Biden to press Iraqi leader to help stop Iran’s attacks on the US

Biden to press Iraqi leader to help stop Iran’s drone strikes on U.S. troops


By Jeff Mordock


President Biden is expected to use his meeting Monday with the Iraqi prime minister to press him to take a stronger role in curtailing Iranian-backed drone attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq in Syria.

But Mr. Biden may not have enough leverage to overcome Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s fears of retaliation from Iran, analysts say.

“Iraq is not going to take a hard line against things that are not in the interest of Iraq,” said Robert Rabil, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, who has written books on the region.

“The prime minister is pro-U.S., but he is also a nationalist and pro-Iraq. He knows he can’t make an enemy out of Iran.”

Since President Biden took office in January, at least eight drone attacks and 17 rocket attacks have targeted U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria. An attack earlier this month on an Iraqi airbase hosting U.S. forces wounded two American service members.

The U.S. blamed the attacks on Iranian-backed militias operating inside Iraq and Syria. The militias make up a large part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-sponsored umbrella organization composed of roughly 40 mostly Shia Muslim paramilitary groups.

In response to the attacks, Mr. Biden has twice ordered airstrikes against the militia groups operating inside Syria, including a strike near the Iraqi border.

The president is going to need to sell Mr. Mustafa al-Kadhimi on taking a harder and more public line against the drone attacks if he expects to make progress in the region, analysts say.

So far, Mr. Mustafa al-Kadhimi has been reluctant to take a stronger approach, fearing not only retaliation but blowback in his own country, Mr. Rabil said.

“To go against Iran, he will not do,” Mr. Rabil said of the prime minister. “Iraq does not have a political party so he needs to work in consensus. He wants to improve Iraq but has been faced with a lot of challenges. Using Iraq to settle the score between the U.S. and Iran won’t help.”

Complicating matters is the tense relationship between Iraq and the U.S. that has lingered since the Trump administration.

Former President Trump last year ordered a drone strike that killed Iran military leader Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi military commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The strike took place at the Baghdad International Airport.

Mr. Biden has sought a fresh start in U.S.-Iraqi relations and Mr. Mustafa al-Kadhimi appears to be on board. The visit to the White House is a sign of warming relationships.

Even if the prime minister won’t use harsher rhetoric against the drone strikes, there are still things he can do to assist the U.S.

First, he can share information with the U.S. about what Iraqi intelligence is gathering on the ground about the militias and drone strokes.

Mr. al Kadhimi can also work in the region to assist Mr. Biden in overcoming obstacles to reviving the Obama-era nuclear accord with Iran. There are signs that Iran is looking to curb the attacks on the U.S. military to reengage on a nuclear deal.

Mr. Rabil said the drone strikes appear to be structured to send a message to the United States but cause enough chaos to scuttle negotiations. For example, while the attacks have wounded service members, the U.S. has not sustained any casualties.

“If you look at the attacks, they are not aimed in a way to demand a strong retaliation,” he said. “They want to be able to say that we handled the United States on our terms, but not provoke a strong response.”

Another Obama deal with empower the Iranian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 8

A New Nuclear Deal Would Empower the Iranian Regime

The current, bumpy negotiations aimed at preventing the Iranian regime from developing nuclear weapons are among the Biden administration’s highest priorities. The administration liftedsanctions on more than a dozen former Iranian officials in June, a move that Iranian officials viewed as a victory.

Iran even claimed that 1,000 more sanctions will soon be lifted, which the US State Department spokesman denied. Days later, it was reported that the Biden administration might remove what it considers symbolic sanctions on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

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This all comes as Iran faces new internal pressures. Severe water shortages have triggered six days of massive anti-government protests, including chants of “Death to [Ayatollah] Khamenei.”

As diplomacy continues, Iran is not relenting in pursuing its violent objectives. US troops in Syria were shelled by Iranian rocket fire following US airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias. While US forces responded to the attacks, it was not enough to stop six reprisal attacks by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria this month alone. “President Biden must put forward a real strategy for deterring and ending these attacks, rather than continuing his bare-minimum, tit-for-tat approach that is failing to deter Iran or its militias and puts American lives at increased risk.” said US Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council on Tuesday rejected a new draft nuclear agreement because it was incompatible with legislation passed by Iran’s parliament last December. That law prohibits the country from dropping below 20 percent enriched uranium, which would not be allowed in any negotiated nuclear deal.

In 2015, Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)with the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and Germany. This lifted some sanctions on the Iranian government in exchange for restricting the amount of enriched uranium stockpiles Iran could maintain.

Since then, Iran has ratcheted up its expansionist plans in the Middle East, underwriting terrorist groups and even assassinating dissidents in Western countries.

Those aggressive international terrorist operations continue. Four Iranian nationals were charged in New York on July 14 with attempting to kidnapAmerican journalist Masih Alinejad and take her to Iran. The plot began in 2018, the indictment says.

The 2015 JCPOA clearly benefited Iran, freeing up money to expand its Middle East hegemony. In Lebanon, Hezbollah continues to use force to expand its influence on the state politics. Backed by $700 million in annual Iranian financing, Hezbollah has become Lebanon’s most influential political player.

In Iraq, the Popular Mobilization Forces PMF, which was allegedly formed to curb ISIS’ rapid expansion in 2014, has become an Iranian proxy, committing atrocities and assassinating citizens. Iraqi authorities arrested PMF commander Qasem Muslah in May, charging him in connection with the assassinations of pro-democracy activists.

Since winning election as Iran’s new president last month, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi has said that he will not negotiate over Iran’s missile program or meet with Biden, even if both sides agreed on terms to revive the JCPOA. No one has proposed such a meeting, but it is a sign that Iran’s hard-line policies are not going to change.

While Iran’s economy struggles, its support for terrorist groups continues. Despite May’s Gaza war, Hamas has enough Iranian money to continue its operations, said Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar. “All the thanks to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which never spared any expenses on us or other Palestinian factions, Sinwar said in a May 30 news conference. “They provided us with money, arms and expertise.” Hamas will “scorch the earth,” he threatened, if Gaza’s problems are not solved.

Threats of Israel’s annihilation are consistent with Hamas’ founding charter. But they also match Iran’s repeated goal. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described Israel in 2005 as “disgraceful blot” that should be “wiped off the face of the earth.”

In 2017, Iranian authorities installed a doomsday clock, ticking toward 2040, the year Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei predicted Israel would be destroyed. But in a sign of Iran’s misplaced priorities, the clock stopped working earlier this month due to power shortages in the country.

In the meantime, Iran is closer to producing its first nuclear bomb.

For the past six months, the Biden administration has been sendingmessages that it intends to deescalate the situation with Iran, but Iranian officials interpret that as a sign of weakness. Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence chief Hussein Taeb last week urged an escalation in attacks against US forces in Iraq.

“History has repeatedly proven that appeasement will only embolden and empower a rogue state. But the Biden administration and the EU appear determined to pursue this dangerous policy with a regime that is a top state sponsor of terrorism, according to the US State Department, and a leading human rights violator,” wrote Iranian-American political scientist Majid Rafizadeh in the Arab News.

Iran is technically capable of enriching uranium to weapons-grade should it choose so, said outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. After six rounds of talks in Vienna, an agreement still seems far away.

In spite of President Biden’s declarationthat Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons on his watch, it is becoming clearer that the current US administration has no tangible plan to counter or deal with the Iranian threat to the Middle East and US interests there, and is simply improvising. Accordingly, if the Iranian regime is capable of creating all the above mentioned havoc while still under US sanctions, how much worse will it behave when sanctions are lifted?

Investigative Project on Terrorism Senior Fellow Hany Ghoraba is an Egyptian writer, political and counter-terrorism analyst at Al Ahram Weekly, author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy and a regular contributor to the BBC.

A version of this article was originally published by the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Iran intensifies attacks on US bases in Syria to win nuclear negotiations: Daniel 8:4

Elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) on the Syrian-Turkish borders (AFP)

Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

United States’ bases in Syria and Iraq have been heavily targeted over the past two weeks, with the US Defense Department (the Pentagon) blaming Iran for the attacks.

In a press briefing held on13 July, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby responded to a question regarding Iranian attacks by saying, “These attacks are dangerous and potentially lethal, and the Pentagon takes them seriously.”

The recent attacks indicate that Iran has been planning on escalating its military targeting of US bases. On 13 July, Reuters cited three sources from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and two Iraqi security sources who said that IRGC chief Hossein Taeb headed an Iranian delegation to Iraq and urged Iraqi Shi’ite militias to step up attacks on US targets during a meeting in the Iraq capital, Baghdad, last week.

Iranian officials advised the Iraqis not to go too far in their attacks on US forces in Syria to avoid a big escalation, Reuters quoted the sources.

Reuters cited a senior official in the region, who was briefed by Iranian authorities on Taeb’s visit, that Taeb met several Iraqi militia leaders during the trip and conveyed “the supreme leader’s message to them about keeping up pressure on US forces in Iraq until they leave the region.” 

Would Iran force US troops out of Syria and Iraq?

report by the Iranian al-Alam news TV channel entitled “Messages of the Five Targeting Operations Against American Occupation Bases in Syria” mentioned on 16 July that Iran’s long-term motives behind these attacks are to force US forces out of Syria by “popular resistance adopted by Iran through the attacks.”

Meanwhile, the short-term Iranian target is to pressure the US to “change its policy in Syria and ease sanctions,” the report said.

Iranian affairs researcher Alaa al-Sa’id told Enab Baladi that the Iranian targeting of US bases in Syria and Iraq does not put any pressure on America to leave these countries.

Al-Sa’id added that the US withdrawal from any country is not subject to Iranian pressures or the pressures of other sides. Such a decision is “purely American,” taken according to US interests with the aim of protecting national security.

Syrian writer and political analyst Zakariya Malahfji told Enab Baladi that Iranian attacks are not up to the aim of forcing US troops to withdraw from their bases in Syria or Iraq. Iran is involving itself in shenanigans, targeting US bases to win a pressure card on negotiating tables.

Iran’s attacks in Syria coincided with fiercer ones in Iraq targeting US interests there, opening the door to the possibility of Washington withdrawing its troops from the country it entered in 2003 to overthrow the regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

On 17 July, the US Associated Press news agency reported that a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi would take place in the White House on 26 July.

The meeting comes at a pivotal point in the US-Iraq relationship, and amid growing concerns about more frequent attacks against US troops in Iraq and Syria, the Associated Press said.

Since Biden took office in January, there have been at least eight drone attacks targeting the US presence, as well as 17 rocket attacks, according to the Associated Press.

An ostensible objective

Al-Sa’id said that Iran’s claim that its attacks aim to pressure the US to ease economic sanctions against the Syrian regime is nothing but an “ostensible objective.”

He added that Iran’s real objective behind attacking US bases in Syria is to use the Syrian regime’s forces on battlefields and drain their sources in case Iran was attacked back.

Since the US imposed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, also known as the Caesar Act, entailing sanctions on the Syrian regime, Iranian officials released many statements rejecting US sanctions claiming that they “affect the lives of Syrian people.”

The statements also mentioned Iran’s assistance and support to the regime in the face of US sanctions in various sectors, chiefly oil derivatives.

New presidency, new goals

On 19 June, Ebrahim Raisi won the Iranian presidential elections after receiving the highest percentage of votes with 63 percent of the voters.

Al-Sa’id said that Iran’s new presidency and intensified attacks are interrelated in the sense that the new presidency led by Raisi wants to show itself strong at the beginning of its term. 

Raisi wants to appear strong to silence his opponents, on the one hand, and to send a message to the US on Iran’s force to ease pressures related to nuclear talks in Vienna, al-Sa’id added.

Political analyst Malahfji pointed out that Raisi is a hardliner who is accused of several war crimes and that his election to the presidency indicates Iran’s intentions of escalation. 

The new Iranian presidency is trying to pressure the US indirectly to win the Vienna talks between Tehran, the US, and world powers on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal in Vienna, which restricted Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for lifting international sanctions.

In July, the US base in the al-Omar oil field in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor was targeted three times, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby denied the targeting of the US base in the al-Omar oil field and said that there were no military exercises for the US-led International Coalition Forces (ICF) in the area.

Iran has officially declared on many occasions that its presence in Syria is for advisory reasons at the Syrian government’s demand. However, since its early intervention in Syria, Iran has supported the regime politically, militarily, and economically and expanded its influence in Syria during the past years in various military, economic, and cultural fields.

Alarms go up on the Iranian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 8

An Iranian national flag.

Alarm grows among sidelined monitors about Iran’s nuclear program

Peter Millard and Jonathan Tirone

International monitors are watching Iran’s fast-expanding nuclear program with growing alarm as Tehran refuses to extend an expired inspections pact and insists the experts must trust that it’s accurately documenting uranium-enrichment activities.

Iran claims it’s still preserving data captured by International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring equipment, the agency’s director general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said in an interview in Rio de Janeiro. But officials won’t give his investigators access to it until Iran concludes stalled talks with world powers to restore a broader 2015 agreement that lifted sanctions.

“It’s a rather uncomfortable situation for us because this assurance is informal in nature and we don’t know whether this is the case or not,” Grossi said on Monday. “But we do not have a choice.”

The deal struck six years ago this month restricted Iran’s nuclear activities, but it has crumbled since then-President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018. After Trump reimposed sanctions, Iran started breaking caps on its nuclear work, and it has now stockpiled nearly enough highly-enriched uranium to build a warhead.

“We need to verify that all this material at those higher grades is going to remain in peaceful uses,” Grossi said. “The only way to do that is to cooperate with the IAEA. If they don’t do it, they are outlaws.”

While the Biden administration, along with China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K., have been trying to revive the 2015 accord since April, diplomats are expected to reconvene only next month after new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric, is installed in office.

The discussions are being closely watched by energy markets anticipating a surge in Iranian oil and gas exports if sanctions on the country’s sales are lifted.

Grossi spoke amid reports that policymakers in Washington could start raising the pressure on Iran if talks to revive their agreement fail. Dow Jones reported that the U.S. might target Iran’s oil sales to China, which have surged since President Joe Biden entered the White House, if the talks break down.

That’s simply one among a number of alternative scenarios the U.S. is thinking about if there’s no return to the multinational nuclear accord, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations. China is where Iran exports most of its oil today, and the U.S. has conveyed the possibility of new sanctions to China, the official said.

Iran has more than tripled its stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% to 19.6 pounds (8.9 kilograms) from 5.3 pounds (2.4 kilograms) verified by international inspectors in a June report, according to a tweet from Iran’s foreign minister last week. That purity of uranium is technically indistinguishable from the material needed to make nuclear weapons, with as little as 10 to 15 kilograms of the highly-enriched metal needed to manufacture a crude nuclear device.

Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for civilian uses, but concern in Western capitals and Israel over the potential for bombmaking helped prompt the original agreement.

“We will have to see what the new government decides in terms of returning to the format,” said Grossi, whose agency isn’t represented at the talks but plays a key role enforcing the deal’s nuclear covenants.

Grossi said that his inspectors continue having a presence inside Iran but that their visits are restricted to declared nuclear sites. The IAEA’s probe into trace amounts of decades-old uranium found at several locations and linked to Israeli revelations remains at a standstill.

“That is basically stopped,” Grossi said. “We have exchanged a few letters, but there is no real engagement.”

The failure to clarify the source of the material opens another potential pathway for the U.S. to mount pressure on Iran. Washington’s IAEA envoy Louis Bono has suggested the Islamic Republic could face formal censure if progress isn’t made in the investigation before September.

The Iranian Nuclear Horn Says They Will Breakout Soon

Iran rejects EU proposal to lengthen ‘breakout time’

The reactor building at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, located 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) south of Tehran, Iran, Oct. 26, 2010. (AFP Photo)by Anadolu AgencyJul 18, 2021 2:03 pm

European officials offered a new three-pronged approach for Iran that included lengthening its “breakout time,” but Tehran has rejected it, The Wall Street Journal said in a report.

The breakout time refers to the time period required to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb.

“In addition to keeping advanced centrifuges in storage and under seal, they (European officials) want Iran to rip out the electronic infrastructure it is currently using to run machines banned under the deal and reduce Iran’s capacity for producing new centrifuges at its assembly plants,” the newspaper said.

The newspaper did not specify whether the European offer was made to the Iranian side in the context of the Vienna talks.

Iran started producing highly advanced uranium silicide fuel for its Tehran research reactor earlier this month amid soaring tensions with the United States fueled by a deadlock over the 2015 nuclear deal.

The country’s envoy to the United Nations nuclear agency, Kazem Gharibabadi, said the agency had been “informed” of Iran’s move, which he said is intended to produce high-quality radiopharmaceuticals.

It instantly drew criticism from the U.S. and three European powers engaged in marathon talks with Iran in Vienna to salvage the nuclear deal that Washington abandoned in May 2018.

They warned that it would complicate or even torpedo the ongoing talks, which have been effectively put on the back burner after six rounds lasting three months.

While the U.K., France and Germany expressed “grave concern” about the measure, the U.S. termed it an “unfortunate step backwards,” but emphasized that the window for diplomacy remains open.

The Wall Street Journal said Western diplomats think Iran is using the slow pace of the talks to acquire “irreversible technical knowledge on uranium metal, centrifuges and production of higher-grade enriched uranium.

”In June, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Iran’s breakout time could be in a matter of weeks if not stopped.”

It remains unclear whether Iran is willing and prepared to do what it needs to do come back into compliance,” Blinken said.

“Meanwhile, its program is galloping forward. … The longer this goes on, the more the breakout time gets down … it’s now down, by public reports, to a few months at best. And if this continues, it will get down to a matter of weeks.”

Last Update: Jul 18, 2021 3:22 pm

Rocket targets Iraq base hosting Babylon the Great

Rocket targets Iraq base hosting US troops: security source

Updated 20 June 2021 

AP 

June 20, 202114:32

BAGHDAD: At least one Katyusha rocket fell close to the perimeter of a military base that hosts US troops in northern Iraq on Sunday, Iraq’s military said.
The rocket fell near the sprawling Ain al-Asad air base in western Anbar province but did not explode, the military said in a statement.
There was no significant damage, the statement said. An Iraqi security official said a fence at the perimeter of the base was minimally damaged. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
An investigation by security forces found the projectile had been launched from the nearby al-Baghdadi area.
The attack is the latest targeting the American presence in Iraq. Rockets and, more recently, drones have targeted military bases hosting US troops and the US Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.
The regular assaults have been described as disruptive by US contractors working on military bases. Recently, Lockheed Martin relocated its F-16 maintenance teams, citing security concerns.
The US and Iraq are negotiating a timeline for foreign troops to withdraw from the country. Talks began under the former administration of Donald Trump and resumed after President Joe Biden assumed office.

Iran’s nuclear advances complicate Biden’s bid to revive the Obama deal

American and European officials estimate that Iran could now gather enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon within two to three months. (Bloomberg)
American and European officials estimate that Iran could now gather enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon within two to three months. (Bloomberg)

Iran’s nuclear advances complicate Biden’s bid to revive 2015 deal

Over the past year, Iran has made significant advances in its ability to amass enriched uranium, complicating the Biden administration’s effort to revive a 2015 deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s atomic ambitions.

Washington has sought to restart the accord, which was abandoned by President Donald Trump in 2018. After a delay of several weeks, Iran on Wednesday signaled that it would be ready to return to the negotiating table next month after the country’s newly elected president, Ebrahim Raisi, takes office.

American and European officials estimate that Iran could now gather enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon within two to three months.

U.S. officials say that, at least for now, they are confident a return to the terms of the 2015 accord will lengthen that so-called breakout time to around a year—the same as it was in January 2016, when the pact agreed to by the U.S., Iran and five other global powers went into effect.

“There will come a point—but we’re not there yet…where if Iran continues to advance its program and there’s no deal, then it will be very hard, if not impossible, to recapture the nonproliferation benefits” of the original deal, U.S. special Iran envoy Rob Malley told CNN on Wednesday. Mr. Malley said to avoid that, a deal needs to be concluded “in the foreseeable future.”

Assessments of Iran’s potential breakout time vary, depending on assumptions made about the equipment Iran has, its ability to use it and how quickly it can expand its capacity.

Some European officials involved in the talks say they believe Iran’s breakout time, if the pact were revived quickly, could already be less than a year and worry the time cushion could fall further if Tehran continues its nuclear work as talks drag on.

Western officials’ chief worry is that Iran has mastered technology needed to better employ some advanced centrifuges, which it uses to enrich uranium. In particular, Iran has become more effective in using its stock of second-generation so-called IR-2M machines.

Iran had more than a thousand IR-2M machines in 2016, but was barred from using them under the deal. Western diplomats at the time believed Iran’s expertise was too basic for Tehran to deploy them effectively to race to a nuclear weapon. That has now changed, several senior Western diplomats say.

Over the past year, Iran has deployed most of its IR-2M machines—which are three to four times faster than the centrifuges Iran is permitted under the accord to use—and has done so more speedily and successfully than many observers expected.

In addition to limiting the type of centrifuge Iran could use, the 2015 agreement required the removal of two-thirds of Iran’s centrifuges. It also capped the amount of enriched uranium that Iran was allowed to possess at 300 kilograms. The level of permitted enrichment was limited to 3.67%. Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to 90%.

Iran’s breakout time was supposed to remain at one year at least until 2026.

After Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord and imposed economic sanctions on Iran, Tehran began moving step-by-step to expand its nuclear activities.

Iran is now producing near-weapons-grade 60% enriched uranium. Last week, the United Nations’ atomic agency reported that Iran had moved forward with plans to produce enriched uranium metal, a material used in the core of a nuclear weapon. Iran says it is producing the metal for peaceful use.

Tehran has also restricted international inspectors’ access to its main Natanz nuclear facility and declined to extend an agreement with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency to hand over camera footage and other monitoring material to the IAEA.

Iran says its nuclear work is entirely for peaceful purposes.

Given Iran’s progress on centrifuges, machines which spin uranium into higher purities, European officials have proposed a new three-pronged approach to lengthen Iran’s breakout time. In addition to keeping advanced centrifuges in storage and under seal, they want Iran to rip out the electronic infrastructure it is currently using to run machines banned under the deal and reduce Iran’s capacity for producing new centrifuges at its assembly plants.

Negotiators were close to agreeing that Iran’s uranium stockpile would be sent to Russia. Iran has insisted it won’t allow any of its more advanced centrifuges to be destroyed, say several people involved in talks.

Western diplomats are split into two broad camps on Iran’s strategy for the talks. Some say they believe Tehran wants to restore the 2015 deal but is delaying in the belief that the Biden administration’s eagerness to defuse a potential nuclear crisis could drive Washington to make concessions. Talks, which broke off June 20, may not restart until the second half of August, a senior European official said.

Meanwhile, Iran is using the slow pace of the talks to gain irreversible technical knowledge on uranium metal, centrifuges and production of higher-grade enriched uranium, Western officials say.

Other officials believe there is a real debate in Tehran over whether to return to the deal and, if so, what to seek in return.

Iran’s new president, Mr. Raisi, supported reviving the nuclear deal during his election campaign, but said immediately after that his team would first review in depth the results of the negotiations so far.

Iranian differences of opinion over conditions for returning to the deal have at times flashed into public view. Earlier this week, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who spearheaded the 2015 deal, criticized the country’s leadership for not allowing negotiations to be concluded after they resumed in April.

Hard-line politicians and media have long opposed the nuclear deal. The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, makes the key decisions on strategic issues like the nuclear program.

“They took away the opportunity to reach an agreement from this government,” Mr. Rouhani was quoted saying in Iranian media.

Iran has so far insisted that the U.S. must first drop all Trump-era sanctions, including those on human-rights and terror grounds, offer compensation for that decision and guarantee it won’t exit an agreement again before it would return to the accord.

U.S. and European officials say those demands won’t be accepted.

“We have repeatedly stressed that time is on no one’s side. With its latest steps, Iran is threatening a successful outcome to the Vienna talks despite the progress achieved in six rounds of negotiations to date,” the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Germany said last week.

—Michael R. Gordon in Washington contributed to this article

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text)

Iran Insists it can make a nuclear bomb: Revelation 16

Iran insists it can enrich uranium to 90% purity – weapons grade – if needed

July 14, 20217:40 AM MDTLast Updated a day ago

DUBAI, July 14 (Reuters) – Iran said on Wednesday it could enrich uranium up to 90% purity — weapons grade — if its nuclear reactors needed it, but added it still sought the revival of a 2015 deal that would limit its atomic programme in return for a lifting of sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani’s remark is his second such public comment this year about 90% enrichment — a level suitable for a nuclear bomb — underlining Iran’s resolve to keep breaching the deal in the absence of any accord to revive it. read more 

The biggest obstacle to producing nuclear weapons is obtaining enough fissile material – weapons-grade highly enriched uranium or plutonium – for the bomb’s core.

Iran says it has never sought nuclear weapons.

“Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation can enrich uranium by 20% and 60% and if one day our reactors need it, it can enrich uranium to 90% purity,” Rouhani told a cabinet meeting, Iranian state media reported.

The nuclear deal caps the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67%, well under the 20% achieved before the pact and far below the 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon.

Iran has been breaching the deal in several ways after the United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018, including by producing 20% and 60% enriched uranium.

Rouhani, who will hand over the presidency to hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi on Aug. 5, implicitly criticised Iran’s top decision makers for “not allowing” his government to reinstate the nuclear deal during its term in office.1/2

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council In Yerevan, Armenia October 1, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS 

“They took away the opportunity to reach an agreement from this government. We deeply regret missing this opportunity,” the state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not the president, has the last say on all state matters such as nuclear policy.

Like Khamenei, Raisi has backed indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at bringing back the arch foes into full compliance with the accord. Former U.S. President Donald Trump quit the deal three years ago, saying it was biased in favour of Iran, and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran.

The sixth round of nuclear talks in Vienna adjourned on June 20. The next round of the talks has yet to be scheduled, and Iranian and Western officials have said that significant gaps still remain to be resolved.

Two senior Iranian officials told Reuters that president-elect Raisi planned to adopt “a harder line” in the talks after taking office, adding that the next round might resume in late September or early October.

One of the officials said many members of Iran’s nuclear team might be replaced with hardline officials, but top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi would stay “at least for a while”.

The second official said Raisi planned to show “less flexibility and demand more concessions” from Washington such as keeping a chain of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in place and insisting on the removal of human rights and terrorism related U.S. sanctions.

Trump blacklisted dozens of institutions vital to Iran’s economy using laws designed to punish foreign actors for supporting terrorism or weapons proliferation.

Removing oil and financial sanctions is essential if Iran is to export its oil, the top prize for Tehran for complying with the nuclear agreement and reining in its atomic program.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Jason Neely, William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The Iranian Nuclear Horn Defies the IAEA

Iran refuses to give nuclear site images to IAEA

Updated 27 June 2021 

Reuters 

June 27, 2021 07:46

DUBAI: The speaker of Iran’s parliament said on Sunday Tehran will never hand over images from inside of some Iranian nuclear sites to the UN nuclear watchdog as a monitoring agreement with the agency had expired, Iranian state media reported.
“The agreement has expired … any of the information recorded will never be given to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the data and images will remain in the possession of Iran,” said Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
The announcement could further complicate talks between Iran and six major powers on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal. Three years ago then US President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran; Iran reacted by violating many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear program.
A spokesman for parliament’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee warned that “Iran will also turn off the IAEA cameras if the United States fails to remove all sanctions,” the state-run Tehran Times newspaper’s website reported.
The IAEA and Tehran struck the three-month monitoring agreement in February to cushion the blow of Iran reducing its cooperation with the agency, and it allowed monitoring of some activities that would otherwise have been axed to continue.
Under that agreement, which on May 24 was extended by a month, data continues to be collected in a black-box-type arrangement, with the IAEA only able to access it at a later date.
On Friday, the IAEA demanded an immediate reply from Iran on whether it would extend the monitoring agreement, prompting an Iranian envoy to respond that Tehran was under no obligation to provide an answer.
Iran said on Wednesday the country’s Supreme National Security Council would decide whether to renew the monitoring agreement only after it expires.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that any failure by Tehran to extend the monitoring agreement would be a “serious concern” for broader negotiations.
Parties involved in the talks on reviving the deal, which began in April in Vienna, have said there are major issues still to be resolved before the nuclear deal can be reinstated.

Iranian commander urged escalation against US forces at Iraq: Daniel 8

A man wears a mask with images of late Iran's Quds Force top commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis who were killed in a U.S. airstrike, in Kerbala, Iraq, October 7, 2020.  REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen/File Photo

Iranian commander urged escalation against US forces at Iraq meeting, sources say

July 13, 202110:38 AM MDTLast Updated 5 hours ago

BAGHDAD, July 13 (Reuters) – A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander urged Iraqi Shi’ite militias to step up attacks on U.S. targets during a meeting in Baghdad last week, three militia sources and two Iraqi security sources familiar with the gathering said.

American forces in Iraq and Syria were attacked several times following the visit by an Iranian delegation led by Revolutionary Guards intelligence chief Hossein Taeb, which came after deadly U.S. air strikes against Iran-backed militias at the Syrian-Iraqi border on June 27.

While encouraging retaliation, the Iranians advised the Iraqis not to go too far to avoid a big escalation, three militia sources briefed on the meeting said.

The Iranians did, however, advise them to widen their attacks by retaliating against U.S. forces in Syria, according to one of the three militia sources, a senior local militia commander briefed on the meeting.

The flare-up comes as significant differences cloud diplomatic efforts to revive the Iranian 2015 nuclear agreement, which was abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump but which Iran wants reinstated to allow it to resume key exports of oil.

A senior official in the region, who was briefed by Iranian authorities on Taeb’s visit, said that Taeb met several Iraqi militia leaders during the trip and conveyed “the supreme leader’s message to them about keeping up pressure on U.S. forces in Iraq until they leave the region”.

Since the U.S. air strikes, attacks on U.S. troops and personnel or bases where they operate have intensified in Iraq and widened to eastern Syria. read more 

Iran’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters for this article, and officials at the Revolutionary Guards public relations office were not immediately available for comment.

Iran’s U.N. envoy this month denied U.S. accusations that Tehran supported attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, and condemned U.S. airstrikes on Iranian-backed militants there. read more 

There was no immediate response from the Iraqi government or the prime minister’s office to questions about the meeting.

The sources to whom Reuters spoke did so on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

U.S.-IRANIAN RIVALRY

The Arab world’s biggest Shi’ite majority country, Iraq has been a theatre of U.S.-Iranian rivalry since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Sunni leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The Shi’ite militias have been waging a sustained and increasingly sophisticated campaign against U.S. forces which, after withdrawing in 2011, returned to Iraq in 2014 at the head of a coalition to fight the Islamic State group.

But the attacks, including explosives-laden drones, have gone up a gear since the U.S. air strikes, which Iran-aligned militias say killed four of their members.

The two Iraqi security sources close to the activities and operations of the groups said the Iranians handed their Iraqi allies aerial maps of U.S. positions in eastern Syria at the July 5 meeting.

The Pentagon said it was deeply concerned about the attacks, including a July 7 rocket barrage on the Ain al-Asad air base in which two American service members were wounded. read more 

A senior Guards figure, Taeb is a mid-ranking Shi’ite cleric seen by insiders and analysts of Iranian politics as close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The senior official in the region said Khamenei had sent Taeb to Iraq after visits there by Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, appointed last year as head of the Guards’ expeditionary branch, the Quds Force, had failed to yield an escalation.

An Iraqi government official said it appeared Iran was seeking to use its allies in Iraq to apply pressure for a return to the nuclear deal, under which harsh U.S. sanctions would be lifted in return for curbs on Iran’s atomic activities.

A senior Iranian diplomat said Taeb’s visit to Baghdad indicated that Khamenei was getting directly involved in Iraq affairs after the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, a previous Quds Force head, in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq early last year.

A spokesman for one of the Iranian-backed militia groups hit by the U.S. air strike last month confirmed that the recent attacks were carried out by the Iraqi Islamic Resistance, a reference to the Shi’ite Iran-backed groups.

“The military escalation against the American forces will continue until all their combatant forces leave Iraq,” Kadhim al-Fartousi, the spokesman for the Kataib Sayyed al-Shuhada faction, told Reuters.

Saad al-Saadi, a senior official in the political office of the Iranian-backed group of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, said if the Americans continued to strike at militias, then more effective attacks on U.S. forces could be expected anywhere in Iraq and Syria.

The meeting was held in Baghdad’s upscale Jadiriya neighbourhood in a villa just across the river Tigris from the U.S. embassy, two of the local militia commanders said.

Iran and the United States began indirect negotiations in Vienna in early April to restore the nuclear deal. No date has been set for further talks, which adjourned on June 20.

Some Western and Iranian officials have said the talks are a long way from a conclusion, as disagreements on which U.S. sanctions should be lifted and on the nuclear commitments that Iran has to make and when still remain in place.

(This story has been refiled to reinstate dropped word ‘to’ in para 11)

Reporting by Baghdad newsroom; Editing by William Maclean