Posts Tagged ‘centrifuges’

Iran exploring new uranium enrichment that could void 2015 nuclear deal

January 15, 2019

Iran suggests it could restart its nuclear program, if it chooses

The head of Iran’s nuclear program said Sunday that the Islamic Republic has begun “preliminary activities for designing” a modern process for 20% uranium enrichment for its 50-year-old research reactor in Tehran, signaling new danger for the nuclear deal.

Restarting enrichment at that level would mean Iran had withdrawn the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that President Donald Trump already pulled America out of in May.

However, Ali Akbar Salehi’s comments to state television appeared aimed at telling the world Iran would slowly restart its program. If it chooses, it could resume mass enrichment at its main facility in the central Iranian town of Natanz.

In the past, Iran's nuclear chief said it only takes five days to enrich uranium at 20 percent [Vahid Salemi/AP]

In the past, Iran’s nuclear chief said it only takes five days to enrich uranium at 20 percent [Vahid Salemi/AP]

“Preliminary activities for designing modern 20% (enriched uranium) fuel have begun,” state TV quoted Salehi as saying.

Salehi said adding the “modern fuel” will increase efficiency in Tehran research reactor that consumes 20% enriched fuel.

“We are at the verge” of being ready, he said, without elaborating.

In June, Iran informed the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog that it will increase its nuclear enrichment capacity within the limits set by the 2015 agreement with world powers. Iran continues to comply with the terms of the deal, according to the U.N., despite the American pullout.

Salehi heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, whose Tehran campus holds the nuclear research reactor given to the country by the U.S. in 1967 under the rule of the shah. But in the time since that American “Atoms for Peace” donation, Iran was convulsed by its 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent takeover and hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

For decades since, Western nations have been concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, accusing Tehran of seeking atomic weapons. Iran long has said its program is for peaceful purposes, but it faced years of crippling sanctions.

The 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with world powers, including the U.S. under President Barack Obama, was aimed at relieving those fears. Under it, Iran agreed to store its excess centrifuges at its underground Natanz enrichment facility under constant surveillance by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran can use 5,060 older-model IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz, but only to enrich uranium up to 3.67%.

That low-level enrichment means the uranium can be used to fuel a civilian reactor but is far below the 90% needed to produce a weapon. Iran also can possess no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of that uranium. That’s compared to the 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds) of higher-enriched uranium it once had.

Trump, who campaigned on a promise to tear up the nuclear deal, said he ultimately pulled America out of the accord over Iran’s ballistic missile program and its malign influence on the wider Mideast.

In an interview in September with The Associated Press, Salehi warned that Iran could begin mass production of more advanced centrifuges if the deal collapses.

“If we have to go back and withdraw from the nuclear deal, we certainly do not go back to where we were before,” Salehi said at the time. “We will be standing on a much, much higher position.”

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/iran-exploring-new-uranium-enrichment-that-could-void-2015-nuclear-deal-2019-01-13

See also:

Nuclear chief: Iran advances technology to produce nuclear fuel

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/nuclear-chief-iran-advances-technology-enrich-uranium-190113142400246.html

 

 

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Here’s How Trump Should Prepare for Iranian Escalation

October 27, 2018

Once sanctions are back in full force, the United States needs to be ready for the worst.

On Nov. 5, the United States is set to impose crippling sanctions against Iranian oil exports—the country’s most important source of hard currency. Very quickly, Iran’s revenues could be slashed in half or even worse—a body blow to an economy already reeling from runaway inflation and rising unemployment. Popular discontent, manifest in widespread protests and labor strikes throughout much of 2018, is almost certain to deepen. As a result, the clerical regime is likely to come under greater economic and political stress in the coming months than at any time since rising to power in the 1979 revolution. As the Trump administration prepares to crank up the pressure even further and the walls continue to close in on Iran’s theocrats, U.S. officials would be well advised to consider how Iran might respond—and the steps they should take to deter, and if necessary defeat, any Iranian escalation.

By John Hannah
Foreign Policy

Image result for Iran, oil, flag, photos

Escalation is not inevitable. Since President Donald Trump’s May 8 announcement that the United States would pull out of the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions, Iran has in fact demonstrated considerable restraint. It made a point of staying in the accord and maintaining its key restrictions on centrifuges and enriched uranium. Its strategy has been to exploit visceral European opposition to Trump’s Iran policy, posing as the victim of a lawless U.S. president who has flagrantly and unilaterally violated international commitments and norms.

However, it’s important to note that this initial Iranian response to Trump’s withdrawal was explicitly conditioned on the ability of the European Union to ensure that the deal’s economic benefits would continue to flow—with a special stress on Iran’s oil sales. In late May, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that “European banks should safeguard trade with the Islamic Republic.”

“Europe should fully guarantee Iran’s oil sales. In case Americans can damage our oil sales,” he said. “Europeans should make up for that and buy Iranian oil.”

Despite the EU’s best efforts to foil U.S. sanctions, it has become increasingly clear over the past five months that it won’t succeed.

Despite the EU’s best efforts to foil U.S. sanctions, it has become increasingly clear over the past five months that it won’t succeed.

From an enhanced blocking statute to discussion of a special payments vehicle for maintaining Iranian trade, none of it appears likely to do much to blunt the force of the blow that is about to hit the Iranian economy. European companies have already abandoned the Iranian market in droves. And Iranian oil exports have recently begun to plummet—according to reports, by at least several hundred thousand barrels per day—even before U.S. sanctions have gone back into effect.

It’s still possible, of course, that despite the EU’s failure to satisfy Tehran, the Iranians will nevertheless decide that the better part of wisdom is to hold their fire. Lashing out certainly carries risks. It could alienate European governments and push them closer to Trump’s anti-Iran position. Even more dangerously, it could invite a painful, disproportionate military response from a highly unpredictable and volatile U.S. president. Under strong counsel from the Europeans, it’s possible that the Iranians could calculate that their best course is simply to sit tight, endure the sanctions while exploiting whatever loopholes exist, and wait out Trump’s presidency in hopes that he’ll be impeached by a Democratic Congress in 2019 or voted out of office come 2020.

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In many ways, the United States has had the best of both worlds in recent months. Trump has withdrawn from the nuclear deal with Iran and is systematically going about the business of building a maximum pressure campaign to strangle the Iranian economy—all without Tehran ramping up its nuclear program or significantly escalating its persistent efforts to undermine and attack U.S. interests. Let’s hope this continues.

But, as the saying goes, hope is not a strategy. The administration should prepare for all contingencies—especially the bad ones. There certainly appears to be a deepening perception among Iran’s leaders that, despite protestations to the contrary, the Trump administration’s true agenda is regime change. With the U.S. economic noose set to tighten around their necks come November, it would be foolish not to plan for the possibility that, at some point, the hardened men charged with defending the Islamic revolution will not find a way to hit back.

If you’ve looked around in recent months, it’s certainly not hard to find an accumulation of worrying data points—in the form of both threatening statements and actions—that taken together suggest an escalation could be in the cards. In early July, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a supposed moderate, made several veiled threats against any U.S. attempt to stop Iran’s oil sales. “The Americans have claimed they want to completely stop Iran’s oil exports,” he said. “They don’t understand the meaning of this statement, because it has no meaning for Iranian oil not to be exported while the region’s oil is exported.” Weeks later, he was even more explicit, raising the prospect that Iran could retaliate by disrupting all oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz. “We have always guaranteed the security of this strait,” Rouhani warned. “Do not play with the lion’s tail—you will regret it forever.”

Image result for Hassan Rouhani, photos

Each of these statements by Rouhani came alongside an even more bellicose threat from the two top generals of Iran’s most powerful military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The head of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari, sought to make clear that if the United States stopped Iran from selling its oil, no other Gulf country would be allowed to do so either. “We will make the enemy understand that either all can use the Strait of Hormuz or no one,” Jafari said.

Image result for Qassem Suleimani, photos

Qassem Suleimani

Even more alarming were the statements of Qassem Suleimani, the terrorist mastermind who heads the IRGC’s most lethal unit, the expeditionary Quds Force. After Rouhani’s second warning triggered a blistering all-caps tweet from Trump to “never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history ever suffered before,” Suleimani threatened the United States again. Addressing Trump directly, he said in a speech, “It is beneath the dignity of our president to respond to you. I, as a soldier, respond to you.” He derided U.S. military failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East and ominously warned Trump, “We are near you, where you can’t even imagine. … We are ready. We are the man of this arena.” He declared, “Trump should know that we are the nation of martyrdom and that we await him.” Suleimani concluded, “You know this war will destroy all that you possess. You will start this war, but we will be the ones to impose its end. … You know our power in the region and our capabilities in asymmetric warfare.”

This might be empty bluster. But when issued by professional killers responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one should take it lightly. Especially when Iran has also engaged in a number of provocative actions in recent months against U.S. interests, in what could be interpreted as an effort to probe U.S. responses and vulnerabilities.

Even a short list, when compiled in one place, is very concerning. In early July, an Iranian diplomat was arrested in Europe for plotting to attack an opposition conference in Paris attended by prominent Americans, including Trump confidants Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich. The next month, two Iranians were arrested in the United States on charges of spying for Iran, including surveilling Jewish centers in Chicago as well as Iranian opposition figures. In late July, Houthi rebels in Yemen, armed and trained by the IRGC, attacked a loaded Saudi oil tanker near the Bab el-Mandeb strait at the mouth of the Red Sea, resulting in a temporary suspension of the kingdom’s oil shipments through the world’s third-most critical shipping lane for oil.

Iranian provocations have appeared to accelerate over the past several weeks. In early September, a day after Iraqi protesters in the southern city of Basra torched the Iranian Consulate, rockets struck near the U.S. Consulate in Basra as well as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, missing both. The U.S. government quickly accused Iraqi Shiite militias commanded by the IRGC of being responsible. A day later, the IRGC conducted a precision missile strike on a building in U.S.-allied Iraqi Kurdistan where leaders of an Iranian Kurdish opposition group—that Iran claims is backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia—were holding a meeting, killing 11. At the end of September, there were more rocket attacks against the U.S. Consulate in Basra that the Trump administration immediately blamed on Iraqi militias “under the control and direction of the Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani.” And on Oct. 1, in retaliation for an attack on an IRGC parade in Ahvaz, Iran, the Revolutionary Guards fired six medium-range ballistic missiles into eastern Syria near the Iraqi border, allegedly targeting fighters of the Islamic State but striking perilously close (within three miles) of U.S. troops.

In the event that Iran does decide on a major escalation, it’s hard to predict where it would choose to strike. Despite all the bluster about the Strait of Hormuz, it’s difficult to believe that the Iranians would attempt a head-on confrontation with the U.S. military. All of Iran’s leaders surely remember Operation Praying Mantis, when the United States responded to attacks on its ships in the Gulf by sinking a significant portion of the Iranian navy in 1988.

Far more likely is that Iran would respond indirectly. As Suleimani said, Iran’s money game is asymmetric warfare: the exploitation of proxies, terrorists, unwitting jihadis, and disaffected Middle Eastern Shiite populations. Covert actions to destabilize weak U.S. allies. Cyberattacks. Operating just beneath the threshold that would trigger a violent U.S. military response. Plausible deniability. That’s Iran’s real wheelhouse.

If Iran wants to cause massive disruption in global oil markets, it doesn’t need to take on the U.S. Navy in the Strait of Hormuz. It could, for example, simply take advantage of the widespread chaos and unrest in southern Iraq to have its militia proxies and their loyalists attack, sabotage, or otherwise paralyze operations at Iraq’s most important oil fields, pipelines, and export terminals. That could remove as much as another 3 million barrels of oil per day from international markets, triggering a potentially recession-inducing spike in world prices. Now multiply that by a factor of 10 if Iran successfully targeted critical oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia through terrorism, cyberattack, or violent protests among the disgruntled Shiite majority that inhabits the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern province—a scenario that policymakers have worried about for a long time.

Relatively small pockets of U.S. troops operating in close proximity with local partners in Syria and Iraq also offer ample opportunities—albeit perhaps more risky—for the IRGC to inflict real pain on the United States. Its vast array of proxy militias in both theaters are strong and capable. But it also no doubt has a multitude of other, more covert assets that it could use as cover to slowly bleed the United States and put to the test Trump’s staying power in a Middle East that he almost instinctively longs to abandon—including members of the Syrian and Iraqi security services, agents within the Kurdish communities, or among the Sunni tribes that inhabit the Iraqi-Syrian borderlands. There are no doubt others as well, perhaps even easily manipulated fighters from the Islamic State or al Qaeda.

These contingencies only begin to scratch the service. Many more could eventually be possible—from strikes by Iranian-backed terrorist networks around the world, including North America, to the gradual resumption of Iranian nuclear activities beyond the limits of the 2015 deal. The Trump administration needs to determine which of these scenarios are the most probable and develop strategies for effectively dealing with each of them, including through advance coordination with allies and deploying necessary resources and enhanced capabilities to the region.

Image result for Jim Mattis, inspecting China honor guard, photos

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe inspect an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the military’s Bayi Building in Beijing. | AFP

Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advisor John Bolton have all issued recent statements, of varying specificity, putting Iran on notice that it will face severe consequences for any attacks on U.S. interests. The toughest and most all-encompassing came from Bolton in late September when he warned Iran, “If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens; if you continue to lie, cheat, and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay.” Conspicuously missing from this chorus, however, has been Defense Secretary James Mattis. It goes without saying that it would be helpful to have the senior official charged with the command and control of U.S. forces, especially one with Mattis’s military stature, strongly reinforcing the administration’s deterrent message with respect to any Iranian escalation.

Yet of at least equal significance is the need to convince Iran that its failure to heed U.S. deterrent warnings will trigger a swift and disproportionate response—one that imposes costs far higher than any benefit that escalation might achieve. It’s also important that Iran be made to believe that its traditional tactics won’t be allowed to work, that the U.S. evidentiary threshold for attributing blame and retaliatory action won’t be excessively high, and that the sins of the proxies and cutouts will definitely be visited on Iran itself.

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Iranian attack boats in the Persian Gulf

Certainly, at a minimum, the United States should make every effort to avoid mixed signals that undercut the clarity of the deterrent message. Two recent incidents were particularly concerning in this regard. First, the decision in late September to evacuate U.S. personnel from the Basra consulate in the face of the rocket attacks attributed to the IRGC. While Pompeo issued a statement threatening harsh punishment for such attacks, the only visible action the United States actually took was to send its diplomats packing under fire. The second incident was the Pentagon’s decision to withdraw several U.S. missile defense systems from the Middle East this month and move them to Asia. Whatever technical sense the announcement may have made, it hardly conveyed to the IRGC the kind of resolve and strength that the United States should be looking to exhibit in the lead-up to the reimposition of harsh sanctions.

The return of crippling sanctions on Iran’s oil exports will almost certainly mark an important moment in the long saga of U.S.-Iranian relations. No one can say for sure how Iran might respond. But anytime you openly set about putting a target on the back of a brutal enemy regime, you need to be ready. The Trump administration has thrown tremendous time and energy into ensuring that its campaign of maximum economic pressure backs Iran into a strategic corner from which there will be no escape (from Iran’s perspective) except capitulation. Given the nature of the Iranian regime, that policy makes considerable sense and has a compelling strategic logic—but only if the administration has in fact done its homework and put equal effort into planning for how to deal with Iran’s revolutionaries should they decide not to stand pat or back down but to escalate and fight instead.

John Hannah is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, focusing on U.S. strategy. During the presidency of George W. Bush, he served for eight years on the staff of Vice President Cheney, including as the vice president’s national security advisor.
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Iran has 3,000-4,000 active centrifuges for enrichment, parliament speaker says

September 13, 2018

Figure is down from 9,000 before 2015 nuclear deal, says Ali Larijani, in rare disclosure of operations

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, March 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, March 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Iran has 3,000 to 4,000 active centrifuge machines for uranium enrichment, its parliament speaker said.

The number of operating machines is down from the 9,000 the Islamic Republic had running before it signed the 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said in a rare admission of actual numbers of centrifuges.

The current number of active centrifuge machines is well under the ceiling agreed to in the nuclear deal called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, Larijani told a meeting of clerics. He spoke in Iran’s southwestern province of Fars, the Iranian Tasnim News Agency reported.

The 2015 accord had been signed with Russia, China, the US, Britain, France and Germany. The United States under President Donald Trump announced in May that it would withdraw from the nuclear deal.

Larijani in his remarks accused the US and “the Zionist regime of Israel” of plotting against Iran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday verified Iran’s full compliance with the terms of the JCPOA.

On Wednesday, Iran’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, Kazem Gharibabadi, called on the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal to ensure that the deal serves the Islamic Republic’s interests.

Screen capture from video showing Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, right, and three Iranian produced uranium enrichment centrifuges in the background. (YouTube)

“While Iran has continued its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in an effective way based on goodwill, unfortunately, our interests have not been fully served based on what has been mentioned in the nuclear deal,” Gharibabadi said in an address to the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in the city.

He said Iran has behaved responsibly and fulfilled its obligations so far, unlike the United States, which left the deal and reimposed economic sanctions on Iran.

Meanwhile, Iran’s nuclear chief said on Sunday that Iran has completed building a facility at the Natanz nuclear plant that will build advanced centrifuge machines, Reuters reported, citing official state media.

The official IRNA news agency on Sunday quoted Ali Akbar Salehi as saying that Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, “had ordered us to set up and complete a very advanced hall for the construction of modern centrifuges, and this hall has now been fully equipped and set up.”

Khamenei in June reportedly ordered preparations to increase the country’s uranium enrichment capacity if the nuclear agreement with the world powers collapsed.

A senior Israeli minister threatened Iran on Wednesday with military action if it furthers its nuclear development.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/iran-has-3000-4000-active-centrifuges-for-enrichment-parliament-speaker-says/

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Iran atomic program ‘stronger than ever,’ nuclear chief says

September 12, 2018

Iran increased its threat to regional security on Tuesday by boasting that its nuclear program was more advanced than ever.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization and vice president to Hassan Rouhani, said that if US President Donald Trump succeeded in dismantling the 2015 deal to curb the program, Tehran would resume uranium enrichment with more sophisticated equipment.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization and vice president to Hassan Rouhani, said Tehran would resume uranium enrichment with more sophisticated equipment. (AP)

“If we have to go back and withdraw from the nuclear deal, we certainly do not go back to where we were before,” he said. “We will be standing on a much, much higher position.”

Iran stores centrifuges to enrich uranium at its underground Natanz facility, under surveillance by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Salehi said it would build a new facility at Natanz that will produce more advanced centrifuges.

“This does not mean we are going to produce these centrifuges now,” he said. “This is just a preparation. If Iran decides to start mass production of such centrifuges, we would be ready for that.”

If the nuclear deal fell apart, Iran would react in stages, Salehi said. It could enrich uranium “to 20 percent, because this is our need,” and could also increase its stockpile of enriched uranium.

Iran’s fragile economy is already suffering from US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the reimposition of economic sanctions. Prices have soared, the rial has plunged in value and thousands of Iranians have taken part in street protests demanding regime change. Further sanctions in November will target Iran’s energy sector and slash its crucial oil revenues.

Tehran hoped that the other signatories to the nuclear deal — Russia, China, France, Germany and the UK — would keep it alive, but faced with the threat of blocked access to the US financial system, Western companies from aircraft manufacturers to oil firms have pulled out of Iran.

In a further blow to Iran’s economy, the US renewed its warning to civilian airlines on Tuesday to avoid Iranian airspace. Hundreds of international flights pass over Iran every day, and each is required to pay an overflight fee. Iran refuses to disclose its revenue from these fees, but it is thought to be considerable.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said flying over Iran was risky because of the possibility of interception, and military activities related to the war in Syria.

Flight Service Bureau, which advises airlines, said the deteriorating relationship between the US and Iran must be taken into account when planning flights in Iran’s airspace.

“Although the reopening of Iraqi airspace in November last year has provided additional routing options … there is no perfect route in the region, and operators must consider their preference for Iraq vs Iran,” it said.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1370726/middle-east

Iran Nuclear Chief: Facility Ready for Producing ‘Very Advanced’ Centrifuges

September 10, 2018

The Times of Israel reports: Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi told state media on Sunday that a facility to produce advanced centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear plant has been completed.

Image result for Ali Akbar Salehi, photos

Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told the official IRNA news agency that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali “Khamenei ordered us to set up and complete a very advanced hall for the construction of modern centrifuges, and this hall has now been fully equipped and set up,” according to Reuters.

Salehi said Khamenei also ordered the development of nuclear-powered ships, and that project would take 10-15 years to complete.

https://www.breitbart.com/jerusalem/2018/09/10/iran-nuclear-chief-facility-ready-for-producing-very-advanced-centrifuges/

Iran nuclear chief: New Natanz nuclear facility producing advanced centrifuges

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https://www.timesofisrael.com/iran-nuclear-chief-new-natanz-nuclear-facility-producing-advanced-centrifuges/

Ali Akbar Salehi says Tehran mulling withdrawal from 2015 nuclear deal, warns ‘everyone will suffer’ if accord collapses entirely

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, on stage and beard

In this picture released by his office’s official website, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks at a meeting in Tehran, Iran, on August 13, 2018. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Arab News: Nuclear bomb ‘on Iran’s agenda’

July 19, 2018

Iran has increased its stockpile of uranium and boosted its ability to enrich it to weapons grade, the head of its atomic agency admitted on Wednesday.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the regime had imported 550 tons of uranium before the 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear program. It had acquired about 400 tons more since then, bringing the total to between 900 and 950 tons.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the new factory did not in itself break the terms of the agreement. (Reuters)

Iran has also built a factory that can produce rotors for up to 60 IR-6 centrifuges a day for uranium enrichment, Salehi said.

The announcements came a month after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he had ordered agencies to prepare to increase uranium-enrichment capacity if the nuclear deal falls apart after Washington’s withdrawal.

Under the agreement, which was also signed by Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

The other signatories have been scrambling to save the deal. Iran has said it will wait to see what they can do, but has signaled it is ready to put its enrichment activities back on track.

Image result for Natanz nuclear plant, photos

 

The man who may have started it all: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran from 2005 to 2013

Salehi insisted the new factory did not break the terms of the agreement. “Instead of building this factory in the next seven or eight years, we built it during the negotiations but have not started it,” he said.

Salehi said last month that Iran had begun working on infrastructure for building advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility.

The announcements suggest that a nuclear bomb is on Iran’s agenda, Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, told Arab News

“Iran’s negotiating strategy here seems to be pegged to pressuring the EU to provide European businesses protection from complying with renewed US sanctions,” he said.

“IR-6 centrifuges are relatively complex and if Tehran moves forward with enhancing their capacity to mass-produce faster advanced centrifuges, they could easily establish a position to breakout quickly toward nuclear weapon production, if the decision is made.

“The capacity to build en masse more advanced centrifuges in the future doesn’t violate the deal itself, but it sends a strong political signal that nuclear weaponization could very well still be on the agenda in Tehran.”

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1340936/middle-east

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Iran builds new centrifuge rotor factory: nuclear chief

July 18, 2018

Iran has built a factory that can produce rotors for up to 60 centrifuges a day, the head of its atomic agency said on Wednesday, upping the stakes in a confrontation with Washington over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work.

Image result for Ali Akbar Salehi, photos

FILE PHOTO: Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi attends the lecture “Iran after the agreement: Hopes & Concerns” in Vienna, Austria, September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

The announcement came a month after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he had ordered agencies to prepare to increase uranium enrichment capacity if a nuclear deal with world powers falls apart after Washington’s withdrawal from the pact.

Under the terms of the 2015 agreement, which was also signed by Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

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Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, April, 9, 2007. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, April, 9, 2007. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

The other signatories have been scrambling to save the accord, arguing it offers the best way to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb.

Iran has said it will wait to see what the other powers can do, but has signaled it is ready to get its enrichment activities back on track. It has regularly said its nuclear work is just for electricity generation and other peaceful projects.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the new factory did not in itself break the terms of the agreement.

“Instead of building this factory in the next seven or eight years, we built it during the negotiations but did not start it,” Salehi, said, according to state media.

Image result for Natanz nuclear plant, photos

The man who may have started it all: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran from 2005 to 2013

“Of course, the [Supreme Leader] was completely informed and we gave him the necessary information at the time. And now that he has given the order this factory has started all of its work.”

The factory would have the capacity to build rotors for up to 60 IR-6 centrifuges per day, he added.

Last month, Salehi announced that Iran has begun working on infrastructure for building advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility.

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Reuters

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Pompeo to head to North Korea as doubts mount over denuclearization

July 3, 2018

Intelligence reports suggest Pyongyang may be boosting production of fuel for nuclear weapons

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens while appearing at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Pompeo is due to travel to North Korea later this week. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will leave for North Korea on Thursday, seeking agreement on a plan for the country’s denuclearization despite mounting doubts about Pyongyang’s willingness to abandon a weapons program that threatens the United States and its allies.

In announcing Pompeo’s travel plans on Monday, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said the United States was “continuing to make progress” in talks with North Korea. She declined to confirm or deny recent media reports of intelligence assessments saying North Korea has been expanding its weapons capabilities.

The State Department said Pompeo would head from Pyongyang to Tokyo on Saturday, where he would discuss North Korean denuclearization with Japanese and South Korean leaders.

It will be Pompeo’s first visit to North Korea since the June 12 summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, at which the North Korean leader agreed to “work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The joint summit statement, however, gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might give up its weapons.

U.S. officials have since been trying to flesh out details to produce an agreement that might live up to Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the outcome.

‘Great momentum’

The U.S. goal remained “the final, fully verified denuclearization of [North Korea], as agreed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore,” a State Department spokesperson said.

A U.S. delegation led by U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim met with North Korean counterparts at Panmunjom on the border between North and South Korea on Sunday to discuss next steps on the implementation of the summit declaration, the State Department said.

“We had good meetings yesterday and … the secretary of state will be there later this week to continue those discussions,” Sanders told a White House briefing.

Sanders endorsed comments made Sunday by White House national security adviser John Bolton, who said he believed the bulk of North Korea’s weapons programs could be dismantled within a year “if they have the strategic decision already made to do that.”

“There is great momentum right now for a positive change and we are moving together for further negotiations,” Sanders said.

However, some experts disputed Bolton’s optimistic time frame for decommissioning North Korea’s weapons, even if North Korea were willing to agree to such moves, amid multiple reports suggesting otherwise.

U.S. intelligence reports

An NBC News report on Friday quoted officials saying U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in talks with the United States.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that North Korea did not intend to fully give up its nuclear arsenal and is considering ways to hide the number of weapons it has.

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands at the conclusion of their meetings at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on June 12. A leaked U.S. intelligence report and an analysis of satellite data suggest the North may be continuing its nuclear and missile activities. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, issued a report on Monday saying recent satellite imagery showed North Korea was completing a major expansion of a key manufacturing plant for solid-fuel missiles.

The images showed North Korea finishing construction on the exterior of the plant around the time Kim was meeting with Trump, the report said.

Last week, 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project affiliated with Washington’s Stimson Center think-tank, said satellite imagery showed the North had been upgrading its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Seeking a ‘road map’

Bolton refused to comment on intelligence matters but said the United States was going into nuclear negotiations aware of Pyongyang’s failure to live up to its past promises.

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Centre for a New American Security, said U.S. and South Korea officials had told him Pompeo would be seeking to agree to “a specific denuclearization road map, or at least significant dismantlement steps that could fill in a road map.”

He said that if progress was made, the U.S. was open to expanded future engagement with North Korea, including a possible visit by Kim to the UN General Assembly in New York in September and a second summit with Trump.

North Korea has consistently refused in past rounds of failed negotiations to provide an inventory of its weapons program and U.S. intelligence remains uncertain of how many nuclear warheads North Korea has.

The Defence Intelligence Agency has a high-end estimate of about 50 nuclear warheads. But U.S. intelligence agencies believe Pyongyang is concealing an unknown number, including smaller tactical nuclear weapons, in caves and other underground facilities around the country.

Related:

See also:

North Korea satellite images show missile plant construction, analysts say

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/02/asia/north-korea-factory-intl/index.html

Pompeo to head to North Korea as doubts mount

July 3, 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will leave for North Korea on Thursday seeking agreement on a plan for the country’s denuclearization, despite mounting doubts about Pyongyang’s willingness to abandon a weapons program that threatens the United States and its allies.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, people sitting and suit
KCNA | Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in this May 9, 2018 photo released on May 10, 2018 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang.

In announcing Pompeo’s travel plans on Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the United States was “continuing to make progress” in talks with North Korea. She declined to confirm or deny recent media reports of intelligence assessments saying North Korea has been expanding its weapons capabilities.

The State Department said Pompeo would head on Saturday from Pyongyang to Tokyo, where he would discuss North Korean denuclearization with Japanese and South Korean leaders.

It will be Pompeo’s first visit to North Korea since the June 12 summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, at which the North Korean leader agreed to “work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The joint summit statement, however, gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might give up its weapons. U.S. officials have since been trying to flesh out details to produce an agreement that might live up to Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the outcome.

The U.S. goal remained “the final, fully-verified denuclearization of (North Korea), as agreed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore,” a State Department spokeswoman said.

A U.S. delegation led by U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim met with North Korean counterparts at Panmunjom on the border between North and South Korea on Sunday to discuss next steps on the implementation of the summit declaration, the State Department said.

“We had good meetings yesterday and … the secretary of state will be there later this week to continue those discussions,” Sanders told a White House briefing.

Sanders endorsed comments made on Sunday by White House national security adviser John Bolton, who said he believed the bulk of North Korea’s weapons programs could be dismantled within a year “if they have the strategic decision already made to do that.”

“There is great momentum right now for a positive change and we are moving together for further negotiations,” Sanders said.

However, some experts disputed Bolton’s optimistic time frame for decommissioning North Korea’s weapons, even if North Korea were willing to agree to such moves, amid multiple reports suggesting otherwise.

INTELLIGENCE REPORTS

An NBC News report on Friday quoted U.S. officials saying U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in talks with the United States.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that North Korea did not intend to fully give up its nuclear arsenal and is considering ways to hide the number of weapons it has.

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, issued a report on Monday saying recent satellite imagery showed North Korea was completing a major expansion of a key manufacturing plant for solid-fuel missiles.

The images showed North Korea finishing construction on the exterior of the plant around the time Kim was meeting with Trump, the report said.

Last week, 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project affiliated with Washington’s Stimson Center think tank, said satellite imagery showed the North had been upgrading its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Bolton also refused to comment on intelligence matters, but said the United States was going into nuclear negotiations aware of Pyongyang’s failure to live up to its past promises.

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said U.S. and South Korea officials had told him Pompeo would be seeking to agree to “a specific denuclearization road map, or at least significant dismantlement steps that could fill in a roadmap.”

He said that if progress was made, the U.S. was open to expanded future engagement with North Korea, including a possible visit by Kim to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September and a second summit with Trump.

North Korea has consistently refused in past rounds of failed negotiations to provide an inventory of its weapons program, and U.S. intelligence remains uncertain of how many nuclear warheads North Korea has.

The Defense Intelligence Agency has a high end estimate of about 50 nuclear warheads. But U.S. intelligence agencies believe Pyongyang is concealing an unknown number, including smaller tactical nuclear weapons, in caves and other underground facilities around the country.

US intel agency believes Kim won’t fully denuclearize

July 3, 2018

The Defense Intelligence Agency believes that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has no intention of engaging in a full denuclearization program, at least for now, according to an administration official familiar with the agency’s finding.

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A second official tells CNN the Trump administration plans to present the North Koreans with a detailed list of tasks they must undertake to begin a denuclearization process.
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The analysis is currently being circulated among other US intelligence agencies to see if they concur, the first official said. While the official would not detail the precise intelligence that has led to this conclusion, the agency utilizes satellite imagery, electronic intercepts and human intelligence gained from operatives.
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CNN
By Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen, CNN

Updated 6:25 PM ET, Mon July 2, 2018

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A North Korean missile production facility in the city of Hamhung is seen from a satellite image taken on June 29. (Planet Labs Inc./Reuters)

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A third official told CNN that the agency believes Kim may publicly agree to denuclearization to some extent, but that he will in reality hide weapons and infrastructure from the US.
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A photograph released by North Korean state media last year showing Kim inspecting an artist's rendition of the purported facility.

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The current view on Kim directly addresses his intentions rather than the overall capabilities of his weapons programs. If other elements of the US intelligence community agree with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s analysis, it could then become a so-called “finished intelligence product,” or report that would be briefed to the highest levels of the administration. It’s not known how much of the DIA finding the White House may be aware of.
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will return to North Korea on July 5 to meet with Kim and his team, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at Monday’s press briefing.
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A foreign intelligence source told CNN that the intelligence community’s analytic judgment has stayed the same for years, which is that they are skeptical of Kim’s willingness to denuclearize.
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This source said that they are unaware of any new projects the North Koreans may be working on, but reiterated that “they have given nothing up.”
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Former UN weapons inspector David Albright told CNN on Monday that his firm has new information about a secret North Korean facility producing highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium. The information, Albright says, comes from Western intelligence sources.
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“At Kangsong they’re using gas centrifuges,” Albright told CNN’s Brian Todd. Pointing to a photo, Albright identified the rotor assembly. “They’re producing weapons-grade uranium for nuclear weapons,” Albright said. “And the site may have up to 6,000 or more of these centrifuges.”
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The Pentagon declined to address intelligence reports on North Korea’s nuclear capability when asked on Monday, saying only that the US military remains postured to “deal with any and all threats on the peninsula” with the goal of allowing “diplomats the space and the time to hopefully make progress coming out of the summit.”
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Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning also said that Trump’s decision to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea “will not impact the capabilities and readiness of our combined forces on the peninsula in order to deal with North Korea.”
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The Defense Department has long been skeptical of North Korea moving quickly to denuclearize. Recent commercial satellite imagery has shown some continuing activity at various nuclear fuel and missile sites.
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The Washington Post earlier reported on US intelligence officials’ doubt that North Korea intends to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile.
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Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in a signed agreement after his Singapore summit with President Donald Trump. In the statement, Kim also said that his country would commit “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
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But Trump has repeatedly mischaracterized the nature of his deal with Kim, insisting last month that the North Korean dictator had agreed to begin “total denuclearization” right away.
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While Kim has consistently said he’s willing to denuclearize, long-time North Korea watchers worry that Pyongyang and Washington have very different definitions of the term denuclearization.
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“Kim has never offered to disarm. Not once,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director for the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “He’s arming, not disarming.”
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White House national security adviser John Bolton would not comment on the Washington Post report Sunday, but did say on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal could be dismantled in a year if Pyongyang cooperates, adding that the program would require “full disclosure of all (of North Korea’s) chemical and biological, nuclear programs, ballistic missile sites.”
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“We have developed a program. I am sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of their (weapons of mass destruction])and ballistic missile programs in a year,” Bolton said. “If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they are cooperative, we can move very quickly. And it is to North Korea’s advantage to dismantle very quickly. Then the elimination of sanctions, aid by South Korea and Japan and others can all begin to flower.”
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Bolton disclosed that the plan has not been put into action yet.
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“It has not. Physically, we would be able to dismantle the overwhelming bulk of their programs within a year,” Bolton said.
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
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Pompeo told CNN last week he would not put a timeline on negotiations with North Korea, but said the Trump administration will regularly assess the regime’s seriousness about abandoning its nuclear program as the US moves toward normalizing relations with Pyongyang.
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He also played it coy when asked by lawmakers last week about specific conditions the administration has set for North Korea to achieve denuclearization and secure economic concessions.
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“I’m not prepared to talk about the details of the discussions that are taking place,” he said, “I think it would be inappropriate and, frankly, counterproductive to achieving the end state that we’re hoping to achieve.”
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A team of US officials led by envoy Sung Kim met with North Korean officials Sunday at Panmunjom, the border village between North and South Korea in the demilitarized zone, in the first face-to-face conversations between the two countries since the summit last month according senior State Department officials.
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The foreign intelligence source who spoke to CNN said it would be worrisome if the administration does not have a timeline by September.
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Bolton also said Sunday on CBS that during the US-North Korea summit in Singapore, Kim was “very emphatic several times” about turning over the arsenal, which was a change from previous regimes.
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“Now, we’ll let their actions speak for themselves,” Bolton added.
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“There’s nobody involved in this discussion with North Korea in the administration who is overburdened by naïveté. We’ve seen how the North Koreans have behaved before,” Bolton said.
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“The President’s been very clear,” Bolton said. “He is not going to make mistakes of prior administrations. We are going to pursue this, and we will see what happens.”
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However, one former member of the US National Security Council told CNN that the leak of this intelligence assessment could indicate there is internal frustration over the administration’s apparent trust in Kim’s sincerity moving forward.
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US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)
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“The (intelligence community) doesn’t assess that Kim Jong Un is acting in good faith … they’re probably fed up with the fact that (Trump) and Pompeo keep publicly touting their trust in one of the most definitively untrustworthy regimes the US has ever negotiated with,” the source said.
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But the decision to leak this information also has a risk factor, according to the same source, who said the information could diminish the likelihood Kim will cooperate “if he thinks that, no matter what he does, the US has already prejudged him to be untrustworthy.”

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/02/politics/north-korea-denuclearization/index.html

Related:

See also:

North Korea satellite images show missile plant construction, analysts say

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/02/asia/north-korea-factory-intl/index.html