US Airbase Hit by Rockets in Iraq

Rockets Hit Iraqi Base Where U.S. Troops Are Stationed

At least 10 rockets were fired on the Ayn Al Asad air base one week after U.S. airstrikes on Iran-backed militia positions along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

The Ayn Al Asad air base in Anbar Province, Iraq, in 2019. It is one of the last remaining bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are stationed.

Nasser Nasser/Associated Press

By Jane Arraf and Helene Cooper

March 3, 2021
Updated 2:59 p.m. ET

DOHUK, Iraq — A barrage of rockets was fired on Wednesday at the Ayn Al Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar Province — one of the last remaining Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed.

An Iraqi security statement and one released by the Pentagon said 10 rockets were launched toward the sprawling base.

A senior Defense Department official said a U.S. contractor had died of an apparent heart attack during the rocket barrage. Officials in Washington did not identify the group responsible for the attack.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the missile defense system at Al Asad “engaged in defense of our forces” and added, “We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the individual who died.”

President Biden was briefed on the attacks, his top spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.

Ms. Psaki said officials were leaving their options open, pending an investigation of the incident, but she acknowledged a caution against making “a hasty or ill-informed decision” that “plays into the hands of our adversaries.”

Even though the contractor who died did so of a heart attack, Mr. Biden may feel he needs to respond, officials said. “If we determine a response is necessary, we will do so at a time and manner of our choosing,” said John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.

The Sabareen news outlet, which is affiliated with Iran-backed militias, said three U.S. soldiers had been killed in the attack — a report completely at odds with the official Defense Department account.

The assault came just under a week after the United States attacked Iran-backed militia targets at the Syria-Iraq border. Those airstrikes, ordered by the Biden administration, hit a collection of buildings on the Syrian side of a border crossing. Mr. Biden had originally approved two targets inside Syria, administration officials said.

The Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah said one of its fighters had been killed in those airstrikes. It identified him as a member of Popular Mobilization Forces that are officially part of Iraqi security forces helping prevent infiltration by the Islamic State.

The second strike Mr. Biden approved was aborted at the last minute after American forces learned that there were women and children at that site, also in Syria, administration officials said. Two F-15E Strike Eagles dropped seven 500-pound satellite-guided bombs on nine buildings at Abu Kamal, the first site, the officials said.

Mr. Biden chose targets in Syria to avoid political blowback on the Iraqi government, officials said.

The assault on the base on Wednesday came just days before a visit by Pope Francis to Iraq beginning on Friday — the first ever papal visit to the war-ravaged country.

Iraqi security forces are on heightened alert, with Baghdad going into full lockdown on Friday. Security forces have been deployed in large numbers to all of the cities Francis plans to visit on his three-day trip.

The attackers who targeted the base on Wednesday used BM-21 “Grad” rockets, fired from about five miles from the base, officials said.

A local paramilitary leader near the base said he had heard the impact of the rockets and then gone to investigate. The leader, Sheikh Qutri Kahlan al-Obeidi, said he had found “a burned vehicle — a Mitsubishi pickup,” rigged with rocket launchers, that appeared to have been used in the attack.

No group took responsibility, but any additional deaths will add pressure to the Biden administration to respond, even as the pope’s visit could complicate any immediate military escalation.

The last major assault on the base was a little over a year ago, when dozens of U.S. soldiers and support personnel were injured in a missile attack. That assault was in retaliation for the U.S. drone killing of Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, who led the powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Jane Arraf reported from Dohuk, and Helene Cooper from Washington. Falih Hassan contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt and Glenn Thrush from Washington.

The Obama Deal Won’t Be Restarted Soon

Former U.S. ambassador doesn’t see Iran nuclear deal happening this year as escalations mount

Natasha Turak

A series of back-and-forth retaliatory moves and antagonizing statements between Washington and Tehran are putting the Biden administration’s plans for a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal into greater peril by the day.

“You can’t act with impunity. Be careful,” President Joe Biden told reporters Friday, describing his message to Iran after he ordered airstrikes against buildings in eastern Syria that the Pentagon says were being used by Iranian-backed militia.

The strikes were in retaliation for a Feb. 15 attack that saw rockets hit Erbil International Airport in Iraq, which houses coalition military forces. The attack, which Western and Iraqi officials attribute to Iranian-backed militia forces, killed one contractor with the U.S.-led coalition and injured several others, including an American service member. Iran rejects accusations of its involvement.

None of this bodes well for what the Biden administration considers a foreign policy priority: a return to the Iranian nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, that was penned under the Obama administration with several world powers and lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program.

The deal has all but collapsed since the Trump administration unilaterally ditched it in 2018 and re-imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran that have crippled its economy.

Whether or when the deal can be revived is a critical question for the Biden team’s foreign policy and legacy in the Middle East. Former U.S. diplomat Joseph Westphal, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia during Obama’s second term, doesn’t see it happening in the near or even medium term.

“I don’t think we’ll see a deal” this year, Westphal told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Monday. “I think we may see the start of negotiations to get to a deal. The end of the year is coming fast. And I think these things take a lot of time.”

An invitation and a rejection

Earlier in February, the Biden team took a major step in offering to start informal negotiations with Tehran, signaling the first U.S. diplomatic outreach in more than four years. Iran’s leadership over the weekend rejected the invitation.

The attempt at some sort of rapprochement is a tricky one for Biden. He faces substantial domestic opposition on the Iran deal and doesn’t want to appear “soft” on the country’s regime, especially at a time when Iran is ramping up its uranium enrichment and stockpiling in violation of the deal, moves that bring it closer to bomb-making capability.  

Tehran insists that this is in response to U.S. sanctions, and that its actions can be reversed if the sanctions are lifted first; Biden, meanwhile, says he’ll only lift the economic penalties if Tehran walks back its violations. So the two are at an impasse.

Tehran last week limited the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s access to its nuclear activities, putting the deal in further peril, though the inspectors still retain some access. And on Monday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of being behind an attack on one of its tankers off the coast of Oman on Friday. Iran denies any involvement.

Attempts to level the playing field

Still, not everyone believes a return to the JCPOA can’t happen this year. Ayham Kamel, Middle East practice head at political risk consultancy the Eurasia Group, sees the current escalations as an attempt to even the playing field.

“There is no easy path for JCPOA plus. I think whatever is happening now in the region — some of the escalation in Iraq, some of the escalation in Iran, even the Iranians rejecting the first offer for direct negotiations with the U.S. — I think that’s all pre-negotiation negotiation,” Kamel said.

“It’s an effort to really balance the field, the Iranians trying to get the maximum that they could out of this process. The JCPOA will happen, re-entry will happen at some point this year in my view, but it will be tough.”

Kamel added that the Iranian leadership itself remains divided over returning to the accord, as it weighs the need for economic relief from sanctions and its opposition to cowing to U.S. demands.

“The supreme leader wants a deal, but many in the IRGC (Revolutionary Guard Corps) do not necessarily want to see a weak negotiation start,” he said, referencing Iran’s powerful and ideological parallel military force. “They want negotiations to start from a strong position, and the regional escalation is all part of that.”

Others believe a return to the deal is inevitable simply because Iran’s economy has been so devastated by the sanctions. Its currency is in free fall, its exports have been slashed, and Iranians are struggling to afford food and medicine.

“I think, ultimately, a deal is possible,” Richard Goldberg of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told CNBC earlier this month, “because the Iranians need money.”

Pope Prepares to go to the Iranian Horn

Intense preparations before pontiff meets Iraqi ayatollah

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA and SAMYA KULLAB , Associated Press

March 03, 2021 – 7:40 AM

BAGHDAD — In Iraq’s holiest city, a pontiff will meet a revered ayatollah and make history with a message of coexistence in a place plagued by bitter divisions.

One is the chief pastor of the world-wide Catholic Church, the other a pre-eminent figure in Shiite Islam whose opinion holds powerful sway on the Iraqi street and beyond. Their encounter will resonate across Iraq, even crossing borders into neighboring, mainly Shiite Iran.

The Iran Deal is Dying

Iran Refuses U.S. Nuclear Talks As Tensions Rise in Persian Gulf, Syria and Iraq

By David Brennan On 3/1/21 at 5:51 AM EST

Fresh violence in the Persian Gulf and Syria is ratcheting up regional tensions as the U.S. and Iran remain locked in a stalemate over the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.

This weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for last week’s explosion aboard an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman. His accusation came just after Syria reported an Israeli missile attack launched from the annexed Golan Heights at targets around the capital Damascus on Sunday night.

The incidents follow tit-for-tat actions by Iran-backed Iraqi militia groups and U.S. forces in the region over the past month, which threatened to hamstring the multilateral efforts to revive the JCPOA.

The spike in violence comes as Tehran continues to refuse talks with the U.S. over the JCPOA, demanding instead that all sanctions are lifted before any further negotiations.

Netanyahu said on Monday that Thursday night’s attack on the MV Helios Ray vehicle-carrier “was indeed an operation by Iran. That is clear.” Asked whether Israel would retaliate, he replied: “You know my policy. Iran is Israel’s biggest enemy. I am determined to fend it off. We are striking at it all over the region.”

Iran denied the claim, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh telling reporters Monday: “The security of the Persian Gulf is extremely important for Iran.” But Tehran has been implicated in similar attacks in recent years, and international shipping in the strategic waterways off its coast offer Iran easy and high-profile targets for limited escalation and retaliation.

Israel is already staunchly opposed to the revival of the JCPOA, claiming the deal is deeply flawed and will only embolden the regime in Tehran to expand its weapons research programs and use of regional proxy militias. Netanyahu said last week: “With or without an agreement we will do everything so [Iran is not] armed with nuclear weapons.”

But the Biden administration is pushing ahead with its plans to return to the deal despite opposition from regional allies and conservatives in the U.S. The White House and Tehran have both said they want the deal to succeed, but the two sides are stuck in a stalemate over who will take the first step.

Iran has expanded its nuclear program beyond what is allowed under the JCPOA since Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and began applying ever-harsher sanctions on the country.

Iran wants Biden to lift these Trump-era sanctions before it scales back its nuclear activity. But the Biden administration says it will not lift any sanctions until Iran returns to compliance with the JCPOA.

The Biden administration has said it is now willing to meet with JCPOA signatories to find a way to resurrect the deal. The White House hopes the JCPOA can become the basis for a “longer and stronger” agreement placing limits on Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional militia network; two key concerns among JCPOA critics.

The European Union has also suggested unofficial talks between the parties as a prelude to full negotiations. The EU and the three European signatories of the deal—Germany, France and the U.K.—could serve as referees for a phased return to the deal for both the U.S. and Iran.

But Khatibzadeh said Sunday that it is too early for talks. “In view of the recent stances and measures taken by the United States and the three European countries, the Islamic Republic of Iran believes this is not a good time for holding an unofficial meeting on the accord,” he said in a statement.

“There has been no change in the United States’ stances and behavior, and the Biden administration has not only failed to abandon Trump’s failed policy of maximum pressure, but has also failed to declare its commitment to the implementation of all its obligations under the JCPOA,” the spokesperson added.

“The path forward is quite clear: the U.S. must end its unlawful and unilateral sanctions and return to its JCPOA commitments,” Khatibzadeh said.

This picture taken on February 28, 2021 shows a view of the Israeli-owned Bahamian-flagged MV Helios Ray cargo ship docked in Dubai’s Mina Rashid cruise terminal. GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty

Iran Enriches More Uranium: Daniel 8

Iran enriching uranium in second set of centrifuges in Natanz: IAEA

Updated 03 February 2021 Arab News February 02, 2021 16:33

JEDDAH: Iran has again increased enrichment of uranium at its Natanz underground nuclear plant, UN atomic watchdog inspectors reported on Tuesday.

And Tehran boasted that it now had two clusters of advanced centrifuges running at the site that would almost quadruple its ability to produce fissile material.

“Thanks to our diligent nuclear scientists, two cascades of 348 IR2m centrifuges with almost four times the capacity of IR1 are now running successfully in Natanz,” said Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  “Installation of two cascades of IR6 centrifuges has also been started in Fordow. There’s more to come soon.”

The increased enrichment is the largest breach so far of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions. Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, since when Iran has gradually ramped up its violations of the accord’s terms.

Tehran has started enriching uranium to higher purity, returning to the 20 percent it achieved before the deal from a previous maximum of 4.5 percent. The deal sets a limit of 3.67 percent, far below the 90 percent required to build a weapons.

Under the agreement, Iran can refine uranium only at Natanz, with first-generation IR1 centrifuges with uranium hexafluoride (UF6) feedstock. Last year it began enriching there with a cluster of much more efficient IR2m machines and in December said it would install three more.

“Iran has completed the installation of one of these three cascades, containing 174 IR2m centrifuges, and on Jan. 30 it began feeding the cascade with UF6,” the IAEA said on Tuesday.

The agency later confirmed that enrichment had begun with the second cascade.

The increased uranium enrichment ramps up pressure on the new administration in Washington over the future of the JCPOA. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have said the US would return to compliance with the deal if Iran did too, but the US also wants a “longer and stronger” agreement that addresses Iran’s ballistic missile program and other issues.

The Trump administration had “seriously damaged Iran’s nuclear project,” Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Tuesday. “In terms of enrichment, they are in a situation of breaking out in around half a year,” he said. “As for nuclear weaponry, the range is around one or two years.”

Iran Blows Up Israeli Ship

Israel says initial assessment is Iran behind explosion on its ship

February 28, 2021

JERUSALEM: Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday his “initial assessment” was that Iran was responsible for an explosion on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman.

The ship, a vehicle-carrier named MV Helios Ray, suffered an explosion between Thursday and Friday morning. A US defence official in Washington said the blast left holes above the waterline on both sides of the hull. The cause was not immediately clear and no casualties were reported.

“Iran is looking to hit Israeli infrastructure and Israeli citizens,” Gantz told the public broadcaster Kan. “The location of the ship in relative close proximity to Iran raises the notion, the assessment, that it is the Iranians.”

“Right now, at an initial assessment level, given the proximity and the context – that is my assessment,” Gantz said, adding a deeper investigation still had to be carried out.

There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials.

The ship is owned by a Tel Aviv company called Ray Shipping through a company registered in the Isle of Man, according to a UN shipping database.

Israeli Channel 13 News said defence officials believed the Iranian navy had launched a precision strike to avoid casualties, firing two missiles at a part of the ship that if damaged would not have sunk the vessel.

It added an Israeli delegation was en route to Dubai, where the ship was docked, to investigate.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the report.

Kan named the owner as Rami Ungar and quoted him on Friday as saying: “The damage is two holes, diameter approximately 1.5 metres, but it is not yet clear to us if this was caused by missile fire or mines that were attached to the ship.”

Iran said in November it would make a “calculated” response to the killing of its top nuclear scientist, which it blamed on Israel.

Tensions have risen in the Gulf region since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then-president Donald Trump withdrew Washington from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.

Washington has blamed Iran for a number of attacks on shipping in strategic Gulf waters, notably on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, in May 2019. Iran has denied carrying out those attacks.

The Iranian Nuclear Deal May Be Dead

Iran Balks at Resuming Nuclear Talks with US

Iran on Sunday balked at holding an informal meeting with the United States and three European powers about reviving the 2015 accord that restrained Tehran’s nuclear development program to keep it from developing nuclear weapons.

Tehran said that before talks are held, the new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden must first lift its unilateral economic sanctions against Iran.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that “considering the recent actions and statements” by the U.S., Britain, France and Germany, “Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” which was proposed by the European Union foreign policy chief. Iran has said its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

A White House spokesperson responded Sunday by expressing “disappointment” with Iran’s response, but said the U.S. is ready to “reengage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA commitments,” referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran nuclear deal.  

Washington will consult the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – Britain, China, France and Russia – plus Germany on the best way forward, the spokesperson said.  

Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal, but Biden during his presidential campaign against Trump and since he took office has said he wants to rejoin the pact that includes Russia and China. The U.S. has also opened talks with Iran over the fate of at least five American hostages being held by Tehran.

At the same time, Biden has pressured Iran militarily, ordering airstrikes last week on buildings in Syria that the Defense Department says were used by Iranian-backed militias. The U.S. said the rocket attacks were in retaliation for missile attacks on U.S. targets in neighboring Iraq.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday the attacks in Syria killed at least 22 militia fighters, although the Pentagon did not confirm the figure.

The forgotten nuclear threat: Revelation 16

The Week Staff

Constraints on nuclear proliferation have lapsed or been loosened in recent years. How great is the danger? Here’s everything you need to know:

Who has nuclear weapons?
The vast majority — some 91 percent — of the world’s 13,400 nuclear weapons are owned by the U.S. and Russia, which each have the power to render Earth an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland. The other early developers of nuclear arsenals were the U.K., China, and France. In an attempt to prevent further spread, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was adopted in 1970, pledging those five powers to eventually disarm in return for other states promising not to pursue the bomb. But more than 50 years later, all four of the countries that aren’t party to the treaty — India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea — have nuclear arsenals (although Israel has never confirmed it), and at least one signatory, Iran, has taken steps to build its own. Another treaty, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, just came into force in January, but none of the nuclear states signed it. Though public concern about nuclear war has faded since countries became preoccupied with terrorism, climate change, and now, viral pandemics, the threat remains very real. Potential triggers of nuclear conflict include India’s border disputes with both Pakistan and China, Iran’s threats to destroy Israel, Israel’s pledge to prevent Iran from getting nukes, China’s designs on Taiwan, and North Korea’s threat to South Korea.

What about arms control treaties?
Few remain. During the Reagan era, the U.S. and the Soviet Union agreed to slash their nuclear arsenals, but most arms control treaties since then have lapsed. The Bush administration pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, which sparked an arms race in missile-defense systems, and President Trump yanked the U.S. out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, saying that Russia had violated it. So the only remaining arms treaty the U.S. observes is New START, a pact with Russia negotiated under the Obama administration. That treaty cut the number of deployed nuclear warheads that each side can have by more than half, to 1,550. Former President Trump was planning to let the treaty expire this month. But just after taking office, President Biden agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend the treaty for five more years. Biden also will try to revive the Iran nuclear deal.

What is Iran’s capability?
Israeli intelligence says that the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist in November set Iran’s nuclear program back, and that it would need two years to build a nuclear weapon. In the early 2000s, the International Atomic Energy Agency discovered that Iran had been cheating on the NPT with a clandestine program to enrich uranium. Under the 2015 treaty negotiated by the Obama administration, Iran agreed to radically slash its stockpile of uranium and limit the number of centrifuges that it can use for enrichment. But since the Trump administration pulled out of the deal in 2018 and hit Iran with new sanctions, Iran has resumed production of 20 percent enriched uranium, getting nine-tenths of the way toward weapons-grade fuel.

What happens if Iran goes nuclear?
It would set off a chain of proliferation. Saudi Arabia, Iran’s enemy, has said it would seek nukes if Iran got them, and Turkey and Egypt could follow. The threat from North Korea, meanwhile, is alarming to Japan and South Korea, where factions have argued for the development of their own nuclear weapons as deterrents. Since it first tested a nuclear weapon in 2006, North Korea has built dozens of bombs and hundreds of missiles, and it now has intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach anywhere — including the continental United States. Our allies are now wondering, says Ivo Daalder of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, “Will you sacrifice us for you? Will you save Seattle at the price of Seoul?” The more nuclear weapons there are in the world, of course, the more likely it is that one could be fired by accident or fall into terrorist hands.

What comes next? 
The next nuclear summit — the NPT review conference held every five years — takes place in August. That will be a chance for the Biden administration to reassure allies and to open negotiations with rising power China. China is planning to double its arsenal to 200 warheads over the next decade, and it has been pouring money into new missile designs. Adm. Charles Richard, head of the U.S. strategic command, says China will soon be a nuclear peer of the U.S., just as Russia is. “For the first time ever, the U.S. is going to face two peer-capable nuclear competitors who are different, who you have to deter differently,” he said. “We have never faced that situation before.

The trouble with missile defense 
Missile defense is a system designed to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles before they hit. But if a country can shoot down, say, 100 enemy missiles, the enemy has an incentive to fire 200 to overwhelm the defense, leading to an offensive and defensive arms race. So in their arms control treaty, the U.S. and Soviets banned most missile defenses, relying instead on deterrence — the threat of mutual assured destruction. The U.S. pulled out of that pact in 2002, saying it needed the ability to defend against a launch by a terrorist or a rogue state such as Iran or North Korea. Since then, it has deployed defense systems in South Korea and sold anti-ballistic Patriot missiles to more than a dozen countries. The danger with missile defense is that if a country believes it can reliably defend itself against retaliatory nukes, it loses the deterrence of conducting its own first strike. But so far, despite billions in expenditures, missile defense is more of a fantasy than a reality. Patriot missiles failed to knock down most missiles fired by enemies in the Saudi-Houthi conflict and the 1991 Gulf War. In fact, says arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis, there is no evidence that a Patriot “has ever intercepted a long-range ballistic missile in combat.”

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

Iran is Nuclear Ready in 24 Hours: Daniel 8

Salehi: Iran Able to Increase Uranium Enrichment to 60% in 24 Hours

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi

Head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi said the Islamic Republic has the capacity to increase its uranium enrichment up to 60% in 24 hours.

Referring to recent remarks by Leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei, Salehi said the law has allowed the Islamic Republic raise uranium enrichment to this percent.

“We halted the Additional Protocol implementation to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and restricted access to the country’s nuclear sites within the framework of a counteractive law approved by the Iranian Parliament”, said Salehi during a TV program.

The head of AEOI also called Parliament’s law, dubbed the Strategic Action Plan to Counter Sanctions, as a golden opportunity, saying that were got the chance to launch 20% Uranium enrichment in 24 hours.

He went on to quote Imam Khamenei when he said that “Iran will not change its stance regarding its nuclear program, and that Tehran may initiate uranium enrichment up to 60% based on the domestic need of the country.”

“We have the capacity now, and as the law has allowed us, we can increase our Uranium enrichment up to 60% in 24 hours.”

Referring to a recent joint statement between the Iranian nuclear agency and the IAEA which had been agreed upon during a visit of the IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi to Tehran, Salehi said that Iran’s joint statement with the IAEA has no hidden aspect, and Grossi declared that IAEA recognizes Iran’s right to enforce the parliamentary law.

After the US exit from the world powers’ nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018 and imposing the unprecedented sanctions on the Iranian nation, followed by the indifference of the European parties to the need for compensating Iran’s losses as a result of the US violation of the international accord, Iran started reducing its JCPOA commitments in five steps and finally suspended voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol on Monday midnight.

Source: Iranian media

The Iranian Nuclear Horn Continues to Grow: Revelation 8:4

UN: Iran increasing uranium enrichment purity, quantities

International inspections of its nuclear facilities being restricted

The UN’s atomic watchdog says its inspectors have confirmed that Iran has started enriching uranium up to 20 per cent purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels. It’s the latest in a string of violations of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press Tuesday that as of February 16, Iran had added 17.6 kg (38.8 pounds) of uranium enriched to 20 per cent to its stockpile.

Overall, it increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to 2,967.8 kg (6,542.9 pounds), up from 2,442.9 kg (5,385.7 pounds) reported on November 2.

The nuclear deal signed in 2015 with the US, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kg (447 pounds). It also allows enrichment only up to 3.67 per cent.

Iran officially started restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities, state TV reported on Tuesday, a bid to pressure European countries and US President Joe Biden’s administration to lift crippling economic sanctions and restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

World powers slammed the restrictions as a “dangerous” move.

The state TV report gave little detail beyond confirming that Iran had made good on its threat to reduce cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.

Iran’s move to limit international inspections underscores the daunting task facing Biden as he seeks to reverse former President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US unilaterally out of the deal in 2018, leaving Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia struggling to keep it alive.

The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was the most significant pact between Iran and major world powers since its 1979 Islamic revolution, and Germany, France and Britain stressed their commitment Tuesday to preserving it, urging Iran to “stop and reverse all measures that reduce transparency.” “The E3 are united in underlining the dangerous nature of this decision,” the European powers said in a statement. “It will significantly constrain the IAEA’s access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said a new law had gone into effect Tuesday morning, under which Iran will no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the UN agency.

“We never gave them live video, but (recordings) were given daily and weekly,” Zarif said of the IAEA’s access to information recorded by camera monitors. “The tape recording of our (nuclear) programme will be kept in Iran.” The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Tehran’s civilian nuclear agency, has promised to preserve the tapes for three months, then hand them over to the IAEA — but only if granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to erase the tapes, narrowing the window for a diplomatic breakthrough.

Since Trump pulled the US. out of the JCPOA, Iran has gradually been violating its restrictions to put pressures on the remaining nations to come up with economic incentives to offset crippling American sanctions.

Among other things, the country has started enriching uranium up to 20 per cent purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels, and well above the purity allowed under the JCPOA. It has also been spinning advanced centrifuges, producing uranium metal and stockpiling more uranium than allowed.

Zarif stressed in a tweet on Tuesday that Iran’s new limits on nuclear inspections and other violations of the pact are reversible, insisting that the US move first to revive the deal.

In a show of defiance, Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei outlined further developments in Iran’s nuclear programme on Tuesday.

Over the last three weeks, he told presspersons, Iran has installed and started feeding gas into an additional 148 high-tech IR2-m centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear enrichment facility and its fortified nuclear complex at Fordo, bringing the total number of centrifuges to up to 492.

Another set of 492 centrifuges will be installed in the coming month, he said.