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?”


Turkey confirms NATO fears over testing of Russian S-400 missile defense system

Updated 16 min 51 sec ago

Turkey confirms NATO fears over testing of Russian S-400 missile defense system

  • Trials of the $2.5 billion anti-aircraft weaponry bought last year from Moscow took place last week in the northern Turkish province of Sinop

ANKARA: Turkey on Thursday officially confirmed the fears of its NATO allies that it had carried out testing of its controversial Russian-made S-400 missile defense system.

Trials of the $2.5 billion anti-aircraft weaponry bought last year from Moscow took place last week in the northern Turkish province of Sinop, just across the Black Sea from Russian territory.

In a Bloomberg interview, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO’s command-and-control infrastructure, but would instead be “used as a standalone system similar to the use of Russian-made S-300 weapons that exist within NATO.”

With this comparison, Akar implicitly referred to Athens, currently the top challenger to Turkey, which possesses the Russian-produced missiles in its arsenal.

Experts believe that the official statement on Turkey’s testing of the Russian air defense system could stoke tensions between Ankara and Washington, which claims that the missiles pose a serious threat to alliance military equipment.

Meanwhile, NATO defense ministers met on Thursday to discuss issues affecting the alliance’s security.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of think tank The German Marshall Fund of the US, said Turkey’s argument that the S-400 would be a standalone system not connected to NATO’s radar network had been made several times but had failed to reassure the Americans.

The main concern of the NATO allies is that the S-400 could be used to gather sensitive intelligence via systems linked to the F-35 stealth fighter, the next-generation warplane of the alliance.

But Ankara has said that its acquisition of the Russian missiles was necessary to defend itself against current and emerging security threats in its region.

Turkey’s participation in the co-production of the F-35 system was suspended by Washington last year as punishment for buying the Russian military hardware. However, the US had held back from imposing sanctions while the missiles remained in crates, but harsh economic measures are expected to kick in once the missiles are activated.

US Senate Foreign Relations Chair Jim Risch said this week that further sanctions against Turkey, as part of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), for testing the S-400s still topped his agenda for initiation after the presidential election.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez also issued a statement last week in which he said: “Turkey must be sanctioned immediately.”

Unluhisarcikli told Arab News: “The S-400s being used as a standalone system is unlikely to prevent CAATSA sanctions being imposed on Turkey.”

Ankara has been delaying the activation of the system since April, the planned date for its operationalization. Last month, during a visit to Turkey, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg repeated that the S-400 system could not be integrated into the NATO air and missile defense system.

But Unluhisarcikli believes that the efficiency of the S-400 as a standalone system is highly dubious.

Joe Macaron, a Middle East foreign-policy analyst at the Arab Center, said the US did not trust Turkey to block any Russian attempt to infiltrate the F-35 system.

“The Turkish message about not integrating them into the NATO system is being met with suspicions because Turkey has been playing both the US and Russia for a while and benefiting from their bilateral tensions,” he said.

He felt that Turkey had a two-fold objective. “The first is linked to US domestic politics with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struggling to get his US counterpart Donald Trump’s attention in the middle of his campaign or he is using the election season to force new preconditions for a potential Joe Biden presidency.

“And second, Erdogan feels a shifting US policy toward Turkey and testing the Russia defense system is a signal that he wants to talk with Washington. Whether Trump or Biden wins, there is no easy recipe for US policy toward Turkey,” Macaron added.