Posts tagged nuclear
The coming nuclear showdown
(Reuters) - Iran has begun installing advanced centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment plant, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Thursday, a defiant step that will worry Western powers ahead of a resumption of talks with Tehran next week.
In a confidential report, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said 180 so-called IR-2m centrifuges and empty centrifuge casings had been put in place at the facility near the central town of Natanz. They were not yet operating.
If launched successfully, such machines could enable Iran to speed up significantly its accumulation of material that the West fears could be used to devise a nuclear weapon. Iran says it is refining uranium only for peaceful energy purposes.
Iran’s installation of new-generation centrifuges would be “yet another provocative step,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington.
White House spokesman Jay Carney warned Iran that it would face further pressure and isolation if it fails to address international concerns about its nuclear program in the February 26 talks with world powers in the Kazakh city of Almaty.
Britain’s Foreign Office said the IAEA’s finding was of “serious concern”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the report “proves that Iran continues to advance swiftly towards the red line” that he laid down last year.
Netanyahu, who has strongly hinted at possible military action if sanctions and diplomacy fail to halt Iran’s nuclear drive, told the U.N. in September that Iran should not have enough higher-enriched uranium to make even a single warhead.
Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking to develop a capability to make atomic bombs. Tehran says it is Israel’s assumed nuclear arsenal that threatens peace.
The IAEA’s report showed “no evidence of diversion of material and nuclear activities towards military purposes,” Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Iranian media.
U.S. lawmakers meanwhile are crafting a bill designed to stop the European Central Bank from handling business from the Iranian government, a U.S. congressional aide said on Thursday, in an attempt to keep Tehran from using euros to develop its nuclear program.
In the early stages of drafting, it would target the ECB’s cross-border payment system and impose U.S. economic penalties on entities that use the European Central Bank to do business with Iran’s government, the aide said on condition of anonymity.
The aide disclosed the new push for sanctions ahead of fresh talks on Tuesday in which major powers hope to persuade the Iranian government to rein in its atomic activities, which the West suspects may be a cover to develop a bomb capability.
RISING WESTERN PRESSURE
It was not clear how many of the new centrifuges Iran aims to install at Natanz, which is designed for tens of thousands. An IAEA note informing member states late last month about Iran’s plans implied that it could be up to 3,000 or so.
Iran has for years been trying to develop centrifuges more efficient than the erratic 1970s IR-1 model it now uses, but their introduction for full-scale production has been dogged by delays and technical hurdles, experts and diplomats say.
The deployment of the new centrifuges underlines Iran’s continued refusal to bow to Western pressure to curb its nuclear program, and may further complicate efforts to resolve the dispute diplomatically, without a spiral into Middle East war.
Iran has also started testing two new centrifuge types, the IR-6 and IR-6s, at a research and development facility, the IAEA report said. Centrifuges spin at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope in uranium.
In a more encouraging sign for the powers, however, the IAEA report said Iran in December resumed converting some of its uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent to oxide powder for the production of reactor fuel.
That helped restrain the growth of Iran’s higher-grade uranium stockpile since the previous report in November, a development that could buy more time for diplomacy.
The report said Iran had increased to 167 kg (367 pounds) its stockpile of 20 percent uranium – a level it says it needs to make fuel for a Tehran research reactor but which also takes it much closer to weapons-grade material if processed further.
NEW OFFER TO IRAN
One diplomat familiar with the report said this represented a rise of about 18-19 kg since November, a notable slowdown from the previous three-month period when the stockpile jumped by nearly 50 percent after Iran halted conversion.
Israel last year gave a rough deadline of mid-2013 as the date by which Tehran could have enough higher-grade uranium to produce a single atomic bomb if processed further. Experts say about 240-250 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium would be needed.
But a resumption of conversion, experts say, means the Israeli “red line” for action could be postponed. Refined uranium can fuel nuclear energy plants, which is Iran’s stated aim, or provide the core of an atomic bomb, which the United States and Israel suspect may be its ultimate goal.
Next week’s talks between the six powers and Iran to try again to break the impasse in the decade-old dispute are their first since mid-2012 but analysts expect no real progress toward defusing suspicions that Iran is seeking atomic bomb capability.
The United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany want Iran to halt 20 percent enrichment and shut the Fordow underground plant where this takes place. Iran wants them to recognize what it regards as its right to refine uranium for peaceful purpose and to relax increasingly strict sanctions battering its oil-dependent economy.
In Paris, French deputy foreign ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani said the powers were ready to make a new offer to Iran with “significant new elements” and that they hoped Tehran would engage seriously in the negotiations. source – Reuters
Four facts deserve attention with regard to a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The first is that the Iranian-Israeli war is already at hand. Iran launched it by sending an unmanned drone into Israeli air space Saturday, Oct. 6, breaking new ground in belligerence with a cyber attack.
Israel countered by stationing Patriot missile interceptor batteries in Haifa and other parts of its northern region. That Tehran initiated hostilities with a cyber attack on Israel cannot be wiped from the record any more than its score: two points, Iran; zero, Israel, whose air defenses proved no match against a large, slow-moving and cumbersome aerial vehicle loaded with electronic equipment.
As many experts have pointed out, Patriots are not designed for intercepting aircraft, only missiles. Their deployment therefore aims at defending the country from potential Iranian or Hizballah missile strikes from Lebanon or Syria – depending partly on the state of the Syrian war.
And indeed, Hamas and Jihad Islami spokesmen, when they assumed shared responsibility for the 55 Palestinian missiles and mortars fired against Israel Monday morning, Oct. 8, said quite openly that the rules of Gaza warfare had changed: IDF attacks on terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip, however limited in scope, would draw forth reprisals not only from that Palestinian-ruled territory but from Lebanon, they said.
DEBKAfile: As of mid-September, under newly-signed military pacts, the strings of the two leading Palestinian terrorist militias in the Gaza Strip are being manipulated from Beirut by Iran and Hizballah. It is they who now set the rules and dictate the scope of Palestinian anti-Israel operations from Gaza. The drone’s incursion was a separate Iranian initiative.
The other points pertinent to the Iranian-Israel confrontation are:
1. US intelligence recently warned President Barack Obama that Iran’s nuclear breakthrough point is much closer than formerly estimated, i.e. approximately 7 weeks off. In late November, therefore, Iran will enough 20 percent plus enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb. American and Israeli intelligence see eye to eye on this estimate.
It flies, however, in the face of the assessments circulated in Israel by anti-attack factions who are now claiming that Iran has slowed the progress of its military nuclear program in order to divert much of its enriched uranium to civilian projects.
This claim is not only incorrect, but it is a valuable contribution to Tehran’s propaganda effort to prove that its program is entirely innocent and peaceful.
2. A US Congressional Research paper published internally on Sept. 28 asserts that Israel is capable of going it alone without the United States against Iran’s nuclear sites, including the Fordo underground enrichment facility.
This fact has been suppressed by the anti-attack camp, whose spokesmen have insisted that Israel lacks this capacity. The experts commissioned by congress to determine the truth of the matter concluded: “… an attack on Esfahan, Natanz, and Arak might require deploying only 20% of Israel’s top-line fighters purchased from the United States. “…this yields an Israeli strike involving at least 100 aircraft. Most sources indicate that Israel has a total of “around 350 fighter jets.”
The US congressional research team adds that, although Israel received enough 7 KC-130 refueling planes from the US to cover the round trip to Iran and back, the Israeli Air Force has also secretly developed two more refueling options about which the US knows very little.
“Over the past two years, Israel Aerospace Industries-IAI bought up all the Boeing 707s coming on the international market and had them converted in IAI factories into KC-135 refueling planes,” says the report. After the Congressional Research Center published these findings, David Rothkopf, who is close to US Democratic Party leaders, tested the ground with a report Monday, Oct. 8, in Foreign Policy, which said that the United States and Israel are considering the possibility of a joint “surgical strike” against Iran’s nuclear facilities as an “October surprise.”
He quoted a source said to be close to the discussions, which claimed that “a small-scale attack is currently viewed as the most likely military option by air, using bombers and supported by drones,” which Israel would not be able to carry out on its own.
What Rothkopf was saying is that President Obama has no more than 20 days to decide if and when to conduct this US-Israel attack on Iran.
His clock, say our sources, is ticking at the same speed as that of former Mossad chief Efraim Halevi who on August 1 predicted an attack on Iran within twelve weeks; and Tzahi Hanegbi, the former Knesset defense and foreign affairs committee chair and close confidant of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who said in mid-September that the next 50 days would be critical for Israel’s destiny. source – DEBKA
Iran said it is not taking discussions of a possible Israeli attack very seriously, saying that the leadership in Tehran views them as “hollow and baseless,” AFP quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramim Mehmanparast as saying Tuesday.
“In our calculations, we aren’t taking these claims very seriously because we see them as hollow and baseless,” Mehmanparast told reporters in a weekly briefing. “Even if some officials in the illegitimate regime (Israel) want to carry out such a stupid action, there are those inside (the Israeli government) who won’t allow it because they know they would suffer very severe consequences from such an act,” he said.
Meanwhile, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi referred to Israeli threats of a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities as “as sign of weakness,” by “brainless leaders,” according to Iran’s ISNA news agency.
The comments come amid a flurry of commentary and speculation from current and former government officials on how Israel should deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, many of them voicing criticism at the open discussion of a possible military strike.
Former IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak on Monday joined the chorus of voices opposing an Israeli strike on Iran, saying that Israel must not rush to act. Speaking at an event to mark 20 years since the establishment of the second Rabin government, Lipkin asserted his faith in the opinion of security officials.
Lipkin dismissed talk that Israel must attack Iran’s nuclear facilities by the Fall, saying that the option would still be on the table after presidential election in the United States, and that it is wrong to present the situation as otherwise.
He added that there is no doubt that the US has a must stronger ability to remove the Iranian threat. Playing down the imminence of such an attack, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom called for imposing stricter sanctions against Iran on Sunday
In an interview with Army Radio, Shalom said “At this time we can bring the US to accept the right choices, and that is to impose even stricter sanctions that are made to subdue and topple the Iranian regime and perhaps bring it to abandon its nuclear program.”
On Friday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a press briefing that a military strike could wait while the West pursues diplomatic options, in part because “we feel confident that we would be able to detect a break-out move by Iran towards the acquisition of a nuclear weapon.
Former Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi responded on Sunday, telling Israel Radio that there is no certainty that intelligence agencies will discover Iranian nuclear advancements in time, and that essential information may only be uncovered after the fact.
Hanegbi went on to condemn the public debate on a possible military strike, saying that the flood of headlines and articles in the media are a serious betrayal by those trying to tie the government’s hands. source – JPost
A major Israel TV station on Sunday night broadcast a detailed report on how Israel will go about attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities in the event that diplomacy and sanctions fail and Israel decides to carry out a military strike.
The report, screened on the main evening news of Channel 10, was remarkable both in terms of the access granted to the reporter, who said he had spent weeks with the pilots and other personnel he interviewed, and in the fact that his assessments on a strike were cleared by the military censor.
No order to strike is likely to be given before the P5+1 talks with Iran resume in May, the reporter, Alon Ben-David, said. “But the coming summer will not only be hot but tense.”
In the event that negotiations fail and the order is given for Israel to carry out an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, “dozens if not more planes” will take part in the mission: attack and escort jets, tankers for mid-air refueling, electronic warfare planes and rescue helicopters, the report said.
Ben-David said the Israel Air Force “does not have the capacity to destroy the entire Iranian program.” There will be no replication of the decisive strikes on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 or on Syria in 2007, he said. “The result won’t be definitive.” But, a pilot quoted in the report said, the IAF will have to ensure that it emerges with the necessary result, with “a short and professional” assault.
Ben-David said that if negotiations break down, and Iran moves key parts of its nuclear program underground to its Qom facility, the IAF “is likely to get the order and to set out on the long journey to Iran.”
“Years of preparations are likely to come to realization,” he said, adding that “the moment of truth is near.”
Ben-David interviewed several squadron leaders, pilots and other officers. He noted that some of the IAF personnel, “it is likely, will not return from the mission.” An officer named Gilad said it would be “naive” to think there would be no losses.
The IAF is said to be worried about the advanced anti-aircraft systems that Russia has sold to countries in the region, the report said. Among those systems, the SA 17 and 22 in Syria and Iran present a challenge.
According to the report, it’s the older versions of the F-15 that can fly further than any other plane in Israel’s arsenal, and this puts them on the front line of any potential attack.
One pilot said in the report that the F-15 “is a plane with a very wide range of operation — a combination of relatively energy-efficient engines, and significant flightworthiness regarding weapons and fuel.”
The IAF has a full-sized unmanned plane, the “Eitan,” that is said to be able to fly to Iran, the report indicated. “This plane can do all that is required of it when the order is given,” a pilot said, without elaboration.
The attack, the report said, would presumably trigger a war in northern Israel, with missile attacks (presumably from the Iranian-proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon). “There will be no tranquility and peace anywhere in Israel,” Ben-David said.
This could be the first full-scale war the IAF has fought in nearly 30 years, the report stated. Pilots had already been told where their families would be moved, away from their bases, for safety, the report said. source – Times of Israel
AFP – Iran declared on Monday it will not be swayed from its nuclear “path” by sanctions, a week before talks with world powers that are increasingly seen as a last chance for diplomacy in its showdown with the West.
“The sanctions may have caused us small problems but we will continue our path,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi vowed in an interview with the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
“We do not underestimate any enemy, no matter how tiny and lowly they are. The regime’s officials — the supreme leader, the president, the army, the (Revolutionary) Guards and Basij (militia) — are completely vigilant. And the nation is prepared to defend the achievements of Islamic Iran,” he said.
The defiant words came after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday that the talks between Iran and the world powers would take place April 13 and 14 in Istanbul. She and US President Barack Obama have both publicly said that the window for diplomacy in the standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme is closing.
“Our policy is one of prevention, not containment,” Clinton said in Saudi Arabia after talks with her Gulf Arab counterparts. It is up to Iran to engage in the talks “with an effort to obtain concrete results,” Clinton said.
Israel — the sole if undeclared nuclear weapons state in the Middle East — and the United States have threatened military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy and sanctions fail to curb the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions.
The UN Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran because of suspicions over its nuclear programme, which the United States and its allies believe includes a drive to develop atomic weapons capability.
The West has imposed its own unilateral economic sanctions on Iran. But Iran’s oil minister, Rostam Qasemi, told the Mehr news agency on Monday that the West’s efforts to curb Iranian oil exports “have been a failure”.
“We have seen off what they describe as ‘rigorous sanctions’ against the oil industry,” he said. Iran denies any military dimension to its nuclear activities. Its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called nuclear weapons a “sin”. But he has also refused to bow to sanctions, and warned Iran would retaliate in kind if attacked.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in an interview with the Fars news agency that Iran considered the talk of war to be a “psychological” gambit “to affect the Iranian nation, to lower the support of the people for the system.”
But, he said, “our readiness (to ward off any threat) is at its peak. We take any threat, even those with a low probability of happening, seriously. “If any practical action, either surgical or long-lasting, is taken, we will respond decisively.”
The talks between Iran and the P5+1 group — the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany — are seen as an opportunity to defuse the tense situation. EU officials in Brussels said that, despite Clinton’s affirmation, Istanbul had not yet been fully confirmed as the venue.
“The talks are scheduled to start late on the 13th and will be held primarily on the 14th,” one EU diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity. They will “very likely” take place in Istanbul, but all parties had not yet reached complete agreement, the diplomat said.
A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the P5+1 in the negotiations, said only: “We will announce it (the venue) formally once we have full agreement.” The last round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group was held in Istanbul in January 2011 and ended in failure. Geneva hosted the round before that in late 2010.
The United States is poised to bolster unilateral sanctions that are already making it harder for Iran to sell its vital oil exports. Countries that do not reduce Iranian oil imports risk being targeted by US sanctions. But Salehi stressed to IRNA: “The West thinks that Iran is like many other countries who will yield under America’s pressure. But they are mistaken.”
source – France 24
The Zone of Immunity: The point beyond which Iran’s key nuclear facilities are so fortified that a military attack on the country would become ineffective or impossible. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak coined the term to describe the rapidly closing window of opportunity that they or any other nation has to take out Iran’s nuclear bomb making capabilities before they are all moved deep underground. When the move is complete, Iran will thus be “immune” to attack on their nuclear facilities.
From MSNBC: The Iranian government has blocked attempts to investigate its alleged atomic weapons work, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency said Wednesday. The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, expressed disappointment over a lack of progress during two days of talks in Tehran over Iran’s disputed nuclear program and said its request to visit a military site had not been granted.
In the second such visit in less than a month, a senior team from the IAEA had traveled to Tehran to press Iranian officials to start addressing mounting concerns that the country may be seeking to develop atomic arms.
“During both the first and second round of discussions, the agency team requested access to the military site at Parchin. Iran did not grant permission for this visit to take place,” the Vienna-based IAEA said in a statement after the talks Monday and Tuesday talks in the Iranian capital.
The statement was released early Wednesday, after the IAEA team left on a return flight to Vienna. The unusual timing — shortly after midnight in Europe — reflected the urgency the IAEA attached to the communique.
In the latest in a war of words between the West and Iran, an Iranian general warned Tuesday that the nation will pre-emptively strike anyone who threatens it.
The statement by Gen. Mohammed Hejazi continues the defiant tone Tehran has taken in its confrontation with Western countries that claim it is developing nuclear weapons.
“We do not wait for enemies to take action against us,” said Hejazi, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency. “We will use all our means to protect our national interests.”
Iran has held multiple air, land and sea maneuvers in recent months as the tensions increased.
The military maneuvers are viewed as a message to the West that Iran is prepared to defend itself against hostile measures and to retaliate — including warnings that it could cut the strategic Strait of Hormuz waterway off its southern coast with its naval forces.
Tehran is also under heavy economic pressure. Last month, the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran’s fuel exports and froze its central bank assets. An oil embargo is set to begin in July.
Iranian officials said the country should respond by cutting off EU states early, before they can line up alternative buyers. Over the weekend, Tehran announced that it was pre-emptively cutting off exports to France and Britain. source – MSNBC
A report that Iran is about a year away from having the capability to build a nuclear bomb may be too optimistic, contended John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“I worry the publicly available information is giving only a very small picture and that Iran is actually even much further along,” Bolton said today in a radio interview.
Bolton was on “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio” on New York’s WABC Radio. The former ambassador was asked about a statement from a former head of U.N. nuclear inspections claiming Iran is now just a year or so away from having enough enriched uranium to assemble a nuclear bomb.
Olli Heinonen wrote in an article published earlier this week that Iran made this advancement after switching production of its higher-grade enriched uranium to a new, underground site. Reacting to the one-year timeline, Bolton stated, “I think it can be even less than that.”
The interview can be listened to at the Klein Online website.
Continued Bolton: “They’ve got, by publicly available information from the International Atomic Energy Agency, enough low-enriched uranium that if enriched up to weapons grade would be enough for four weapons.”
“So they’ve got more work to do, but they are already well on their way,” he said.
Bolton told Klein that 2012 will be a key year to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
“Even Secretary of Defense Panetta said last month that Iran could have a nuclear device within a year,” Bolton argued. “So they are very close, and obviously if they stepped up their efforts and worked harder, they may well be able to do it before then.
“So this is a clear and present danger,” he continued, “and I think it’s one of the reasons why you see the tension now in the region and why 2012 is going to be such an important year.”
In his article last week, Heinonen, who was the IAEA’s director-general until 2010, said that building a stock of 250 kg of 20-percent enriched uranium did not mean Iran could deploy a bomb without further engineering work. Still, he allowed that 20-percent enriched uranium could within weeks be further purified to the 90-percent necessary for weapons grade. source – WND