Iran carried out its threat to enrich uranium at its underground Fordow nuclear site, the United Nations atomic agency said Monday, confirming Tehran's most serious step yet away from the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has taken a series of steps since July to step away from the nuclear deal, a set of calibrated responses to harsh U.S. sanctions designed to pressure Europe into helping Tehran economically and persuade the White House that its maximum-pressure sanctions policy is leading Iran back to the brink of being a breakout nuclear power, something President Trump has said he won't accept.
Germany, Britain and France should be ready to consider starting moves to reinstate international sanctions on Iran over breaches of its 2015 nuclear deal, Germany's foreign minister said on Monday. Europe's position is vital as the United States has withdrawn from the deal and the other signatories, Russia and China, are allies of Iran and unlikely to start the process under which sanctions could be reimposed. Iran said last week it had resumed low-grade uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear plant, and at the weekend said it could refine up to 60% of fissile purity, not far off the 90% level needed for nuclear bomb fuel.
Iran has acknowledged for the first time that it had an open court case involving Robert A. Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent who disappeared in 2007 under still-mysterious circumstances while on an unauthorized C.I.A. mission to the country. In a filing to the United Nations, Iran said the case over Mr. Levinson was "ongoing" before its Revolutionary Court, without elaborating. The Associated Press on Saturday obtained the text of Iran's filing to the United Nations' Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
UANI IN THE NEWS
...David Ibsen, president of United Against Nuclear Iran, tells JI's Jacob Kornbluh that Iran's recent action is "entirely consistent" with everything we know about the regime. "It lies, it cheats, and it's simply waiting out the world while the JCPOA gradually sunsets." Next step: According to UANI's Ibsen, while the administration's "maximum pressure campaign is achieving its goals," there are "many ways" the U.S. can improve, including increasing economic pressure and placing "an even higher price tag on the regime's behavior."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran has the capacity to enrich uranium up to 60%, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said on Saturday, far more than is required for most civilian uses but short of the 90% needed to make nuclear bomb fuel. "The organization has the possibility to produce 5%, 20% and 60%, and has this capacity," AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said during a news conference at the underground Fordow nuclear plant, the official IRIB news agency reported. "At the moment, the need is for 5%," he added.
Iran is enriching uranium at its underground Fordow site and rapidly accelerating enrichment more broadly, a report by the U.N. atomic watchdog showed on Monday, outlining Tehran's latest breaches of its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers. Iran is overstepping the deal's limits on its nuclear activities one after the other in response to the United States' withdrawal from the accord last year and its reimposition of sanctions that have crippled Iran's oil trade. Tehran says it can quickly undo those breaches if those sanctions are removed.
Europeans have failed to fulfil their own commitments to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Tuesday, in response to a warning by the EU that urged Tehran to stick to the pact or face consequences. European countries have been trying to persuade Tehran to stick to the deal, under which it agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions, despite a decision last year by U.S. President Donald Trump to abandon it.
Iran began pouring concrete Sunday for a second nuclear reactor at its Bushehr power plant, a facility Tehran points to as its reason to break the enrichment limit set by its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. While celebrating the start of construction, the politics of the moment weren't lost on Iranian officials as a U.S. pressure campaign of sanctions blocks Tehran from selling its crude oil abroad. Those sanctions took effect after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in May 2018, lighting the fuse for the current tensions now gripping the wider Mideast.
Iran defended on Saturday its decision to block an U.N. inspector from a nuclear site last week. A spokesman for Iran's atomic agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said that the Iranian government "legally speaking" had done nothing wrong in stopping the female inspector from touring its Natanz nuclear facility on Oct. 28. Iran alleges the inspector tested positive for suspected traces of explosive nitrates. The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog has disputed the claim.
Iran's deputy U.N. ambassador has responded to new concerns about the country's nuclear activities saying it "continues to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency to answer questions raised by it." Eshagh Al Habib told a U.N. General Assembly meeting Monday on the IAEA that all Iran's activities "are in full conformity with our obligations under Iran's Safeguards Agreement" with the IAEA.
The United Nations' nuclear watchdog says its monitors have detected "natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin" at an undeclared site in Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does not identify the site in a confidential quarterly report distributed to IAEA member states and seen by Western news agencies on November 11. Israel has accused Iran of conducting atomic activities at an undeclared site in Turquzabad district on the outskirts of Tehran.
France, Germany, Britain and the European Union say they are "extremely concerned" about Iran's renewed uranium enrichment activities and what they call "regrettable acceleration of Iran's disengagement" from commitments it made under the 2015 agreement regarding the country's nuclear program. In a joint statement released Monday, the foreign ministers urged Iran to reverse all of the measures it has taken that go against those imposed in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which limited Iran's nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iran on Sunday slammed reports that the UN atomic agency had found traces of uranium at a site flagged by Israel last year as a nuclear development warehouse in Turquzabad. Bloomberg reported Thursday that a senior International Atomic Energy Agency official had told diplomats in a closed-door meeting in Vienna that the Islamic Republic was "evading attempts to discover the source of manmade and natural uranium particles detected at a warehouse in Tehran."
There is never a good time for Israel to learn that Iran is edging closer to a nuclear bomb, but Tehran's recent announcement that it is escalating its centrifuges and uranium enrichment comes at an especially fraught moment. Israel is effectively without leadership, both at home and in Washington. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump are both caught up in legal and political troubles that consume their attention. Neither seems willing or able to come up with real answers about how to confront the situation.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran has discovered a new oilfield in the southwest of the country that has the potential to boost its reserves by about a third, President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday. "Workers and the exploration arm of the National Iranian Oil Company ...have found an oilfield with 53 billion barrels of reserves," Rouhani said in a televised speech in the central city of Yazd. The field stretches over 2,400 sq km (927 sq miles) in the oil-rich Khuzestan province, Rouhani said.
Iran has signed memorandums of understanding with Russia and Kazakhstan for the temporary importation of wheat, Deputy Agriculture Minister Ali Akbar Mehrfard told the official IRNA news agency. "Given that the capacity of the flour factories of the country is double the domestic consumption needs, the temporary import of wheat for producing flour can be counted as a benefit for the economy of our country," Mehrfard said.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
The Philippine government has granted asylum to an Iranian former beauty queen and critic of the Iranian regime after she was stranded for four weeks in an airport, the Guardian reported on Friday, October 8. Police detained Bahareh Zare' Bahari, on October 17, in Manila airport when she returned from Dubai. The former beauty queen was the subject of an Interpol "red notice" issued by the Islamic Republic, the local police said.
An Iranian provincial official has accused foreign media of misrepresenting overnight funeral gatherings for a popular poet in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz as anti-government protests. Amateur videos posted on social media appeared to show dozens protesting in the streets of Ahvaz, the capital of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, after the death of poet Hassan Heydari.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Iran's Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that the whereabouts of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, missing since visiting Iran's Kish Island in 2007, remain unknown, and it denied a report that Tehran had opened a criminal case against him. Levinson disappeared while on a trip to the island in the Persian Gulf. Iranian officials have repeatedly denied knowledge of his disappearance or of his whereabouts. "Levinson has a judicial case in our country as he is missing ... This is based on humanitarian issues," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in remarks carried on state television.
U.S. President Donald Trump has welcomed reports from Iran about a possible breakthrough in the case involving the disappearance of a former FBI agent in Iran in 2007. Trump wrote in a November 11 tweet, "It would be a very positive step" If Iran could " turn over to the U.S. kidnapped former FBI Agent Robert A. Levinson, who has been missing in Iran for 12 years."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed Iran after it temporarily detained a nuclear inspector from the United Nations. "This is an outrageous and unwarranted act of intimidation," Pompeo said in a statement late Friday regarding the detention of an inspector with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog. "The United States fully supports the IAEA's monitoring and verification activities in Iran, and we are alarmed at Iran's lack of adequate cooperation," he said.
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Iran hostage crisis. It was on Nov. 4, 1979, that revolutionary Iranian students breached the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking diplomats hostage, and ultimately holding 52 of them for the next 444 days. While the ordeal for the embassy hostages is now in the distant past, for some Americans the nightmare continues. Among them is the family of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who was detained on Iran's Kish island on March 9, 2007.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran on Monday awarded a top prize in the study of science and technology to two U.S.-educated scientists. Vice President Sourena Sattari granted the Mustafa award to five scientists, three Iranians and two Turks, during a ceremony. Among the recipients was UCLA professor Ali Khademhosseini, for his work on the application of nanostructures in the treatment of disease. Umran Inan, a Turkish professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, also received the prize.
Demonstrators protesting President Hassan Rouhani's policies heckled Iran's president during a speech in the city of Yazd in central Iran on Sunday November 10. Rouhani said "the voice of these young men is not the voice of the people," and called on his supporters "not to allow America's demands be voiced by these individuals." Although Rouhani said protestors were "a few individuals," the Iranian state TV's rolling new network IRINN showed a relatively large group of people chanting slogans against Rouhani and his administration.
IRANIAN REGIONAL AGGRESSION
Prominent policy specialists from the Gulf dismissed on Monday Western criticism of a more assertive foreign policy by the region's Arab powers, saying they aim to boost deterrence against Iran while maintaining scope for negotiations. At the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, policy practitioners from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait stressed that fundamental compromise remained the only way in the long run to neutralise what they regard as the Iranian threat.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
In a surprise strike before dawn on Tuesday, Israeli forces killed a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in the Gaza Strip, setting off waves of retaliatory rocket attacks that immediately raised fears of an escalating new conflict. Islamic Jihad said that the commander's wife was also killed in the attack, at 4 a.m., which the Israeli military said was a missile strike from a fighter jet.
Former Secretary-General of Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah movement criticized Iran's supreme leader on Nov. 10 for being behind corruption in Lebanon and Iraq, where anti-government and corruption protests are ongoing. Subhi al-Tufayli, speaking to Arab and social media, delivered remarks on recent mass protests held in Lebanon and Iraq. Al-Tufayli said at least 250 people were killed and more than 11,000 were injured in Iraq, according to official figures and alleged the deaths were caused by the men of Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran.
Political talks to agree an urgently needed Lebanese government are still deadlocked, three senior sources said on Sunday, as the powerful Shi'ite group Hezbollah indicated it would not be forced into concessions. The latest failure to break Lebanon's political impasse will worsen pressures on an economy gripped by its deepest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, amid protests against a political establishment widely regarded as corrupt and inept.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Washington's new ambassador to the United Arab Emirates says the U.S. is working closely with its regional allies to deescalate tensions in the Persian Gulf after a spate of attacks on energy targets blamed on Iran. Ambassador John Rakolta told The Associated Press: "We're very concerned about it and we're working very closely with the UAE to try to convince Iran that the only solution is a political solution. There is no place for violence in the world today." He spoke Monday on the sidelines of ADIPEC, an Abu Dhabi energy exhibition.
Iran should come to the negotiating table with world powers and Gulf countries to seek a new deal that would deescalate regional tensions and revive its economy, a senior United Arab Emirates official said on Sunday. Tensions in the Gulf have risen since attacks on oil tankers in a vital global shipping lane this summer, including off the UAE coast, and a major assault on energy facilities in Saudi Arabia. Washington has blamed Iran, which has denied being behind the attacks on global energy infrastructure.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iraq's ruling parties appear to have rallied behind a strategy, blessed by Iran, to try to survive a mass anti-government uprising by containing protests on the streets of Baghdad while offering a package of political reforms and elections next year. But the proposed solution involves keeping in power a ruling elite that Iran has cultivated for years - unlikely to placate protesters who have been demanding the entire caste of politicians be swept aside.
Americans long ago lost interest in the democratic experiment they set in motion more than 15 years ago in Iraq-abandoning the "freedom agenda" that was once the heart of U.S. Middle East policy in favor of a realpolitik focused on threats like Iran. Yet while Washington has largely disengaged from domestic politics in Baghdad, the exercise of Iraqi freedom suddenly confronts the Iranian regime with a serious strategic challenge-both to its ambitions for regional hegemony and its own internal legitimacy.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on November 9 in Moscow that Iran will respond to the attack on one of its tankers off Saudi Arabia's coast in October. Araqchi who was taking part in the Moscow Non-Proliferation Conference, said, "we have had a lot of attacks and incidents. The latest was the attack was a month ago when an Iranian tanker was hit by two missiles and we are still investigating to see who the perpetrator was. We will respond at an appropriate time and place."