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.”


Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

Updated 11 December 2019

Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

  • On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2
  • New elections would add to the political challenges facing Benjamin Netanyahu
JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament began rushing through a bill on Wednesday to call a third general election within a year as talks between embattled premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival broke down ahead of a midnight deadline.
A deal to avert a new election must be reached before 11:59 p.m. (2159 GMT), following a deadlocked vote in September.
But Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz, both of whom have repeatedly failed to build a governing majority in the Knesset, or parliament, have spent days trading blame for failing coalition talks.
On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2.
It must face three more plenary readings and votes during the day before being passed.
New elections would add to the political challenges facing Netanyahu — Israel’s longest serving premier, now governing in a caretaker capacity — at a time when, weakened by corruption charges, he must fend off internal challengers in his right-wing Likud party.
Netanyahu and Gantz, a former armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, had been discussing a potential unity government, but disagreed on who should lead it.
Last month, when Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges, Gantz called on him to step down.
On Tuesday night Netanyahu called on Gantz to stop “spinning.”
“After 80 days, it’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government. It’s not too late,” he said on social media.
Gantz said his party was making “efforts to find a way to form a government without us giving up the fundamental principles that brought us into politics.”
If confirmed, it would be the first time Israel’s weary electorate has been asked to go to the polls for a third time within 12 months.
The parties of Netanyahu and Gantz were nearly deadlocked in September’s election, following a similarly inconclusive poll in April.
Israel’s proportional system is reliant on coalition building, and both parties fell well short of the 61 seats needed to command a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Both were then given 28-day periods to try and forge a workable coalition but failed, forcing President Reuven Rivlin to turn to parliament with his deadline for Wednesday.
New elections are deeply unpopular with the Israeli public, which has expressed mounting anger and frustration with the entire political class.
Both parties had been trying to convince Avigdor Lieberman, a crucial kingmaker, to join their blocs.
But the former nightclub bouncer, whose secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party holds the balance of power, has refused.
Kann Radio reported Tuesday that Netanyahu had abandoned hopes of earning Lieberman’s endorsement.
Lieberman pointed out that Likud and Blue and White wouldn’t need his support if they could agree to work together.
“If during the next 24 hours a government is not formed it will be solely because the leaders of the two big parties — Likud and Blue and White — were not willing to set aside their egos,” he said on Facebook Tuesday.
“All the rest is lies and excuses.”
Netanyahu was indicted last month for bribery, breach of trust and fraud relating to three separate corruption cases.
He strongly denies the allegations and accuses the media, police and prosecution of a witch-hunt.
No date has yet been set for the beginning of the proceedings and, under Israeli law, Netanyahu can remain in office despite an indictment.
He also faces a potential challenge from within his own Likud party.
To boost his support, Netanyahu has pushed his plan to annex a strategic part of the occupied West Bank, as well as signing a defense treaty with the United States.
He is a close ally of US President Donald Trump, who has taken a number of controversial steps in support of Netanyahu’s agenda.
Blue and White, meanwhile, pledged Monday to run with only one leader in the next election — Gantz.
Previously Yair Lapid, second in command in the coalition, was meant to alternate the premiership, but on Monday Lapid said: “We’ll all get behind Benny Gantz, our candidate for prime minister.”
Despite Netanyahu’s indictment, polls suggest that a third round of elections could still be neck and neck — prompting some Israelis to speculate about yet another electoral stalemate.
A commentary writer for the Israel Hayom newspaper suggested that “a fourth election is even now visible on the horizon sometime in early September 2020.”