Tehran issues new threat to ramp up its nuclear program

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif shake hands following a meeting in Moscow on September 2, 2019. (AFP / Kirill Kudryavtsev)
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The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya 1 moving slowly just outside the Lebanese territorial waters. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 September 2019

Tehran issues new threat to ramp up its nuclear program

  • Crushing US sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the deal over a year ago have halted those sales
  • The nuclear deal is meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic relief

JEDDAH/TEHRAN: Iran issued new threats on Monday to ramp up its nuclear program unless European states help it avoid US sanctions that have decimated its revenue from oil sales.

As top Iranian diplomats traveled to France and Russia for last-minute talks, government spokesman said Ali Rabiei said Iran will “take a strong step” away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if Europe cannot offer the country new terms by a deadline at the end of this week.

Rabiei's statement reinforced the deadline Iran had set for Friday for Europe to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the global market. 

Crushing US sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear development. Trump's action over a year ago have halted Iran's oil sales.

Rabiei described Iran’s strategy to journalists at Monday’s press conference in Tehran as “commitment for commitment.” “Iran’s oil should be bought and its money should be accessible to return to Iran,” Rabiei said. “This is the agenda of our talks.”

FAST FACTS

  • Economic sanctions on Iran were reimposed after the US withdrew from the deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
  • Iran has vowed to take further steps by Sept. 6, such as enriching uranium to 20 percent or restarting mothballed centrifuges.

“It is meaningless to continue unilateral commitments to the deal if we don’t enjoy its benefits as promised by the deal’s European parties,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said after talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Iran would “comply with its obligations in full when the Europeans comply with theirs in full,” he said.

While Zarif was in Moscow, his deputy, Abbas Araghchi, traveled to Paris with a team of economists Monday in a renewed diplomatic push. 

The French Foreign Ministry said teams of experts were meeting “to reach a de-escalation of tensions.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has worked to save the nuclear deal, and issued a surprise invitation to Zarif to last month’s G7 summit in Biarritz.


'Third step'

The regime in Tehran has already broken two of its commitments under the deal — on its stockpile of enriched uranium, and on the level of enrichment. It has threatened to breach the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities one by one, increasing pressure on the countries who still hope to save it.
Iran has vowed to take further steps by Sept. 6, such as enriching uranium to 20 percent or restarting mothballed centrifuges, machines that purify uranium for use as fuel in power plants or, if very highly enriched, in weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the JCPOA as the deal is known.

The UN agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5 percent, above the 3.67 percent allowed. Enriched uranium at the 3.67 percent level is enough for peaceful pursuits and is far below weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. At the 4.5 percent level, the uranium can help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant.

It remains unclear what further step Iran will take, though it could involve restarting advanced centrifuges prohibited by the deal or further bumping up its enrichment of uranium. Iran insists the steps it has taken so far are easily reversible. 

“We will announce implementation of the third step in a letter to the Europeans if the Europeans do not impalement necessary measures by Thursday,” said Zarif in a Sunday interview with Iran’s parliament news agency, ICANA.

The nuclear deal is meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic relief. It has been complicated by the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the deal and Washington’s increased sanctions on Tehran, which have been taking a toll on the Iranian economy.

That has left the other signatories — Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China — struggling to come up with enough incentives to keep Iran in the deal.

“The third step has been designed and will be stronger than the first and second steps to create balance between Iran’s rights and commitments to the JCPOA,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday.


Nowhere to go


Meanwhile, the Iranian oil tanker that has been traveling across the Mediterranean Sea because no port will allow it to dock was tracked on Monday off the coast of northern Lebanon.

The Adrian Darya 1, previously the Grace 1, was seized by British forces off Gibraltar in July because it is carrying 2 million barrels of oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has alleged the ship is bound for a refinery in Syria, which was the reason that authorities had seized the vessel off the coast of Gibraltar in July. The US has warned countries not to accept the Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil worth some $130 million.

 

(With AP)


 


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”