Rouhani says Iran to develop centrifuges for faster uranium enrichment

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) and Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali Akbar Salehi (2nd from R) listening to a technician in the control room of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the Gulf port city of Bushehr. (File/AFP/Iranian Presidency website/Mohammad Berno)
Updated 05 September 2019

Rouhani says Iran to develop centrifuges for faster uranium enrichment

  • Iran will give EU another two months to salvage nuclear deal, Rohani says
  • France proposed to save the atomic pact by offering Iran about $15 bn in credit lines

DUBAI: Iran will from Friday begin developing centrifuges to speed up the enrichment of uranium, as the next step in scaling back its nuclear commitments, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday.
Under its 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, Iran was allowed to keep restricted quantities of first-generation centrifuges at two nuclear plants.
But the successful development of more advanced centrifuges would enable it to produce material for a potential nuclear bomb several times faster.
“From Friday, we will witness research and development on different kinds of centrifuges and new centrifuges and also whatever is needed for enriching uranium in an accelerated way,” Rouhani said a televised speech.
“All limitations on our Research and Development will be lifted on Friday.”
Iran says it is only enriching uranium to fuel nuclear power plants.
Rouhani also said Iran would take all necessary steps to protect its rights and interests, and called the centrifuge development the “third step” in scaling back its commitment to the nuclear deal.
The agreement lifted economic sanctions in 2016 in exchange for Iran agreeing to circumscribe its nuclear activities. The United States quit it last year and re-imposed sanctions.
It allowed Iran to keep 1,044 first-generation centrifuges at its Fordow uranium enrichment plant and operate another 5,060 of a similar type for 10 years at a second nuclear plant at Natanz.
Also under the deal, Tehran can continue to conduct enrichment Research and Development (R&D) without accumulating enriched uranium, including work with certain types of advanced centrifuges.
The European Union urged Iran to refrain from steps that could undermine the nuclear deal.
Rouhani’s statement came as Iranian officials appeared to give a guarded welcome to a French proposal to save the atomic pact by offering Iran about $15 billion in credit lines until the end of the year if Tehran comes fully back into compliance.
Rouhani said talks with European powers were moving forward, raising hopes of at least a pause in a diplomatic confrontation between Iran and the West that has stoked already heightened tensions across the region.
Iran emerged from years of economic isolation after agreeing a deal with world powers in 2015 to curb its nuclear development program in exchange for sanctions relief. However, US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal last year, arguing it did not go far enough, and reimposed sanctions.
Tehran responded with two separate moves that breached some of the terms of the deal, although it says it still aims to save the pact.
Rouhani had threatened to take further measures by Sept. 5 unless France and the other European signatories of the pact did more to protect Iran from the impact of the US penalties.
“I think it is unlikely that we will reach a result with Europe by today or tomorrow ... Europe will have another two months to fulfil its commitments,” Rouhani said, according to state TV.
“The talks between Iran and European countries are moving forward ... but we have yet to reach a conclusion,” he added.
Iran would continue with plans to breach the pact further and accelerate its nuclear activity, Rouhani said, without giving a fresh deadline.
“The third step (in reducing Iran’s commitments) will be the most important one and it will have extraordinary effects,” state TV reported him as saying.
Iran’s vital crude oil sales have plummeted by more than 80% under the US sanctions.
The remaining signatories of the deal have been working to save an agreement that they say will bring Iran back into the international fold and prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.
Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear program is for electricity generation and other peaceful purposes.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi appeared to back the main terms of the French proposal in a statement on Wednesday.
“Our return to the full implementation of the nuclear accord is subject to the receipt of $15 billion over a four-month period, otherwise the process of reducing Iran’s commitments will continue,” the semi-official news agency Fars quoted Araqchi as saying.
“Either Europe has to buy oil from Iran or provide Iran with the equivalent of selling oil as a credit line guaranteed by Iran’s oil revenues, which in some sense means a pre-sale of oil,” Araqchi added.
Government spokesman Ali Rabie said Iran would stick to its nuclear commitments “if France can get the approval of the US and announces it.” He added: “If they cannot get the approval, then we will take the third step.”
The United States would have the economic clout to block any credit line for Iran. Washington has not commented on the proposal which would contradict its stated policy of imposing “maximum pressure” to force Tehran to rein in its nuclear and missile programs as well as what the White House views as its destabilising regional behavior.
Iran’s English-language Press TV issued a short report stating: “Iran has rejected a $15 billion loan offered by EU” — though Western and Iranian sources had described the French plan as the offer of a credit line, not a loan. Precize details of the plan have not been made public.


Nile dam dispute spills onto social media

Updated 24 min 32 sec ago

Nile dam dispute spills onto social media

CAIRO: As Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan struggle to resolve a long-running dispute over Addis Ababa’s dam megaproject on the Nile, some of their citizens are sparring online over their rights to the mighty waterway.
For nearly a decade, multiple rounds of talks between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have failed to produce a deal over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Anxiety has mounted in downstream Sudan and Egypt, which fear for their vital water supplies after upstream Ethiopia declared plans to start filling Africa’s largest dam reservoir in July.
As tensions have run high in the political arena, they have also amped up online.
In one widely viewed video originally shared on TikTok, an Ethiopian woman pours water from a pitcher into two cups representing Egypt and Sudan.
She fills Sudan’s cup to the brim but only pours a trickle of water into Egypt’s, before emptying the water back into the pitcher.
“This is my water. When I give you water, it’s my call, not yours,” she says.
In response, an Egyptian woman created a compilation of the video and one of her own in which she knocks down a dam-shaped block structure with the Ethiopian flag superimposed on it before triumphantly downing a cup of water.
The video had been viewed more than 55,000 times on Instagram by Wednesday.
Social media “platforms are powerful,” said Wubalem Fekade, communications head at the intergovernmental ENTRO-Nile Basin Initiative.
“People on the social media platforms aren’t accountable, so it’s easy to disseminate unverified, incorrect, false, even conspiracy theories,” he said.
But, he added hopefully, “when used creatively and judiciously, they can help defuse tensions.”
The online row over the dam has been particularly heated between Egyptian and Ethiopian social media users.
Egypt has long enjoyed the lion’s share of the Nile water under decades-old agreements that were largely viewed by other Nile basin countries as unfair.
On Twitter, Egyptians echoed authorities’ fears that Ethiopia’s dam would severely cut their country’s supply of water from the Nile, which provides 97 percent of the arid nation’s water needs.
“We will never allow any country to starve us” of water, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris wrote on Twitter.
“If Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we, the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war,” he threatened.
Egyptian cartoonist Ahmed Diab has weighed in with a drawing of an outsized Egyptian soldier, rifle slung over his shoulder, facing a diminutive Ethiopian man with the dam in the background.
“You idiot, try to understand that I care for you ... ever heard about the Bar Lev Line?” the soldier tells the Ethiopian, alluding to Egypt’s military strength in referring to the Egyptian destruction of an Israeli defense line along the Suez canal in 1973.
Diab called the cartoon part of a “psychological war.”
“Besides a show of military might and strong media discourse, arts can boost people’s morale,” he said.
For their part, Ethiopians have rallied behind their country’s mega project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation.
On social media, they have rejected any conditions of reaching a deal before filling the dam.
Filling the dam should not be held “hostage” to an agreement with Cairo, Ethiopian activist Jawar Mohamed wrote on Twitter.
“If agreement is reached before the filling begins in the coming days, it’s great. If not, the filling should begin and the negotiation shall continue,” he said.
Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, insists the dam will not affect the onward flow of water and sees the project as indispensible for its national development and electrification.
Khartoum hopes the dam will help regulate flooding, but in June it warned that millions of lives will be at “great risk” if Ethiopia unilaterally fills the dam.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, Sudan raised concerns that water discharged from the GERD could “compromise the safety” of its own Roseires Dam by overwhelming it and causing flooding.
Omar Dafallah, a Sudanese artist, depicted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overseeing the water flowing from the dam through a faucet to fill a jug held by Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The drawing also shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi with a large water container, waiting in line.
Last month, Egypt also appealed to the UNSC to intervene in the crisis — a move El-Sisi said underlined his country’s committment to a political solution.
Egyptian lawmaker Mohamed Fouad views the online debate as a way to “break the stalemate” in the diplomatic talks, “so long as they remain within the boundaries of healthy discussions.”