter.
“Remember, that deal was to expire in a short number of years. Sanctions will soon be increased, substantially!“
While Iran was found to have had covert enrichment sites long before the nuclear accord, the deal also imposed the most intrusive nuclear supervision on Iran of any country, and there has been no serious suggestion Iran is secretly enriching now.
The deal confines enrichment in Iran to its Natanz site, which was itself exposed in 2003. Any clandestine enrichment elsewhere would be a grave breach of the deal. It was not immediately clear from Trump’s comments whether he was referring to previous, long-known activities or making a new allegation.
The US statement, made just hours before Trump’s tweet, made no mention of either secret enrichment or an imminent tightening of sanctions.
Iran’s IAEA ambassador said in a German newspaper interview published on Wednesday that Tehran intended to preserve the nuclear deal with major powers if all other signatories honored their commitments under it.
“Everything can be reversed within a single hour — if all of our partners in the treaty would just fulfill their obligations in the same way,” Gharib Abadi was quoted by the weekly Die Zeit as saying.
In the past two weeks Iran has breached two limits pivotal to the 2015 deal, which aimed to extended the time Iran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to do so, to a year from around 2-3 months.
President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday the Islamic Republic’s moves were permissible under the deal, rebuffing a warning by European powers to continue compliance.
The Trump administration says it is open to negotiations with Iran on a more far-reaching agreement on nuclear and security issues. But Iran says it must first be able to export as much oil as it did before the US withdrawal.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen sharply, culminating in a plan for US air strikes on Iran last month that were called off at the last minute.
“There is no credible reason for Iran to expand its nuclear program, and there is no way to read this as anything other than a crude and transparent attempt to extort payments from the international community,” said a Trump administration statement issued at the closed-door session of the IAEA board in Vienna.
“We call on Iran to reverse its recent nuclear steps and cease any plans for further advancements in the future. The United States has made clear that we are open to negotiation without preconditions, and that we are offering Iran the possibility of a full normalization of relations.”
Iran says it will continue to breach the deal’s caps one by one until it receives the economic windfall — trade and investment deals with the wider world — promised under terms of the agreement.

In a separate closed-door meeting with member states on Wednesday, IAEA inspectors confirmed that Iran was now enriching uranium to 4.5% purity, above the 3.67% limit set by its deal. This would be Iran’s second breach of the deal in as many weeks, diplomats familiar with the figures said.
However, that is still far below the 20% to which Iran refined uranium before the deal, and the roughly 90% needed to yield bomb-grade nuclear fuel.
“The latest steps indicate that Tehran’s leadership has made a decision to move onto the offensive to create leverage vis-a-vis the international community and bring about a solution to its constraints,” a Western intelligence source told Reuters.
Washington is set on isolating Iran to force it to negotiate stricter limits on its nuclear program and, for the first time, to address calls to curb its ballistic missile program and its role around the conflict-ridden Middle East.

Diplomats from several countries on the IAEA board said that while fiery exchanges between the Iranian and US envoys were likely at the meeting at agency headquarters, they did not expect the board to take any concrete action.
While Iran has breached the terms of the deal which the IAEA is policing, the IAEA is not a party to the deal and Iran has not violated the Safeguards Agreement binding it to the agency.
Britain, France and Germany are considering their next move, torn between the urge to show their displeasure at Iran’s breach of the deal and wanting to keep alive a pact that signatories in 2015 touted as vital to preventing wider war in the Middle East.
 


Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 20 July 2019
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Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

  • Hazza Al-Mansoori 'living a dream' as he and backup astronaut train for space mission in September
  • Soyuz-MS 15 launch could be the beginning of a bold new era of Arab exploration of space

DUBAI: More than 30 years after an Arab first journeyed into space, an  Emirati is preparing to become the latest Arab space traveler when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in September.

For months, Hazza Al-Mansoori and backup pilot Sultan Al-Neyadi have been undergoing intensive training in Russia, Germany and the US to prepare for the mission. The first Emirati to travel into space will make the historic journey on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

During the eight-day mission, he will conduct a tour of the ISS for Arabic viewers on Earth and carry out 15 experiments for the Science in Space schools competition conducted by Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.

The crew, who will include an American and a Russian, are allowed to take up to 1 kg of personal items with them on the mission.

“I will take my family photo and share the experience of being in space with them,” Al-Mansoori said. There will also be an image of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, meeting American astronauts in 1976.

“I am also going to take an Emirati flag. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.”

‘I will take an Emirati flag into space. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.’

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori

Al-Mansoori will join an elite space club comprising Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman and Syria’s Muhammed Faris. Prince Sultan became the first Arab to travel to space as part of space shuttle Discovery’s crew in 1985. Faris was a crew member of USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987.

The Emirati astronaut is aware that history is resting on his shoulders. Speaking to the media recently during his training program in Houston, Al-Mansoori  said it is a huge personal honor to be the first Emirati chosen for space exploration.

“I’m excited about the whole mission, but especially to experience the microgravity and be living in the ISS, and conducting daily experiments and working with the amazing group on board,” he said.

Al-Mansoori and Al-Neyadi have been undergoing rigorous training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program includes familiarization with NASA equipment on board the space station, and handling emergency situations, such as ammonia gas leaks and depressurization.

The Emiratis have been trained to fend for themselves if the return goes off course and they land in the wilderness of Russia.

Speaking of the Soyuz-MS 15 mission, Yousuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “We strive to see the UAE Astronaut Program achieve its objective of preparing generations of Emiratis who will contribute to enhancing the country’s position in space science and research to serve the ambitious aspirations aimed at building a national knowledge-based economy.”

The September launch could prove to be the beginning of a bold new era for Arabs and space. Al-Neyadi, the backup pilot, has been promised a seat on a future mission, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are drawing up ambitious plans for the development of the region’s space industry.