Atomic energy watchdog seeks details on secret Iranian nuclear site

Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have asked the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) to provide details of their claims that Iran maintains a secret nuclear site hidden from the world. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 15 October 2020

Atomic energy watchdog seeks details on secret Iranian nuclear site

  • Iran’s plans for building a nuclear weapon have been checked by a UN-mandated embargo that was imposed in July 2007

CHICAGO: Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have asked the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) to provide details of their claims that Iran maintains a secret nuclear site hidden from the world as a UN-mandated nuclear arms embargo on Iran expires this week.

Lifting the UN arms embargo against Iran will allow Tehran to purchase and sell military arms with neighboring countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen, a panel of experts hosted by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW) said Thursday. They said Iran will be able to purchase weapons from China and Russia, including hi-tech fighter jets, sophisticated missiles and other weapons, and they agreed that it would allow Iran to pursue its nuclear agenda.

Iranian Parliament-in-Exile member Ali Safavi told the Arab News-sponsored Detroit radio program “The Ray Hanania Show” on Wednesday that the NCRI has evidence that Iran has been operating a secret nuclear facility. During the radio interview, Safavi said the NCRI will disclose the information publicly at a press conference that is scheduled for Friday.

Iran’s plans for building a nuclear weapon have been checked by a UN-mandated embargo that was imposed in July 2007 under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA expires on Oct. 18. US President Donald Trump said he will impose an embargo on Tehran, but experts said they expect European countries to sell weapons and equipment to Iran once the UN embargo expires.

Those weapons could include “armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters, warships and more significantly cruise missiles and launchers,” said panel host Hussein Ibish, AGSIW resident scholar.

“All of this has become possible precisely because the US effort to use the JCPOA grievance mechanism didn’t work and nobody wanted to go along with the extension,” he added.

Thursday’s discussion titled “After the Embargo: Iran’s Weapons Agenda and its Regional Impact” also included AGSIW Senior Fellow Ali Alfoneh, AGSIW Non-Resident Fellow David Des Roches, and National Defense University Associate Professor Kirsten Fontenrose.

The military and arms experts agreed the embargo’s ending will not fuel an arms build-up by Iran’s non-state clients, like Hezbollah, but said they expect an increase in Iranian weapons purchases and sales with countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen, impacting regional security concerns.

“Hezbollah would not be following UN Security Resolutions in any chance,” said Ali Alfoneh. “The biggest impact would not be on the non-state clients of Iran like Hezbollah.”

The lifting of the embargo would open the door to regional governments like Iraq and Syria possibly purchasing weapons from Iran to bolster their arsenals.

“The Iranians have smuggled many embargoed items to their affiliates in the region. But with the embargo being lifted, it makes that volume and that flow much more significant,” Fontenrose said.

“The failure of the JCPOA was a huge shock to the political leadership in Iran,” Alfoneh said.

“The future is very insecure. Even if that administration changes, I am not entirely convinced that presidential candidate Joe Biden would go back to a JCPOA as it was before. It is very likely there will be some changes made to the JCPOA.”

Fontenrose anticipates that regardless of who wins the upcoming US election, she can foresee scenarios in which Israel would strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities with support from their Emirati partners, especially if Israel believes that the US is “too soft” on Iran.

“You are going to have hardliners in Tehran who slow-roll a nuclear deal and either have no deal with the Trump administration ... or you will have Iran at the table but agreeing to very little with the Biden administration,” Fontenrose said.

“What you see is Israel saying we need to do something about this nuclear program if Iran continues to escalate it. If it stays in place it is a different story. But if Iran continues to ramp up its withdrawal from the JCPOA or ramp up its production, I can see Israel undertaking strikes again against their facilities. And at this point, will we see the UAE involved in the planning, not execution, of those strikes?”


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.