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

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.”


Rescue mission aids starving lions in neglected Sudan zoo

Updated 4 min 21 sec ago

Rescue mission aids starving lions in neglected Sudan zoo

KHARTOUM: Four lions in a rundown zoo in the capital of Sudan, wasting away from hunger, are undergoing lifesaving medical treatment from an international animal rescue organization.

The plight of the rail-thin lions in Al-Qurashi Park in Khartoum set off an outpouring of sympathy and donations from around the world. At least five lions, both male and female, once inhabited the zoo. One lioness died of starvation last week.

On Tuesday, veterinarians and wildlife experts from Vienna-based animal welfare group Four Paws International conducted medical checks at the park, which has fallen on hard times for lack of money and attention.

Amir Khalil, head of the Four Paws emergency mission, said he was “shocked” by the poor state of the lions, their cramped quarters and the park’s general disarray.

“I don’t understand why no one was given the task of feeding them or how authorities could just overlook this,” he said, describing two of the remaining four as in critical condition, “dehydrated ... a third of their normal weight.”

Four Paws faces a daunting task and its two-day trip has been dogged by challenges from the start. 

When the team arrived late on Monday, customs agents confiscated most of their luggage and essential medicine, citing a lack of prior approval. The group says it’s operating with just a fraction of its equipment, and scrambling to find local alternatives.

Although the group typically carries out rescue missions, it has no immediate plan to transport the animals in Al-Qurashi to better conditions abroad.