Iran’s nuclear enrichment program at ‘bomb-making levels’: IAEA chief

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during a press conference at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria on May 24, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during a press conference at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria on May 24, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 26 May 2021

Iran’s nuclear enrichment program at ‘bomb-making levels’: IAEA chief

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during a press conference at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria on May 24, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
  • UN’s nuclear watchdog chief says Tehran’s enrichment program is ‘very concerning’ and cautions it will require a ‘vigilant eye’
  • World powers are in Vienna to negotiate with Iran on a return to full compliance with Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal signed in 2015

LONDON: Iran is enriching uranium at purity levels that “only countries making bombs are reaching,” the UN’s nuclear watchdog chief warned.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Tehran’s enrichment program was “very concerning” and cautioned that it requires a “vigilant eye” in an interview published by the Financial Times on Wednesday.

“A country enriching at 60 percent is a very serious thing — only countries making bombs are reaching this level,” Grossi told the newspaper. “60 percent is almost weapons grade. Commercial enrichment is two or three (percent).”

While most measures the regime has taken to this point are easily reversible, the level of research and development that had taken place was an “issue,” Grossi said.

“You cannot put the genie back into the bottle. Once you know how to do stuff, you know, and the only way to check this is through verification,” he said.

“The Iranian program has grown, become more sophisticated so the linear return to 2015 is no longer possible. What you can do is keep their activities below the parameters of 2015.”

World powers are currently in Vienna to negotiate with Iran on a return to full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal signed in 2015, which the US withdrew from in 2018.

Since the American withdrawal, Iran has consistently overstepped on limits set out in the deal. Which has prompted fears Tehran is developing a nuclear weapon, a charge it has denied.

Grossi said a return to the original JCPOA was not a “feasible” option and pointed to the need for a more nuanced agreement considering the knowledge the Iranian program had accumulated since 2015.

“It is not possible,” he said. “Iran has accumulated knowledge, has accumulated centrifuges and has accumulated material. They have many options. They can dismantle, they can destroy, they can put in a cupboard. What we need to be able to do is to verify in a credible and timely manner.

Grossi says Iran has already extended research and development that was not allowed by the original JCPOA.

“It has happened and now the issue is how to deal with the results,” he said. “What you absolutely need is a way to verify that if they have that knowledge it is not being used to make bombs.”

Grossi also said Iran’s failure to provide explanations for traces of uranium found at two of its undeclared sites was “a big problem.”

Inspectors have been prevented from carrying out full monitoring on Iran’s program since Tehran imposed restrictions on IAEA in February, but a compromise agreement extension into June has allowed some monitoring to take place.

Grossi said the extension period was a “bridge,” but that the arrangement would ultimately be “unsustainable,” the Guardian newspaper reported.

“We are entering a phase where we have to take . . . one week at a time, and see how the other process (the Vienna negotiations) evolves,” he said. “It is obvious that a program with the degree of ambition, sophistication that Iran has, you need a very robust, very strong verification system . . . otherwise it becomes very fragile.”

Grossi said he has warned Iran about how restricting access will affect its credibility in negotiations, but that it is not his role to reprimand Tehran directly.

“They know they have to provide explanations. We are asking them to come clean with all these things because it can only help them,” he said.

“My responsibility is the credibility and integrity of the nonproliferation regime, I could say ‘do not say anything,’ but then five years down the line something happens, and then it is a dereliction of duty on our part.”

Grossi, who was in London on Tuesday, discussed challenges to the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and the need to monitor Iran’s activity with British foreign secretary Dominic Raab.

“We discussed how to ensure safe and peaceful uses of nuclear technology and prevent its misuse,” Raab said. “We also spoke about UK support for IAEA's monitoring and verification in Iran and North Korea.”


Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon

Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon
Updated 13 sec ago

Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon

Mikati holds key meetings in effort to restore Arab trust in Lebanon
  • Interior minister says steps will be taken to prevent smuggling and combat the drugs threat

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Monday held a number meetings designed to help restore Arab trust in Lebanon, and the country’s diplomatic and economic relationships with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

It followed an agreement, announced in Jeddah on Saturday, by French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to work together to help the people of Lebanon.

The participants in extended meetings at the Grand Serail, the prime minister’s headquarters, included Defense Minister Maurice Selim, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Bou Habib, Agriculture Minister Abbas Hajj Hassan and Industry Minister George Boujikian.

Other officials who took part included Acting Director-General of Lebanon Customs Raymond Al-Khoury, Mohammed Choucair, the head of the Lebanese Economic Organizations, and representatives of the Federation of Lebanese-Gulf Businessmen Councils.

Choucair, who is also a former minister, stressed the need for the organizations to work on resuming exports to Saudi Arabia and said: “We discussed new ways of doing that.”

During the meeting, Mikati said that “Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are fed up of hearing slogans that are not implemented.”

A number of people who were present told Arab News that Mikati stressed the “need to address the gaps,” and that “some issues the Gulf states are complaining about are right. We must recommend measures to address them, such as the establishment of additional towers on the borders with Syria in order to control the border.”

Mawlawi said that discussions had focused on the issue of exports to Saudi Arabia and concerns about smuggling.

He said: “We will take practical measures for anything that might pose a threat to our relations with the Arab states, and I will follow up on all judicial proceedings related to smuggling and combating drugs and captagon.

“We must all take prompt action to control the borders, airport, port and all crossing points, and we must (address) the smuggling happening through Lebanon. We do not disclose all smuggling operations we bust.”

Mawlawi added: “We intercepted a captagon-smuggling operation on Saturday. We are following up on it, and the people involved have been arrested.

“We will give practical answers to the smuggling taking place, and what might pose a threat to our relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in this regard.”

He also noted that “in the case of seized narcotic substances, even if they are manufactured outside of Lebanon and brought to Lebanon to change the manufacturing company’s name and repackage them, the company’s license will be revoked, its work discontinued and its name announced.”

Regarding a call for the restriction of weapons to Lebanese state institutions as a condition for the restoration of Saudi-Lebanese relations, Mawlawi said: “We are implementing the Lebanese state’s policy and highlighting its interests.”

Nicolas Chammas, head of the Beirut Traders’ Association, said that “the biggest problem remains contraband.” He added: “We will work to make Lebanon, once again, a platform for the export of goods, not contraband. We are required to take swift, serious measures and we will take successive measures in this regard.”

Fouad Siniora, a former president of Lebanon, described Saturday’s Saudi-French statement as being “of exceptional importance in these delicate circumstances.”

It “resolves the controversy regarding many issues raised in the Arab region, especially with regard to Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon,” he added.


Egypt to avoid future water crises through investment, minister says

Egypt to avoid future water crises through investment, minister says
Updated 06 December 2021

Egypt to avoid future water crises through investment, minister says

Egypt to avoid future water crises through investment, minister says

CAIRO: Egypt will avoid water crises through investment and construction, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Aty has said.

In a presentation of the ministry’s strategy through 2050, Abdel-Aty also denied the “black propaganda” which asserts that “Egypt takes the lion’s share of Nile water.”

He said: “97 percent of our water resources come from the Nile and the rest is low percentages of rain and other outlets. Everyone must be aware of the importance of preserving water.”

As part of state efforts to avoid future water crises, the 2017-2037 strategy requires $50 billion in investment and financing, he added, saying that due to population growth, that figure could exceed $100 billion over the coming decades.

Abdel-Aty said: “The new legislation for the Water Resources Law was very necessary, and the executive regulations for this law are being prepared, and they may be completed for issuance within two or three months.”

Egypt’s water needs exceed 114 billion cubic meters annually, according to ministry statistics. Total water resources accounting for reused water numbers 80 billion cubic meters per year, while the total amount of water from renewable resources measures 60 billion cubic meters.

The ministry’s strategy will involve four main areas: Rationalizing water use, improving water quality, providing additional water sources and creating a climate for optimal water management.

“There is no doubt that the water crisis will worsen with time, but the state will not allow a water crisis to occur in Egypt. We will contribute to raising awareness of the importance of rationalizing consumption. There is an optimal utilization of water resources,” Abdel-Aty said.

“We are facing black propaganda that Egypt takes the lion's share of the waters of the Nile, and this is not true.”

He added that Egypt’s climate means that it does not have sufficient access to green water, unlike Ethiopia. “They also have more blue water, and there are lakes in Ethiopia that contain 50 billion cubic meters of water.”

Abdel-Aty said: “Efforts made by the state on the issues of good water management and rationalization have not happened since the days of Muhammad Ali. The political leadership is keen to take all measures aimed at the good management of water resources.”


Arab coalition carries out biggest operation in Marib in 24 hours

Arab coalition carries out biggest operation in Marib in 24 hours
Updated 06 December 2021

Arab coalition carries out biggest operation in Marib in 24 hours

Arab coalition carries out biggest operation in Marib in 24 hours
  • Action comes as the Arab coalition forces have been eliminating militia assets in recent weeks

RIYADH: More than 280 Houthi militia members were killed in one of the largest operations targeting the Iran-backed group in Marib in just 24 hours, the Arab coalition said Monday. 
The Arab coalition said it conducted 47 operations against the Houthi militants in Marib, during which34 Houthi vehicles were destroyed as well as ammunition storage sites, Al Arabiya TV reported.  
The action comes as the Arab coalition forces have been eliminating militia assets in recent weeks, including weapons and personnel.


UAE’s Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed meets with Iranian leader

UAE’s Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed meets with Iranian leader
Updated 06 December 2021

UAE’s Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed meets with Iranian leader

UAE’s Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed meets with Iranian leader

TEHRAN: Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the UAE’s National Security Adviser, met with Iranian president Ibrahim Raisi on Monday, state news agency WAM said in a report.
During the meeting, both sides discussed bilateral relations between the two nations and potential ways to enhance these ties. 
Al-Nahyan and Raisi also exchanged views on several issues of common interest.


Four Iraqi Kurdish fighters killed in attack blamed on Daesh

Four Iraqi Kurdish fighters killed in attack blamed on Daesh
Updated 06 December 2021

Four Iraqi Kurdish fighters killed in attack blamed on Daesh

Four Iraqi Kurdish fighters killed in attack blamed on Daesh
  • Five other Peshmerga fighters were wounded in the violence late Sunday in northern Iraq

BAGHDAD: Four Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were killed in an attack blamed on the Daesh group, a security official said Monday, the third such assault in less than two weeks.
Five other Peshmerga fighters were wounded in the violence late Sunday in northern Iraq that targeted an outpost north of Kirkuk, the source said.
Kurdish army forces confirmed the deadly attack but did not say how Peshmerga fighters were killed in wounded, in a statement accusing Daesh of responsibility.
It was the third attack blamed on Daesh militants in less than two weeks against the Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.
On Thursday, Daesh claimed responsibility for an assault south of the Kurdish capital of Irbil that killed at least nine Peshmerga fighters and three civilians.
At the end of November, five Peshmergas were killed in a roadside bombing also claimed by the militant group.
Daesh seized swathes of Iraq in a lightning offensive in 2014, before being beaten back by a counter-insurgency campaign supported by a US-led military coalition.
The Iraqi government declared the extremists defeated in late 2017, although the Daesh retains sleeper cells which still strike security forces with hit-and-run attacks.