Iran’s nuclear program ‘has military element,’ admits ex-atomic energy chief

The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 29 November 2021

Iran’s nuclear program ‘has military element,’ admits ex-atomic energy chief

The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Former head of nuclear agency said Tehran’s top nuclear scientist was killed because his research ‘became a threat’
  • Pursuit of weapons could spark “nuclear arms race,” expert tells Arab News

LONDON: The former head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization has revealed that Tehran’s nuclear program has military objectives, in the clearest admission to date of Iran’s nuclear bomb ambitions.

In an interview with state media, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, former head of the IAEO, admitted to the existence of a “system” with military capabilities.

The existence of a military research branch within Iran’s nuclear program would directly contravene the state line on nuclear weapons.

Officials in Iran often cite a fatwa — a religious edict — issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against the development and use of nuclear arms as evidence that they are not pursuing nuclear arms.

However, while discussing the 2020 assassination by Israeli agents of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Abbasi-Davani suggested that his research was part of a “system” that had become a military threat to Israel.

“When the country’s all-encompassing growth began involving satellites, missiles and nuclear weapons, and surmounted new boundaries of knowledge, the issue became more serious for them,” Abbasi-Davani said.

While the individual elements of Iran’s nuclear program did not have an overt military use, the existence of that “system” of research endeavors, such as uranium enrichment, combined with Iran’s reasonably advanced domestic missile program, is believed to have triggered Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

But Abbasi-Davani’s interview, released as Washington and Tehran are set to re-engage in long-running talks over the future of Iran’s nuclear program, also revealed new information on the strategic goals behind the pursuit of nuclear arms: A nuclear umbrella for its regional proxies.

“Although our stance on nuclear weapons based on the supreme leader’s explicit fatwa regarding nuclear weapons being haram (religiously forbidden) is quite clear, Fakhrizadeh created this system and his concern wasn’t just the defense of our own country,” Abbasi-Davani said.

He warned: “Our country backs the axis of the resistance front (against Israel), and when you enter this realm, the Zionists become sensitive.”

The “axis of resistance” refers to Iran’s network of terrorist organizations and proxy groups, including the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and constituent militias of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Front.

Ideologically, the groups are opposed to Israel, but they are used in practice to pursue Iranian foreign policy objectives.

Meir Javedanfar, Iran lecturer at Reichman University, told Arab News that Abbasi-Davani’s admission was of “grave concern,” particularly because of the reference to a “system.”

He said: “This is unprecedented. Until now, the assumption has been that even if Iran gets a nuclear program, it would only be used to defend Iran and to deter others.

“Now, based on Abbasi-Davani’s comments, we know that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon it will be used to defend its proxies in the region. This makes it even more imperative that Iran does not get nuclear weapons.”

He added: “Using nuclear weapons to support Iran’s proxies at the very least would mean providing a protection umbrella for various groups around the region. That would imperil numerous countries in the region, and not just the state of Israel.”

Javedanfar warned: “That could lead, in itself, to a nuclear arms race.”


Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups
Updated 14 sec ago

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups

Calls grow to restore Houthis to US list of terrorist groups
  • World must deal with their ‘criminal acts,’ Yemen’s prime minister says

AL-MUKALLA: Demands grew on Wednesday for the US to restore the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen to its list of designated terrorist groups.

The government in Yemen joined calls for the reinstatement by authorities in the UAE after Monday’s Houthi drone attack on Abu Dhabi in which three people died.

“These criminal acts require designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization,” Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed said. “The international community has to deal with this group.

More pressure needs to be applied to stop these terrorist crimes that threaten regional and international peace and stability.”

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization on Jan. 16, 2021, a few hours before the Trump administration handed the White House over to Joe Biden.

The new administration quickly reversed the move, paused a ban on financial transactions in Houthi-controlled areas on Jan. 25, and fully revoked the terrorist designation on Feb. 16.

The revocation was followed by a barrage of drone and missile attacks by the Houthis targeting civilians and energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

On the ground, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy escalated airstrikes on Houthi military sites and reinforcements on Wednesday as government troops repelled the militia’s attempts to seize control of new areas.

Coalition warplanes destroyed military vehicles carrying Houthi fighters in Marib and struck Houthi gatherings and locations in the province. Thick smoke and large balls of fire billowed over targeted locations in southwestern Sanaa, including Attan Mountain, which hosts a ballistic missile depot.

The coalition said it had carried out 19 airstrikes in Marib that killed 90 Houthis and destroyed 11 of their vehicles.

There was heavy fighting between government troops and the Houthis south of the strategic central city of Marib. Rashad Al-Mekhlafi, a military official at Yemen’s Armed Forces Guidance Department, told Arab News the Houthis had mounted several counterattacks on government troops around Al-Balaq Al-Sharqi mountain range in a bid to break a siege on pockets of their fighters on the strategic mountain.

The Houthis failed to achieve their goal of reaching the mountain and were forced into stopping their attacks after suffering heavy casualties. “They have to either surrender or die,” Al-Mekhlafi said. Loyalist Giants Brigades troops also engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis south of Marib.

The US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, began visits on Wednesday to the Gulf states and the UK. “The special envoy and his team will press the parties to deescalate militarily and...participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” the State Department said.


US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts
Updated 52 min 58 sec ago

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen on GCC tour to reactivate peace efforts

RIYADH: US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking held talks with the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia to discuss efforts to reach a political solution to the Yemeni crisis.
Lenderking is on a tour of Gulf states and the British capital, London, to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN, senior regional government officials, and other international partners, the State Department said.
During the meeting, GCC Secretary-General Nayef Al-Hajraf stressed the importance of applying international pressure on the Iran-backed Houthi militia to end its terrorist activities and seriously engage in the Yemen peace process.
The two sides discussed regional and international efforts to reach the political solution sought by the bloc, in accordance with the GCC initiative and its Executive Mechanism, the outcomes of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference and UN Security Council resolution 2216.
Al-Hajraf praised Washington’s significant role and the efforts of the US envoy to end the Yemeni war, and the humanitarian and development assistance it provides to the Yemeni people.
He also strongly condemned the continued targeting of civilians and civilian targets with missiles and drones in Saudi Arabia, as well as the cowardly terrorist attack that targeted Abu Dhabi International Airport on Monday, killing three people.
Al-Hajraf said it constitutes a terrorist act, a flagrant violation of international law and a threat to regional security and stability.
During his tour, Lenderking “will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and seize the new year to participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” the State Department said.
He will also call on donors to provide additional funding to mitigate the dire humanitarian and economic crises facing Yemenis, after the UN had said that around $3.9 billion is needed this year to help millions of people in the war-torn country.


Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit

Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit
Updated 20 January 2022

Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit

Sudan protester shot dead as US envoys visit
  • For two days shops have shuttered and protesters have blockaded streets in a civil disobedience campaign
  • The latest killing took place in Omdurman where protesters opposed to the coup had set up barricades

KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces shot dead an anti-coup protester on Wednesday as American diplomats visited Khartoum seeking to help end a crisis which has claimed dozens of lives and derailed the country’s democratic transition.
For two days shops have shuttered and protesters have blockaded streets in a civil disobedience campaign to protest the killing of seven people during a demonstration on Monday, one of the bloodiest days since the October 25 military coup.
The latest killing took place in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman where protesters opposed to the coup had set up barricades.
Pro-democracy medics from the Doctors’ Committee said the protester was shot in the torso “by live bullets of the (security) forces.”
Witnesses also reported the use of tear gas by security forces in Omdurman and eastern Khartoum.
The death brings to 72 the number of people killed in a security crackdown against protesters who have taken to the streets — sometimes in the tens of thousands — calling for a return to the country’s democratic transition and opposing the latest military putsch.
Protesters have been shot by live rounds and hundreds have been wounded, according to the Doctors’ Committee.
The Forces for Freedom and Change, the leading civilian pro-democracy group, called for more protests on Thursday in Khartoum “in tribute to the martyrs,” and nationwide on Friday.
Before the latest fatality, US Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee and special envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, held meetings with the bereaved families of people killed during the protests, the US embassy said.
They also met with members of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella of unions which were instrumental in protests which ousted president Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019, as well as the mainstream faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change.
Its spokesman Wagdy Saleh said they pleaded for “an end to the systematic violence toward civilians” and a “credible political process.”
The diplomats are scheduled to meet with others including military leaders and political figures.
“Their message will be clear: the United States is committed to freedom, peace, and justice for the Sudanese people,” the US State Department said ahead of the visit.
The diplomats held earlier talks in Saudi Arabia with the “Friends of Sudan” — a group of Western and Arab countries favoring transition to civilian rule.
In a statement, the group backed a United Nations initiative announced last week to hold intra-Sudanese consultations to break the political impasse.
“We urge all to engage in good faith and reestablish public trust in the inevitable transition to democracy,” the group said.
“Ideally this political process will be time-bound and culminate in the formation of a civilian-led government which will prepare for democratic elections.”
While the US diplomats visited, coup leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan announced that vice-ministers — some of whom served before the coup and some appointed after — would now become ministers.
A statement from his office called it a “cabinet in charge of current affairs.”
But it has no prime minister, since the civilian premier Abdalla Hamdok resigned in early January after trying to cooperate with the military.
As part of the civil disobedience campaign, judicial workers including prosecutors and judges said they would not work for a state committing “crimes against humanity.”
University professors, corporations and doctors also joined the movement, according to separate statements.
Sudan’s authorities have repeatedly denied using live ammunition against demonstrators, and insist scores of security personnel have been wounded during protests. A police general was stabbed to death last week.


Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges

Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges
Updated 19 January 2022

Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges

Jailed French tourist to appear in Iran court on spying charges
  • Benjamin Briere was arrested while operating a remote-controlled mini helicopter in a desert area near the Turkmenistan-Iran border
  • Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges

DUBAI: A jailed French tourist in Iran, Benjamin Briere, will appear before a Revolutionary Court on Thursday on spying charges, his lawyer said on Wednesday, over a year after his arrest while operating a remote-controlled mini helicopter in a desert area.
“Benjamin will attend the court to be tried for spying and acting against national security charges,” one of his lawyers Saeid Dehghan told Reuters.
Briere has been held since May 2020, when he was arrested after flying a helicam — a remote-controlled mini helicopter used to obtain aerial or motion images — in the desert near the Turkmenistan-Iran border. He was charged with espionage and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
His trial comes as the United States and parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal including France are trying to restore the pact, which was abandoned in 2018 by then-US president Donald Trump. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges.
Rights activists have accused Iran of arresting dual citizens and foreigners to try to win concessions from other countries. Tehran denies holding people for political reasons.


US warns against travel to 3 Arab countries over COVID-19

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning against three Arab countries. (Shutterstock)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning against three Arab countries. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 January 2022

US warns against travel to 3 Arab countries over COVID-19

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning against three Arab countries. (Shutterstock)
  • Countries have been included in “Level 3: High” category, which advises against unvaccinated and non-essential travel

LONDON: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning against three Arab countries due to rising COVID-19 cases. 

Bahrain, Egypt, Qatar and 19 other countries have been included in the “Level 3: High” category, which advises against unvaccinated and non-essential travel.

Other countries added to the highest warning level for the first time include Albania, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Sao Tome and Principe, Suriname, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.