Nuclear chief says Iran exploring new uranium enrichment

In this Sept. 11, 2018 file photo, Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi speaks in an interview with The Associated Press at the headquarters of Iran's atomic energy agency, in Tehran, Iran. (AP)
Updated 13 January 2019

Nuclear chief says Iran exploring new uranium enrichment

  • Restarting enrichment at 20-percent level would mean Iran had withdrawn the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers

TEHRAN: The head of Iran’s nuclear program said Sunday that the Islamic Republic has begun “preliminary activities for designing” a modern process for 20-percent uranium enrichment for its 50-year-old research reactor in Tehran, signaling new danger for the nuclear deal.
Restarting enrichment at that level would mean Iran had withdrawn the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that President Donald Trump already pulled America out of in May.
However, Ali Akbar Salehi’s comments to state television appeared aimed at telling the world Iran would slowly restart its program. If it chooses, it could resume mass enrichment at its main facility in the central Iranian town of Natanz.
“Preliminary activities for designing modern 20 percent (enriched uranium) fuel have begun,” state TV quoted Salehi as saying.
Salehi said adding the “modern fuel” will increase efficiency in Tehran research reactor that consumes 20-percent enriched fuel.
“We are at the verge” of being ready, he said, without elaborating.
In June, Iran informed the UN’s nuclear watchdog that it will increase its nuclear enrichment capacity within the limits set by the 2015 agreement with world powers. Iran continues to comply with the terms of the deal, according to the UN, despite the American pullout.
Salehi heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, whose Tehran campus holds the nuclear research reactor given to the country by the US in 1967 under the rule of the shah. But in the time since that American “Atoms for Peace” donation, Iran was convulsed by its 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent takeover and hostage crisis at the US Embassy in Tehran.
For decades since, Western nations have been concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, accusing Tehran of seeking atomic weapons. Iran long has said its program is for peaceful purposes, but it faced years of crippling sanctions.
The 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with world powers, including the US under President Barack Obama, was aimed at relieving those fears. Under it, Iran agreed to store its excess centrifuges at its underground Natanz enrichment facility under constant surveillance by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran can use 5,060 older-model IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz, but only to enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent.
That low-level enrichment means the uranium can be used to fuel a civilian reactor but is far below the 90 percent needed to produce a weapon. Iran also can possess no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of that uranium. That’s compared to the 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds) of higher-enriched uranium it once had.
Trump, who campaigned on a promise to tear up the nuclear deal, said he ultimately pulled America out of the accord over Iran’s ballistic missile program and its malign influence on the wider Mideast.
In an interview in September with The Associated Press, Salehi warned that Iran could begin mass production of more advanced centrifuges if the deal collapses.
“If we have to go back and withdraw from the nuclear deal, we certainly do not go back to where we were before,” Salehi said at the time. “We will be standing on a much, much higher position.”


Afghan, US forces kill Taliban governors, fighters

Updated 16 September 2019

Afghan, US forces kill Taliban governors, fighters

  • Joint operations planned to prevent attacks ahead of polls

KABUL: Afghan forces backed by US forces killed two senior Taliban leaders and at least 38 fighters of the hard-line insurgent group in joint airstrikes conducted in northern and western regions of Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday.

The operations, launched on Saturday night, were aimed at foiling attacks planned by the Taliban on Afghan forces, said a senior security official in capital Kabul, adding that clashes have escalated following the collapse of diplomatic talks between the US and the Taliban.

The Defense Ministry in a statement said that the Taliban’s designate governor for northern Samangan province, Mawlavi Nooruddin, was killed along with four fighters in an airstrike in Dara-e-Soof Payeen district.

But the Taliban denied the governor had been killed.

“He (Nooruddin) is alive,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman said in a statement.

HIGHLIGHT

Taliban deny the governor of Samangan province had been killed.

Last week, insurgents killed four Afghan special force members in a car bomb blast.

Afghan officials say around 100,000 members of the country’s security forces are ready for polling day.

In a separate incident, Mullah Sayed Azim, a Taliban designate governor for Anar Dara district in western Farah was killed in a joint Afghan and foreign force raid.

“Sayed Azim was killed along with 34 other insurgents in Anar Dara,” said Mohibullah Mohib, a spokesman for Farah provincial police.

Senior security officials in Kabul said several joint operations will be launched against Taliban and Daesh fighters to prevent attacks on Afghan forces and civilians ahead of the presidential polls on Sept. 28.

Fighting picked up in several parts of Afghanistan last week after US President Donald Trump’s abrupt cancelation of talks with the Taliban aimed at withdrawing US troops and opening the way to end to 18 year-long war in Afghanistan. 

 

Troops for polling day

Afghan officials say around 100,000 members of the country’s security forces are ready for polling day. Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry said on Sunday that 72,000 security personnel will be on duty around the 4,942 polling centers across Afghanistan while nearly 30,000 additional troops will serve as reserve units.

Defense Ministry spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai said security forces have recently taken back eight districts from the Taliban and that operations are underway to secure around 20 others.