Iran constructing new building near Natanz nuke site, Pompeo urges Europe to impose sanctions

The fire at the Natanz facility in July was blamed on sabotage. (AFP)
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Updated 09 September 2020

Iran constructing new building near Natanz nuke site, Pompeo urges Europe to impose sanctions

  • Announcement comes after a fire at the facility in July
  • Pomope says Iran's enriched uranium stockpile 10 times limit

DUBAI: Iran has begun to build a hall in “the heart of the mountains” near its Natanz nuclear site for making advanced centrifuges, Iran’s nuclear chief said on Tuesday, aiming to replace a production hall at the facility hit by fire in July.
Iran said at the time that the fire was the result of sabotage and had caused significant damage that could slow the development of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.
“Due to the sabotage, it was decided to build a more modern, larger and more comprehensive hall in all dimensions in the heart of the mountain near Natanz. Of course, the work has begun,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, according to state TV.
Natanz is the centerpiece of Iran’s enrichment program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes. Western intelligence agencies and the UN’s nuclear watchdog believe Iran had a coordinated, clandestine nuclear arms program that it halted in 2003. Tehran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.
The Natanz uranium-enrichment site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by IAEA inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
A confrontation between arch foes Tehran and Washington has worsened since 2018, when US President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions. In reaction to US sanctions, Tehran has gradually distanced itself from the nuclear pact.
This comes as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that Iran’s stockpile of uranium is more than 10 times the limit set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) treaty Iran signed with the US and European nations in 2015.
The IAEA stated in its quarterly report issued last Friday that the amount of low-concentration enriched uranium reserves in Iran reached 2,320 kilograms, which is 10 times more than the limit set by the IAEA’s board of governors.
Pompeo added in a tweet that Iran must European “must wake up to the reality that the nuclear deal is history and should join us in imposing strong sanctions.”
He also said that “pressure and comprehensive talks are the only path forward.”
According to the nuclear deal, Iran is not permitted to possess more than 203 kilograms of low-concentration uranium reserves, but Iran had previously announced that it had reduced its nuclear obligations due to US sanctions.
The IAEA’s board of governors in Vienna issued a decision in late June, proposed by Britain, Germany and France, condemning Iran’s nucleaar violations and not allowing the agency to visit two suspicious sites.
This was the first decisive decision by the UN organization against Iran during the past eight years.
Meanwhile, the IAEA said that its inspectors visited one of the two sites that it had agreed to inspect with Iran last week.
The agency said in its report, without naming the site, that environmental samples were taken and they will be tested to see if there are traces of uranium at the site.
(With Reuters)


US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

Updated 22 October 2020

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

  • Intelligence director: “These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries”

WASHINGTON: US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the US has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
The officials also said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were intended to hurt Trump, though he did not elaborate on how. An intelligence assessment released in August said: “Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the press conference but repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Iran doesn’t want to let me win. China doesn’t want to let me win,” Trump said. “The first call I’ll get after we win, the first call I’ll get will be from Iran saying let’s make a deal.”
Both Russia and Iran also obtained voter registration information, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Asked about the emails during an online forum Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific information. “I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things and others,” she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so.
The voter intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.