Tehran takes new step toward building a nuclear weapon

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Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran speaks during news conference in Tehran on September 7, 2019. (West Asia News Agency via REUTERS)
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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the control room of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in this January 13, 2015 photo. (Iranian Presidency/AFP)
Updated 08 September 2019

Tehran takes new step toward building a nuclear weapon

  • JCPOA breached again as Iran’s atomic chief boasts of high-powered uranium centrifuges
  • UN inspectors still will be able to access nuclear sites in the country

TEHRAN: Iran on Saturday activated at least 40 high-powered uranium centrifuges in the most serious breach so far of its commitments under the 2015 deal to curb its nuclear program.

Behrouz Kamalvandi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran the country had begun using an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges and another of 20 IR-4 centrifuges. An IR-6 can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as an IR-1, and an IR-4 five times as fast.

The nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium. By activating advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon.

“Iran is capable of increasing its enriched uranium stockpile as well as its enrichment levels, and that is not just limited to 20 percent,” Kamalvandi said in a news conference carried on live television. 

“We are capable inside the country to increase the enrichment much more beyond that,” he said. He spoke from a podium with advanced centrifuges standing next to him.

However, he stressed that Iran would allow UN inspectors to continue to monitor sites in the country. A top official from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency was expected to meet with Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday.

Iran also plans to have two cascades, one with 164 advanced IR-2M centrifuges and another with 164 IR-5 centrifuges, running in two months, Kamalvandi said. A cascade is a group of centrifuges working together to more quickly enrich uranium.

Iran has already increased its enrichment up to 4.5 percent, above the 3.67 percent allowed under the deal, and it has gone beyond its 300kg limit for low-enriched uranium.

The staged breaches of the JCPOA are widely viewed as a form of nuclear blackmail, to pressure European signatories to the deal to find a way for Iran to avoid US sanctions.

“If Europeans want to make any decision, they should do it soon,” Kamalvandi said. “Our plan is that if the other parties act on their commitments, we, too, return to our commitments.”

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said it was aware of Iran’s announcement and “agency inspectors are on the ground in Iran and they will report any relevant activities to IAEA headquarters in Vienna.”

The acting head of the IAEA, Cornel Feruta, is expected in Tehran on Sunday for talks with nuclear chiefs and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in a joint press conference with his French counterpart, meanwhile said, “I am not surprised that Iran has announced a violation of the nuclear agreement again.”

“We seek to push Iran to respect the nuclear deal,” French defense minister Florence Parly said.

The US and European moves to strengthen security in the Gulf must be "complementary and well coordinated", she added.

France has ruled out joining a US-led coalition of countries protecting oil tankers and cargo ships from threats posed by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, but has pushed for a European alternative.

Tensions between Iran and the US have risen in recent months that have seen mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran shooting down a US military surveillance drone and other incidents across the wider Middle East.

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

Updated 12 August 2020

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

  • Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross
  • It is part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany

BEIRUT: Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government that can fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has triggered protests and led the government to resign.
Last week’s blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material for years killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.
“It is impossible that things go on as before,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.”
“Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance. Whoever takes over responsibility in Lebanon has a lot to do.”
Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.
International humanitarian assistance has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not write blank cheques to a state viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt. Donors are seeking enactment of long-demanded reforms in return for financial assistance to pull Lebanon from economic meltdown.
The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has plunged Lebanon into deeper uncertainty. Its talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already been put on hold over a row between the government, banks and politicians about the scale of vast financial losses.
Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese expressed their frustration at the state for abandoning them in their desperate efforts to rebuild homes and businesses wrecked in the blast.
“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.
“We in Lebanon are used to the government not doing anything.”
Unrest has erupted with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of a ruling class they brand as responsible for the country’s woes. The financial crisis has ravaged the currency, paralyzed banks and sent prices soaring.
Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.
The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.
Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident or external factors.
Reuters reported that Aoun and Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the warning letter.
An emergency donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief.
Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.
Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. He was saved by a wooden door that protected him from flying debris. A stove injured his wife.
His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to capital controls prompted by the economic crisis.
“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.