Letter: Indian Point PipelineEvery step of the fossil-fuel process, from extraction, transportation to its end use, burning it, and releasing carbon is destroying our planet and putting our health and lives at risk.A report released by the Office of the Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Feb. 26 showed how agency staff misled the public and others about the safety of building a massive, 42-inch, high-pressure gas pipeline under the property of Indian Point to carry fracked gas to Canada for export. It’s yet another gross example in a long list of fossil-fuel companies putting their profit before our lives — 20 million lives to be precise — and our government failing to protect us.In the words of NRC Commissioner Jeff Baran, the inspector general “found multiple significant problems with how the NRC staff analyzed the safety of siting a new natural gas pipeline underground near the Indian Point nuclear power plant. That’s totally unacceptable. The staff needs to explain how they are going to make this right.”While Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey each opposed construction of the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Pipeline expansion in 2015, none took decisive action to stop it. Now, what elected officials, safety experts and grassroots environmental organizations have been saying for years has been proven true.Enbridge Energy Partners, the company that operated the pipeline, cannot be allowed to put our safety in jeopardy for its profits. The pipeline must be shut down immediately until public safety can be ensured. Enough is enough.Gov. Cuomo should direct the relevant agencies to exert their powers to protect the people of New York state by seeking an injunction to halt the flow of gas under Indian Point.Krystal Ford, GarrisonIn a statement, Sandy Galef, whose state Assembly district includes Philipstown, called for the pipeline to be shut down and the NRC to hold public hearings. “Such reckless behavior demands accountability,” she said.
Donald Trump returns to Oval Office, breaking COVID-19 quarantine
Donald Trump staged a dramatic return to the White House Monday night after leaving the military hospital where he has been receiving an unprecedented level of care for COVID-19. Trump entered the White House without wearing a protective mask. (Oct. 5)
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump, confined to the White House residence since returning home from the hospital Monday where he was being treated for COVID-19, worked briefly from the Oval Office on Wednesday, even as the West Wing has become a hot zone for the virus.
Trump’s return to the Oval Office prompted a flurry of precautions by his staff in an office building where the president and at least a dozen employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week.
Doctors had wanted Trump to stay in the White House residence and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say patients are supposed to quarantine for at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms – in Trump’s case, last Thursday.
Since Trump announced last week he was diagnosed with COVID-19, a growing list of White House officials have also tested positive for the virus, most recently senior aide Stephen Miller, who revealed his diagnosis Tuesday.
Trump has sought to downplay the seriousness of the virus in an election year and has been eager to project an image of beating his own case of the disease and returning to normal. After returning from a three-night hospital stay for treatment Monday, he told Americans they shouldn’t fear the virus.
But White House officials have acknowledged imposing tougher protocols in the wake of the president’s case. Many staff have been working from home and images of workers in full hazmat suits disinfecting parts of the White House have captured the public’s attention.
Safety precautions were taken, officials said. Staff access to the president was limited, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows – wearing a mask and other personal protective equipment – was in the Oval Office with the president the whole time; aide Dan Scavino, also in PPE, was in and out of the office.
Aides refused to say whether Trump wore a mask.
Trump came into the Oval Office from the outside colonnade, officials said, so White House staff members “were not exposed,” an official said.
While in the Oval Office, Trump tweeted that he had been briefed on the threat of Hurricane Delta, and spoken with the governors of Louisiana and Texas.
Many of Trump’s employees do not consider the West Wing a safe place. The building has been near-deserted this week because aides are working from home, afraid to come to the office for fear of catching the virus that has infected Trump and more than a dozen colleagues over the past week.
Some members of the White House press corps are not working in the building, instead setting up chairs on the driveway outside the West Wing.
A table stacked with PPE just outside the West Wing
A Marine guard posted himself outside the door to the West Wing shortly after 3 p.m. ET; the Marine’s presence has long been the traditional signal that the president, any president, is in the Oval Office.
Two administration officials confirmed that Trump worked out of the Oval Office. They said Trump continues to speak with aides and congressional leaders, and to do the job as needed.
The president is also talking about the possibility of some kind of national address, or perhaps an another video.
“He wants to speak to the American people and he will do so soon,” said White House spokesperson Brian Morgenstern. “I don’t have an exact time or a definite way he’ll do that.”
Trump spent the morning and afternoon out of the public eye, though he was very active on Twitter – more than 40 tweets and re-tweets before 10 a.m., many of them attacking election opponent Joe Biden and other Democrats.
In his daily memo on the president’s condition, presidential physician Conley quoted Trump offering his own prognosis.
“The President this morning says ‘I feel great!” Conley wrote in a brief memo released by the White House. “His physical exam and vital signs, including oxygen saturation and respiratory rate, all remain stable and in normal range.”
More: Trump feels ‘great’ with COVID-19; Pence and Harris face off tonight: Live updates
More: Donald Trump’s COVID-19 treatment is similar to the average American hospitalized with coronavirus. Only faster.
Conley also reported that Trump – who has not been seen in public since he returned to the White House on Monday night – has been fever-free for more than four days and symptom-free for more than 24 hours.
The president also “has not needed nor received any supplemental oxygen since initial hospitalization,” the doctor said.
Conley also reported that Trump’s blood work showed “detectable levels” of antibodies.
In this Oct. 5 file photo, President Donald Trump removes his mask as he stands on the Blue Room Balcony at the White House.
Published Oct. 5, 2020 3:10 PM
By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
A little more than 24 hours ago, Delta wasn’t even a tropical storm. But by late Tuesday morning, it had morphed into a raging Category 4 hurricane and forecasters warned it could become even stronger before striking land.
AccuWeather meteorologists have put the Gulf Coast of the United States on high alert for what could be a disastrous strike later this week by a very dangerous hurricane. Overnight and through early Tuesday morning, Hurricane Delta escalated quickly into a Category 4 storm and forecasters warn it could strengthen even more before it strikes the Yucatan Peninsula. After that, forecasters expect Delta to emerge over the extremely warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it could maintain its strength for a time.
The hurricane’s winds had increased to 130 mph by 11:20 a.m. EDT Tuesday just over 24 hours after it became the 25th tropical storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Delta became the first major hurricane to churn over the Atlantic basin during the month of October since Hurricane Michael in 2018. Delta’s intensification was the most extreme in 15 years for an October hurricane. The storm’s maximum sustained winds increased by a whopping 70 mph — from 40 mph to 110 mph — in its first 24 hours as a named storm. Only Hurricane Wilma in 2005 exploded in a more significant fashion over that same 24-hour period. Delta has also set a speed record for strengthening from a depression to a Category 4 hurricane. Delta accomplished this in just over 36 hours, and surpassed Keith from 2000, which did so in 42 hours.
At 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Delta was packing winds of 140 mph and was chugging along west-northwest at 16 mph. The Category 4 hurricane was located about 260 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico.
Satellite images showed that Delta was an incredibly compact hurricane on Tuesday morning. Hurricane-force winds extended outward only up to 25 miles from the storm’s center, but a small eye about 4 miles across had developed, a sign that forecasters said indicated rapid strengthening.
This image, captured during the late morning on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, shows Hurricane Delta over the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. (CIRA at Colorado State/GOES-East)
U.S. officials were already urging Gulf Coast residents to be prepared ahead of the intense hurricane. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said early Tuesday that Louisianans should have a game plan now as the fourth storm of the season to threaten Louisiana. Later in the day, Gov. Edwards declared a state of emergency in Louisiana. Delta is expected to make landfall as a major hurricane of at least Category 3 strength over south-central or southeastern part of the state late Friday or early Saturday, becoming the first-ever hurricane named after a Greek letter to strike the U.S., and the 10th storm of the season to make landfall in the continental U.S. — a new record.
“Now is the time for Louisianans to prepare [for] Hurricane #Delta. This storm will affect Louisiana and everyone needs to prepare accordingly,” Edwards tweeted Tuesday morning.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency midday Tuesday ahead of the hurricane, noting that coastal areas of the state are still recovering from Sally’s blow in mid-September. Hurricane Delta “could potentially have a significant impact” on Alabama, she tweeted.
It’s possible that Delta could peak as a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds exceeding 155 mph. If the storm were to reach that strength, it would be the first hurricane this season to reach Category 5 force. Hurricanes Laura and Teddy peaked at Category 4 intensity.
Delta is forecast to take a fairly steady west-northwest path into Thursday, which will take the storm over part of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday with dangerous, damaging and perhaps deadly consequences.
From Thursday to Friday, the hurricane is projected to begin a curved path to the north over the west-central Gulf. As the storm approaches the Louisiana coast late Friday it may begin to turn more to the northeast.
“As Delta approaches the central Gulf Coast it will start to encounter increasing wind shear and slightly cooler water, but the forward speed of Delta and the degree of shear it encounters will determine its wind strength at landfall,” AccuWeather’s top hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski explained.
Wind shear is the increase in wind speed with altitude as well as the sudden change in wind direction from one location to another. Wind shear and changes in the structure of the eye are some of the main challenges in forecasting the overall strength of hurricanes.
Interests along the Louisiana coast should prepare for a direct strike by a major hurricane late Friday or early Saturday, and conditions are expected to deteriorate from Thursday afternoon to Friday afternoon even well ahead of landfall.
“Now that Delta has reached major hurricane strength the wind field developing around it will remain very strong. Regardless of a loss in wind intensity near the core, surge and wind impacts will still be potentially devastating along and near where the hurricane makes landfall along the central Gulf coast from late Friday to early Saturday,” Kottlowski said.
The AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes for the U.S., has been assigned a three and weighs in not only wind, but also storm surge, rain and population density. This scale, developed by AccuWeather, provides a more comprehensive outlook for impacts from tropical storms and hurricanes on land areas than the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which is based solely on wind speed.
During Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, winds and seas will build over the Gulf of Mexico, especially in the central part of the Gulf. However, dangerous surf conditions are likely to develop throughout the Gulf of Mexico at midweek and remain dangerous with frequent and strong rip currents from Florida to Louisiana and Texas into the start of the weekend.
Even though the eye containing Delta’s strongest winds may avoid the greatest concentration of petroleum rigs in the western Gulf of Mexico, operations of these rigs may be suspended for a few days. The projected path of Delta and its high winds could impact oil refining operations in portions of southern Louisiana.
Wave action well ahead of the storm will begin to cause overwash and coastal flooding prior to Friday from part of eastern Texas to Florida. Near and just east of where the storm makes landfall, most likely in south-central Louisiana, a major and potentially life-threatening storm surge can occur. Any shift in the storm track could cause the area of greatest storm surge to shift correspondingly.
“It is possible the storm surge could be greater from Delta than from Laura, which was estimated to be 17.5 feet,” Kottlowski added.
As is often the case with hurricanes forecast to make landfall, exact track and strength will determine the severity of impact in the region.
Given Delta’s current forecast track and strength, AccuWeather StormMax™ winds of 125 mph are forecast for part of southern Louisiana on Friday. But, this could trend higher depending on how much the storm strengthens over the central Gulf.
A faster forward motion may prevent Delta from quickly weakening prior to or upon landfall. The risk of damaging winds can extend well inland and not only result in a significant amount of power outages, but also property damage. Trees may block streets and secondary roads. The power could be out for many days in some of the hardest-hit communities.
Delta’s fast pace should prevent a repeat of staggering rainfall amounts and flooding from Harvey in 2017 or a lesser extent from Marco, Sally and Beta this year.
A general 4-8 inches of rain is predicted near where Delta makes landfall in the U.S. with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 12 inches. But, should Delta strike as a strong Category 3 or even Category 4 storm, which is possible, rainfall could be more intense along a portion of the Interstate 10 and 20 corridors.
Rainfall will tend to diminish as Delta picks up even more forward motion while taking a curved path to the northeast over the interior southeastern U.S. this weekend. Despite the increasing forward speed, river and bayou flooding are expected in part of the Deep South and there can still be localized urban and small stream flooding hundreds of miles inland as well as significant rises on the rivers in the storm’s path.
“Since 1964, there have only been three hurricanes to make landfall along the Louisiana coast during October,” according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and Forecasting Manager Dan DePodwin.
“Those hurricanes were Lili from 2002, Juan from 1985 and Hilda from 1964,” DePodwin said.
There are two major hurricanes that have made landfall along the Louisiana coast in October prior to 1964.
“In 1893, an unnamed storm made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 130-156 mph, and in 1886, an unnamed storm made landfall southwest of Lake Charles as a Category 3 hurricane,” DePodwin explained.
If Delta makes landfall in Louisiana, it would be the fourth storm to do so this season. Cristobal was the first of the season, crashing into southeastern parts of the state as a tropical storm in June, followed by Category 4 Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Marco, which both hit in August. Sally originally threatened to strike Louisiana, but made a northward turn which spared the state the worst.
PUBLISHED TUE, OCT 6 2020 12:43 PM EDT
UPDATED 2 HOURS AGO
• President Donald Trump reported no symptoms of the coronavirus Tuesday following his first night out of the hospital, the White House physician said.
• “This morning the President’s team of physicians met with him in the Residence,” Dr. Sean Conley said in a brief, nonspecific memo, the latest report on Trump’s progress battling Covid-19.
• The optimistic update from the White House doctor came less than a day after Trump was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
President Donald Trump reported no symptoms of the coronavirus Tuesday following his first night out of the hospital, the White House physician said.
“This morning the President’s team of physicians met with him in the Residence,” Dr. Sean Conley said in a brief, nonspecific memo, the latest report on Trump’s progress battling Covid-19.
“He had a restful first night at home, and today he reports no symptoms,” Conley wrote.
Trump’s “vital signs and physical exam remain stable,” Conley wrote. “Overall he continues to do extremely well.”
The optimistic update from the White House doctor came less than a day after Trump, 74, was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he had been flown as a precautionary measure after he began experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.
The president had been hospitalized Friday evening, the same day he had announced on Twitter that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the virus.
White House officials said at the time that the president was experiencing “mild symptoms,” and Conley offered a rosy prognosis in a press conference Saturday. But he and other doctors have refused to answer specific questions from reporters about Trump’s health, and some officials have offered conflicting messages.
On Monday afternoon, Trump walked out of Walter Reed on his own, wearing a mask, and flew on Marine One back to the White House.
Upon his arrival, Trump climbed a set of steps to the balcony of the South Portico and removed his mask before saluting the helicopter’s departure. Critics, skeptical of the lack of transparency coming from the administration, noted that the president appeared to be breathing heavily at the time.
He then spoke in a video that was later posted to his social media, telling his followers not to let the coronavirus “dominate you.”
“I know there’s a risk, there’s a danger, but that’s OK,” Trump added in the video. “And now I’m better, and maybe I’m immune, I don’t know.”
Trump has access to world-class medical care and still-under-review treatments that are unavailable to most Americans. At least 210,195 people in the U.S. have died from Covid-19, and experts fear the virus could grow more intense as the winter approaches.
A member of the cleaning staff sprays The James Brady Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Washington.
Alex Brandon | AP
The president has been treated with a combination of drugs, some of which are given to patients suffering from severe symptoms of the coronavirus. They include Gilead’s remdesivir, along with an experimental antibody cocktail from Regeneron and the steroid dexamethasone.
Trump will continue to be closely monitored by a team of doctors.
Meanwhile, parts of the White House, including the press briefing room, have been deep-cleaned following a slew of people who work there recently testing positive for Covid-19. The list includes White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and presidential aide Hope Hicks, along with some members of the White House press corps.
Shortly after the administration shared Trump’s health update, Vice President Mike Pence’s physician said in a separate memo that Pence “has remained healthy” and that his most recent Covid-19 tests have come back negative.
Pence is set to debate Sen. Kamala Harris, the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in Utah on Wednesday night.
By URI COHEN/THE MEDIA LINE OCTOBER 6, 2020 13:50
“The return of sanctions today is a step toward international peace and security,” Pompeo said
Russian Ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan says his country will have “no problem” selling advanced weapons to Iran immediately after the expiration of the arms embargo currently in place. Yet military and diplomatic analysts told The Media Line that Russian interests go far beyond any limited weapons deal in the Persian Gulf.
“We have said since the very first day that there will be no problem [selling arms to Iran] from October 19,” Dzhagaryan told the Tehran-based Resalat newspaper on Saturday, stressing that Moscow is not intimidated by recent actions and “threats” made by the United States.“We have provided Iran with S-300. Russia does not have any problem delivering S-400 to Iran and it did not have any problem before either,” the ambassador said, referring to the Russian-built anti-aircraft missile systems.
Zvi Magen, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and a former Israeli ambassador to Russia, told The Media Line that Russia’s declaration “isn’t anything new, and is not out of character.
“This is secondary to the larger triangle, which is the United States-Iran-Russia relationship,” Magen explains, emphasizing that Moscow was opposed to the embargo on the Islamic Republic from the beginning and that “despite their differences in Syria,” Russia needs Iran close by its side in its confrontation with the US.
“Russia wants to set things straight. Iran has already begun talking about its intentions to acquire weapons after the embargo ends, so Russia wants to ensure it’s from them,” he says.
Col. (res.) Ehud “Udi” Evental, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, agreed that the ambassador’s declarations were not a revelation, but said Iran may not have the resources to go through with its stated plans.
“These systems can cost over a billion dollars,” Evental told The Media Line. “So it remains to be seen if Iran can fund this purchase,” he says, noting that the systems discussed for the potential deal, while described by Russia as solely defensive in nature, could easily be deployed in offensive postures and could anyway serve to embolden Iran in the pursuit of nuclear weapons, in defiance of global opposition.
“But there is more to this than the military aspect,” Evental stresses. “This is a diplomatic achievement. Iran is declaring to the world: ‘We’ve broken the embargo, we’ve defeated American efforts.’”
In recent weeks, the US has tried to pass a number of resolutions in the United Nations Security Council, meant to extend the arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in two weeks, and also to reimpose sanctions on the Islamic Republic that were lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. Both attempts were roundly rejected by the council members, including by some of the US’s closest European allies.
Yet last month, Washington announced it considered all sanctions to be back in place. “The US expects all UN member states to fully comply with their obligations to implement these measures,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on September 19. “If UN member states fail, the US is prepared to use our domestic authorities to impose consequences for those failures and ensure that Iran does not reap the benefits of UN-prohibited activity.
“The return of sanctions today is a step toward international peace and security,” Pompeo added.
“The US has declared it will impose sanctions on anyone doing business with Iran, and also secondary sanctions,” says Evental. “That’s a significant tool. I think Washington can still coalesce a like-minded coalition of European partners that will prevent Iran from acquiring weapons, and Russia from selling weapons.
“Europe doesn’t really want the embargo to expire,” he says, adding that relations between European countries and the US have been “poisoned” by the latter’s efforts in the UN to trigger the “snapback” clause of the nuclear deal, which if successful would essentially collapse the entire deal. “That, Europe would not accept,” Evental concludes, describing current relations between Europe and Washington as “very toxic.”
Neither Israel nor Hamas are interested in a war, says a Gaza-based expert, stressing that the situation might still spiral out of control, given the deteriorating economic conditions of the Strip.
The southern command of the Israel Defence Forces is reportedly prepping for the possibility of yet another round of escalation with Hamas, an Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip.
According to Israeli media, the confrontation might take place in October, just weeks after the IDF and Hamas reached an agreement stipulating that the Islamic group would stop the launch of its incendiary balloons into the Jewish state in exchange for a number of concessions.
But Adnan Abu Amer, a Gaza-based political analyst, who has been monitoring the situation closely, says neither Hamas nor Israel are ready for such a confrontation, simply because it would bring zero benefits to the two rivals.
For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is currently fighting the raging coronavirus that has already claimed the lives of more than 1,500 Israelis, a war with Gaza would be problematic and could translate into a further drop in his ratings which have seen a decline in the past couple of weeks.
Anti-Netanyahu protests, taking place despite the pandemic, could be a deterring factor too, especially given that they could push more people onto the streets across Israel, demanding the government provide a just solution to the Palestinian issue, a phenomenon the Jewish state has already seen in a number of previous rallies.
© REUTERS / MOHAMAD TOROKMAN
In neighbouring Gaza, Hamas has its own concerns. The fresh memories of the three past wars, which caused billions of dollars in damage has been a deterring factor for the Islamic group, who has refrained from engaging in a full-scale confrontation with Israel, opting instead for sporadic barrages of rockets and the launch of incendiary balloons.
Another deterring factor has been the raging coronavirus that has already infected more than 50,000 in the West Bank and the coastal enclave.
The Impossible Still an Option
So far, Israel and Hamas have cooperated on the handling of the pandemic, with the Jewish state providing the Strip with medical supplies and assistance in a bid to curb the spread of the virus. A war in Gaza might bring that delicate cooperation to a halt, something which could potentially lead to deteriorating conditions for the Palestinian enclave’s residents.
“Although I don’t envision a full-scale war, that deterioration, coupled with a dire economic reality aggravated by the ongoing Israeli blockade, might push Hamas to resume its confrontation with Israel. The upcoming weeks will be crucial as it will be then that the Islamic group will decide whether to go ahead with their plans or to push them into a distant drawer”.
Hamas’ wait-and-see policy revolves around the issue of money. Last month, Israeli authorities agreed to let millions of dollars from Qatar in, something that helped the Jewish state and the Islamic group to reach an agreement, according to which militants would refrain from attacking Israel’s southern communities.
Now that this money is set to run out and with Hamas struggling to find the cash needed to feed its more than two million residents, many of whom live below the poverty line, tensions might flare up again, and there are elements within the Strip that might want to add fuel to that fire, the main one being the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
The PIJ, reportedly funded by Iran, has long been considered an independent entity, one whose interests and goals do not always match to those of Hamas.
© AP Photo / Ariel Schalit
Hamas Warns Israel of Military Escalation After IDF Strikes Targets in Gaza Following Rocket Fire
Over the years, the PIJ has taken a more radical approach to Israel and has often blamed Hamas for its negotiations with the “Zionist enemy”, challenging the group’s leadership and pushing it to change its stance.
To achieve that goal, they’ve initiated dozens of rocket launches into Israel, triggering Israeli retaliation and an assassination of the group’s high-ranking commander, Baha Abu Al Atta, who was taken down last November.
Abu Amer downplays the possibility that the PIJ will drag Hamas into another confrontation with Israel, especially given that the faction has also joined the reconciliation efforts that took place in Istanbul at the end of September and agreed to participate in the legislative, presidential, and national council elections slated in the upcoming six months.
However, he does stress that such a scenario cannot be completely ruled out.
“The two groups are now enjoying high-level cooperation”, explained the expert, suggesting that if a confrontation with Israel does take place, the factions will join forces against a common enemy.
“Hamas does not want to be in the front when combating the IDF and this is the reason, why it would rather let the Islamic Jihad lead that confrontation, while it sits on the fence, buying itself more time and getting better deals out of Israel”.
Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of nuclear capability would draw Turkey and Egypt to join the regional nuclear race, which might turn conflict-torn West Asia even more volatile.
Adil Rasheed5 October, 2020 1:34 pm IST
File photo of President Xi Jinping (right) with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, in Beijing, China | Photo: Xinhua
At a time when the world was expecting Saudi Arabia to join the UAE and Bahrain in normalising relations with Israel, a noted British daily published a news story that has since raised Israeli concerns over the kingdom’s nascent nuclear programme.
On 17 September 2020, an article in The Guardian reported that Chinese geologists have prepared a report for Saudi Arabia — as part of their nuclear energy cooperation agreement — which names locations having large reserves of uranium ore in the kingdom that could be sufficient for its domestic production of nuclear fuel.
This news comes on the heels of an earlier Wall Street Journal report that the kingdom has also already constructed a facility with Chinese assistance for extracting uranium yellowcake from uranium ore, a major development in Riyadh’s avowedly peaceful nuclear programme. The report states that the facility is being built far away from the eastern borders close to Iran, with the help of two Chinese companies near the Saudi city of Ula, midway between Medina and Tabuk.
The motives of China in helping Saudi Arabia with its nuclear programme seem dubious. Recent Chinese involvement in building Saudi nuclear capabilities comes at a time when there is news of its major partnership with Iran (some reports say to the tune of US$400 billion), which apart from making huge investments in the sanctions-hit country also covers arms sale.
It is well-known that China’s economic and geopolitical dragon rose mainly in the shadow of West Asian wars in the 2000s, and so it is in Beijing’s interest to keep West Asia a troubled region. By having defence cooperation with both adversaries (Saudi Arabia and Iran) at the same time, China seems to be burnishing a new ‘arc of crisis’ in the volatile region for its own Great Game.
By supporting Iran when it has restarted uranium enrichment and by helping Saudi Arabia extract and process its indigenous fissile raw material, Beijing seems to be setting up and weaponising the two arch-rivals of the Gulf, thereby catalysing a nuclear arms race in West Asia, so that US military is never able to pivot effectively to China’s backyard in the Indo-Pacific.
Also read: China and IAEA are helping Saudi Arabia achieve its nuclear ambitions
The Saudi yellowcake
Although there has been no official Israeli statement in response to Saudi Arabia’s nuclear programme-related reports, Israel Kasnett of the Jewish News Syndicate observes: “Saudi nuclear capability, even if for peaceful purposes, could still place the Saudis at the threshold of nuclear military capability, which has Israel greatly concerned.” Another Israeli commentator is even wary of a prospective UAE purchase of sophisticated weaponry from the US in the wake of the Abraham Accords, for that might lead to the UAE receiving F-35 fighter jets, Reaper drones and electronic warfare planes.
Thus, Azriel Bermant warns in his article published in Foreign Policy: “The United States does not deny that the arms package has been facilitated by the normalisation deal between Israel and the UAE, but neither the administration of US President Donald Trump nor the Netanyahu government are willing to acknowledge the dangers of transferring sophisticated arms to countries that are allies today but could be enemies tomorrow.”
It is noteworthy that the New York Times reported in early August 2020 that US intelligence agencies are “scrutinizing” Saudi efforts to build industrial capacity with Chinese help to produce nuclear fuel that could later be enriched to weapons-grade level. However, the article averred that US analysts had yet to draw firm conclusions about some of the sites under scrutiny and believed that even if Saudi Arabia decided to pursue a military nuclear programme, it might take many years before coming close to producing a single nuclear warhead.
For its part, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has published a document that states it would help Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory Saudi Arabia’s efforts to develop nuclear fuel for a peaceful programme, yet it wants the kingdom to adopt Additional Protocols so that the nuclear watchdog could monitor its nuclear programme more effectively. “The Additional Protocol is the standard we all want, we all aspire to,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi stressed.
The choice of China
The Saudi regime’s choice of China for assisting it in its nuclear programme has also raised eyebrows in the international community. Saeed Ghasseminejad, a senior Iran and financial economics adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies believes that Saudis decided to go with Chinese companies because if the kingdom “decided to move towards military nuclear capabilities, China and Chinese companies will be more accommodating or at least less hostile towards such a move.”
In addition, Saudi Arabia is unhappy about prospective US plans for a reduction in the US naval presence in the Gulf and its greater focus on the Indo-Pacific, which is in evidence with its recent decision to withdraw two squadrons of US airforce and two Patriot anti-missile systems from Saudi oil facilities (deployed last year after the 2019 drone attacks on Aramco oil refineries). According to Dr Mordechai Cheziza of the Bar Ilan University in Israel, “The Kingdom can no longer count on Washington’s willingness to counter Iran, and might well have determined that it will have to deter Iran on its own. Therefore, until the Iranian nuclear program is permanently terminated, the Saudis will most likely keep the option open to produce their own fuel, thereby providing a pathway to a weapon”.
Therefore, the Kingdom is seeking to diversify its strategic foreign partnerships and has turned to China with which it has historical relations in the security dimension. In the late 1980s, international concerns were raised when Riyadh had acquired 36 Chinese DF-3 (CSS-2 by NATO) nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and nine launchers. Then in 2014, US magazine Newsweek reported that Saudi Arabia had acquired CSS-5 intermediate-range ballistic missiles from China in 2007.
In fact, it was in August 2017 (at a time when US withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal – the JCPOA – seemed imminent) that Saudi Arabia and China agreed to cooperate on nuclear energy projects, with the China Nuclear Engineering Corporation (CNEC) signing an MoU with the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) to pursue further cooperation in order to explore and assess uranium and thorium resources. The Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company (Taqnia) subsequently signed another MoU with CNEC to develop water desalination projects using gas-cooled nuclear reactors.
China’s ‘arc of crisis’
It is noteworthy that China has had a dubious history in providing nuclear technology to countries in West Asia. As far back as 1983, China secretly made an agreement with Algeria to build a nuclear reactor. A Washington Times report then charged China of helping “Algeria develop nuclear weapons”. It was only in 1991 that Algeria finally placed this nuclear reactor under IAEA safeguards.
It is now feared that the Saudi acquisition of nuclear capability would draw other regional powers such as Turkey and Egypt to join the regional nuclear race, which might turn conflict-torn West Asia even more volatile. Last year, maverick Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that it was unacceptable that the international community should stop Ankara from obtaining its own nuclear weapons, although he fell short of stating whether Turkey had plans to obtain them. “Why we shouldn’t have nuclear warheads while others do? This, I cannot accept,” he reportedly told his own party members in September last year.
The actions of China in spreading nuclear technology to feuding countries of West Asia could not only spur a regional nuclear arms race but also allow nuclear assets to fall into the hands of radical non-state actors. As an aspiring global superpower, China clearly needs to play a more mature and responsible role in upholding international peace and security.
The author is Research Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Views are personal.
Vijeta Uniyal | 10/4/2020 – 2:00pm
Iran and other rogue states are covertly working to acquire German technology for making nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, Germany’s prominent intelligence agency confirmed on Friday. Tehran was using front companies to deceive German firms into selling dual-use equipment and sanctioned WMD technology, the intelligence service of Germany’s Hesse state disclosed in its annual report.
Iranian and other front “trading companies mislead the seller that the actual purchase is being made by a state-run company,” report said while explaining the modus operandi. Iran, along with North Korea, Pakistan, and Iranian ally Syria, were using third-party buyers to build up their nuclear and WMD capabilities.
Iranian exchange students and academic institutions are used by their military and intelligence services to obtain technology for its nuclear program. Iranian researchers working in Germany are being instrumentalized by the regime to acquire centrifugal technology used for uranium enrichment, as well as bio-chemical know-how for the purposes of weaponization, said the 387-page report reviewed by the Legal Insurrection.
“Universities in the respective countries are used as recipients in order to hide the end customer” and visiting researches are “coerced” by the Iranian and other spy agencies to “acquired the required [WMD] know-how,” the assessment said.
Here are some excerpts from this year’s annual report released by the Hesse state’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution (LfV) (access the 387-Page document here.):
Countries like Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Syria in particular have tried to acquire and disseminate weapons in context to [WMD] proliferation by covering up the transit routes. The aim of such espionage methods is to evade monitoring mechanisms by using third countries that are not subject to sanction regulations. (…)
The exchange of students and trained professionals between universities and research facilities is politically and commercially desirable, but its often takes place with the knowledge of the foreign spy services. The concerned states [using] illegal modes of procurement are Iran, North Korea and Pakistan.
The example in this case is the field of electrical engineering in connection with centrifuges for the processing of uranium enrichment. In this regard there are recurring reasons for suspicion that the foreign spy agencies coerce some visiting scientists in order to acquired the required know-how. Another example is the espionage activities in the research exchange of universities in the field of chemical-biological procedures. [Pages 296-298; Translated from German by the author]
The assessment is consistent with the past findings of the wider German intelligence community, some of which I have analyzed previously. “The Hesse state intelligence service’s findings confirm the data collection of additional German state intelligence agencies in 2020 that declared Iran’s regime continues to seek technology and material to build weapons of mass destruction devices,” wrote Benjamin Weinthal, the Jerusalem Post Europe correspondent and research fellow at the DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), who broke the story in English language press on Friday.
The intel report also disclosed the Iranian regime’s intelligence network in Germany, “The Iranian spy agency, Ministry of Intelligence (VAJA/MOIS), the civilian and foreign espionage service, is active for years in Germany. Besides VAJA/MOI, the foreign spy service, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), is particularly involved in spying on opposition members [in exile] as well as pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli institutions (page 296).”
The disclosure comes as Germany refuses to side with the United States in extending the United Nations’ weapons embargo on Iran. In August, the UN Security Council rejected a U.S. resolution to extend the international arms sanctions on Tehran before it expires in mid-October. China and Russia voted against the proposal, while Germany abstained. Germany, along with Russia, China, and other European powers, is also opposed to the snapback sanctions on Iran proposed by President Donald Trump. Despite the UN vote and diplomatic opposition, the Trump White House is determined to stop the advanced WMD and military technology from getting into the hands of Iran’s Mullah regime.
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