By Ben Westcott and James Griffiths, CNN Updated 12:53 AM EDT, Wed May 05, 2021
Editor’s Note: (This is a wrap of several top stories from China for May 5, 2021.) (CNN) For a country with a much smaller military and no nuclear weapons, Australia is suddenly hinting an awful lot about a war with China.
On April 25, the symbolic date of Anzac Day, when Australia honors its war dead, newly appointed Defense Minister Peter Dutton said a conflict with China over Taiwan shouldn’t “be discounted,” adding that Australians needed to be “realistic” about tensions around the region.
In another Anzac Day message, the top official at Australia’s powerful Home Affairs department, Mike Pezzullo, told his staff “free nations” were hearing the “drums of war” beating again.
A few days later, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced $580 million in military upgrades. One week on, several newspapers published a confidential briefing by Australia’s Maj. Gen. Adam Findlay to special forces soldiers, in which he said conflict with China was a “high likelihood.”
The idea of Australia fighting a war against China on its own is ridiculous. Last year, Australia’s military spending was about $27 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. China’s was estimated to be 10 times higher, for the same period, at about $252 billion, the second highest in the world.
Plus, China is a nuclear power. Australia is not.
The China-Australia relationship is in the doldrums. The China-Australia relationship is in the doldrums. Relations between Canberra and Beijing have been in a deep freeze for almost a year, since Morrison and his government infuriated their Chinese counterparts by publicly calling for an investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, Australian exports to China — including coal, wheat and wine — have faced crippling obstacles.
The Australian government has moved to confront Beijing over allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has joined a chorus of state-run media highlighting Australia’s poor human rights record on refugees and Indigenous Australians.
But much of the war-like rhetoric from Australia is actually driven by domestic politics, said Yun Jiang, managing editor at the Australian National University’s Center on China in the World. The Morrison government is under pressure over allegations it has mishandled its Covid-19 vaccine rollout, and could be looking to shift the focus.
“Focusing on an external enemy has usually been quite effective in uniting public sentiment and rallying around the government,” she said. “I think it’s irresponsible for the government to talk it up like that. War is very serious business.”
New Delhi, May 13: Chinas state medias threat to subject Australia to a missile strike, should it support Taiwan, has had an unexpected fallout—it has triggered demands in Canberra for nuclear weapons.
“Given that Australian hawks keep hyping or hinting that Australia will assist the US military and participate in war once a military conflict breaks out in the Taiwan Straits, and the Australian media outlets have been actively promoting the sentiment, I suggest China make a plan to impose retaliatory punishment against Australia once it militarily interferes in the cross-Straits situation,” writes Hu.
The bellicose insider of the CPC then details a plan of attack. “The plan [to attack Australia] should include long-range strikes on the military facilities and relevant key facilities on Australian soil if it really sends its troops to China’s offshore areas and combats against the PLA,” Hu writes. “If they [Australian hawks] are bold enough to coordinate with the US to militarily interfere in the Taiwan question and send troops to the Taiwan Straits to wage war with the PLA, they must know what disasters they would cause to their country.”
Undeterred by the Chinese threat former Yale and Harvard academic, Anders Corr, in his riposte written in Epoch Times, says that given Hu’s threat “the United States and allies should immediately support Australia in obtaining an independent submarine-based nuclear deterrent, so that Australia can join countries such as the United States, France, Britain, and India as powerful global defenders of freedom and democracy. The independent strength of individual members of an alliance improves the overall strength of the alliance”.
Corr is not the first one to call for an independent Australian nuclear deterrent, given the likely face-off with China in the Indo-Pacific region. “Far from being in a strategic backwater, Australia is very much now a state in the front line,” said Malcolm Davis, a military planner as quoted earlier by Bangkok Post.
Hugh White — a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University is another heavyweight advocating Australian nukes.
In his book, “How to Defend Australia”, he argues that developing nuclear weapons has become inevitable.
“The strategic costs of forgoing nuclear weapons in the new Asia could be much greater than they have been until now,” he says citing “big strategic shifts in Asia”.
Corr, points to the urgency of acquiring Australian nukes.
“Australia has a limited window of opportunity in which to go nuclear, after which China’s rising power and regional hegemony will make an independent nuclear Australia impossible. At that point, which could be as soon as 5 or 10 years, the window will close and China could more effectively use nuclear brinkmanship, control of Asian seas, check book diplomacy, and its economic trading power, to break Australia from its allies, and bring it under Beijing’s dominance,” he observes.
NATO should welcome Australia into its alliance as a full member, before China has a chance to create a territorial dispute down under, and thereby make Australian accession more difficult. If Washington came under the influence of Beijing, the bilateral U.S.-Australia alliance would be useless to Australia’s defence, he says.
Corr makes two additional points. First, NATO must change its strategic outlook by no longer narrowly focusing on the Atlantic. Instead, it should broaden its vision to include Asia. Second non-democracies such as Saudi Arabia and Vietnam should be included in the Indo-Pacific phalanx.
“NATO should no longer be a purely Atlantic affair, given globalization and the rise of China. What matters today in choosing our closest allies is not geography, but shared values in support of democracy, as well as the inclusion of a broader diversity of allies, including countries like Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, that will strengthen the alliance in resisting Beijing’s growing preponderance of power.”
A threat viewed as existential by bombmakers, presidents, and arms control activists since the first nuclear weapons were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, nuclear weapons deployed today have a capacity to destroy all life on Earth.
Salvaging U.S. nuclear policy from the wreckage left by the Trump Administration, President Biden quickly renewed for five years the New START Treaty which limits the number of deployed nuclear warheads at 1,550 each for the U.S. and Russia
President Biden has also entered negotiations with Iran to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or the Iran nuclear deal) which Trump abrogated in 2017. The JCPOA had been negotiated by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, Russia, France, Great Britain, the U.S. plus Germany –all of whom remain committed to it.
All this is a good beginning on the nuclear front for the new Administration, but historic leadership will be required of Biden and members of Congress in the coming months, as Appropriations Committees consider spending up to $1.5 trillion on “modernizing” the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The Fiscal 2022 budget scheduled for presentation May 24 will include provision for a newly designed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, GBSD—which could wind up costing more than $140 billion, and $250 billion over three decades.] The GBSD, would replace the Minuteman III ICBM’s currently deployed in silos in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming
Democratic Senator Ed Markey (Massachusetts) and Representative Ro Khanna (17th District, California) have filed bills in Congress to transfer funds from the new ICBMs toward research for universal vaccines against the Novelcorona virus. The Investing in Cures Before Missiles (ICMB) Act, according to Markey, “makes clear that we can begin to phase out the Cold War nuclear posture that risks accidental nuclear war while still deterring adversaries and assuring allies, and redirect those savings to the clear and present dangers posed by coronaviruses and other emerging and infectious diseases. The devastation sown by COVID-19 would pale in comparison to that of even a limited nuclear war. The ICBM Act signals that we intend to make the world safe from nuclear weapons and prioritize spending that saves lives, rather than ends them.”
Proponents of GBSD including its general contractor Northrop Grumman and major sub-contractors have spent at least one hundred nineteen million dollars of lobbying Congress in 2019-2021; the military industrial complex on parade.
Other initiatives would remove from “hair trigger alert” status controlling the four hundred Minuteman III missiles currently deployed in western States. “Hair trigger alert” and “launch on warning” are relics of the Cold War which give decision makers at most ten minutes to evaluate the validity of the warning of a nuclear attack, and to launch hundreds of the U.S. ICBMs before the enemy’s missile reach their targets.
Dozens of false warnings have scrambled B-52 jets loaded with megatons of nuclear bombs, raised Minuteman missiles to highest alert, roused sleeping presidents out of bed, or caused low ranking military personnel to disobey command and control orders to defuse a frantic but false alarm.
Such false warnings consist of flocks of flying swans, a bear climbing a missile pad security fence, the rising moon, the sun’s reflection on an unusual cloud formation, a defective computer chip costing twenty-five cents, and practice tapes of a nuclear attack unwittingly communicated in Hawaii as “This is Not a Drill”.
China has removed “launch on warning” status from its three hundred nuclear armed missiles. China’s Director of Arms Control, Fu Cong, in 2019 called for all nuclear armed nations to remove their nuclear armed missiles from hair trigger alert, which China considers too risky. The consequences of an accidental launch of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic. Standing down thousands of nuclear weapons from “launch on warning” makes all the sense in the world and could bolster the U.S.’ bona fides in nuclear weapons reduction negotiations going forward.
George Schultz, former Secretary of State, and editor of “The War That Should Never Be Fought”, advised that our adversaries are not always wrong, the U.S. is not always right, and verifiable nuclear weapons treaties are the only alternative to escalating nuclear weapons competition and eventual calamity. Nuclear weapons negotiation can bridge intractable geo-political conflicts, build mutual trust, and save taxpayers trillions of dollars.
American administrations rejected Soviet President Gorbachev’s offer to eliminate all nuclear weapons. President George Bush abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001, spawning a new nuclear arms race, and Trump withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, returning Europe to a no man’s land vulnerable to tactical nuclear weapons.
No First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons, could provide a logical first step away from the fifty- year policy of “deterrents” and mutually assured destruction, universally referred to by the most appropriate of acronyms — MAD. MAD is designed to discourage adversaries from attacking by assuring that the aggressor, principally the Soviet Union/Russia, or vice versa the U.S. would suffer devastating retaliation. In his inimitable style Robert McNamara calculated the level of assured strategic destruction to be thirty percent of Russia’s population, and seventy percent of Russia’s economic capacity, ie. one hundred million Russian dead etc. QED, Quite Easily Done.
No First Use of nuclear weapons eliminates the need or rationale for a significant part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Much of the huge cost associated with the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal pertains to the survivability and retaliatory response to a nuclear attack. Yes, NFU means the U.S. is taking a pre-emptive nuclear first strike “off the table”
No First Use is also the subject of legislation filed in this year’s Congress (117th) by Senator Elizabeth Warren MA and Representative Adam Smith, WA. Smith chairs the influential House Armed Services Committee and describes the NFU bill as, “The United States should never initiate a nuclear war. This bill would strengthen deterrence while reducing the chance of nuclear use due to miscalculation or misunderstanding. Codifying that deterring nuclear use is the sole purpose of our nuclear arsenal strengthens U.S. national security and would renew U.S. leadership on nuclear nonproliferation and disbarment.”
Following Trump’s perverse logic: “Why have nuclear weapons if you cannot use them?”, the Sea Launched Cruise Missile-Nuclear, and low yield submarine launched cruise missiles- nuclear were created. The SLCM-N is considered redundant, provocative, and costs more than ten billion dollars. Senator Chris Van Hollen, Md, and Representative Joe Courtney, CT, have recently filed bills to defund the SLCM-N. “Installing so-called ‘tactical’ nuclear warheads on Virginia-class attack subs is a money drain that will hinder construction of three Virginia-class attack submarines per-year—which both the Obama and Trump shipbuilding plans endorsed,” said Courtney.
Literally and figuratively at the core of the plan to “modernize” the U.S. nuclear arsenal are projects to manufacture new plutonium pits for the next generation of nuclear weapons. Tens of billions of dollars would initially fund construction of plutonium bomb plants at Savannah River Site, S.C., and Los Alamos, N.M. These funds flow through the Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration. NNSA FY 2021 budget request of nearly twenty billion dollars is more than one-half the entire Department of Energy budget request. Whether new nuclear bombs take precedence over new clean energy technologies should be questioned in Congressional committee hearings in the coming weeks.
Regarding plutonium pit production, the DOE estimates the legacy clean- up cost of plutonium manufacture since the Manhattan Project during WWII at one trillion dollars. Some sites like Hanford WA and Rocky Flats CO are deemed polluted beyond remediation and are ruined forever.
Were Congress and the Biden Administration to pause, review or even defund any or all of the nuclear weapon programs they would also pause the nascent nuclear arms race stalking future generations. President Biden could and should send a clear signal to his deputies who will soon write the Nuclear Posture Review issued every five years. Quoting Ronald Reagan, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” should be the mantra of the Biden Nuclear Posture Review.
By introducing the American public to taboo issues such as “No First Use” of nuclear weapons, taking ICMB’s off “hair trigger alert”, debating the “sole authority” of the President to order a nuclear attack, and working for the eventual verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, the Biden Administration would enhance its standing in the world’s arms control community–standing squandered by Trump. Biden could save hundreds of billions of dollars by transferring funds from nuclear armed missiles to research to prevent the next pandemic, or cybersecurity. And maybe, if our luck still holds, he could avoid destroying human civilization and much of life on Earth.
Another arena for Biden administration action is the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — the cornerstone of nuclear arms control. Signed in 1968, it is reviewed every five years, this year in Vienna in August. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and U.S. arms control negotiators will bring enhanced credibility to the table if they eschew Trump’s jingoistic nuclear weapons policies.
Article VI of the NPT commits all signatories to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons from their arsenals. The massive nuclear arms build-up the U.S. is considering defies the spirit and letter of NPT’s Article VI.
Since the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, eminent scientists like Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, philosophers like Bertrand Russell, religious leaders like the Dalai Lama and many Catholic Popes, Quakers and Imams—in fact, the great majority of the world’s nations and peoples–have demanded that international treaties curtail and eliminate nuclear weapons from the Earth.
Their efforts have led to decreasing nuclear weapons from 70,000 to the current 16,000, ninety percent of which are held in Russian and U.S. arsenals Forty percent of the world’s population now live in the five Nuclear Weapons Free Zones established under Article VII of the NPT. And nuclear weapons are now illegal in the fifty- four countries that have ratified the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, TPNW, entered into force February 2021.
Still ominous warnings about the renewed nuclear arms race are rising. “The likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe is greater today than during the Cold War, and the public is completely unaware of the danger,” says former Secretary of Defense William Perry. The Biden Administration has quickly reached an inflexion point for U.S. nuclear weapons policy: either double down on new weapons for decades into the future or seek verifiable consequential nuclear weapons treaties.
According to Rutgers Professor Alan Robock, even a fraction of the nuclear weapons currently deployed–one hundred–could create a nuclear winter dispersing high in the atmosphere enough soot to block sunlight and make agriculture impossible, leading to famine for billions of people.
Corresponding with Albert Einstein in 1932, Sigmund Freud remarked that humans have a propensity for violence, and an instinct to kill and destroy. Only multi-lateral laws could abate man’s “death wish,” the two agreed. Such laws do exist in the form of nuclear treaties, like New START, the NPT and TPNW.
Ridding the world of these horrific weapons is not fantasy but is an imperative for world leaders. Biden stated as Vice-President, “The spread of nuclear weapons is the greatest threat facing the country and, I would argue, facing humanity. And that is why we are working both to stop their proliferation and eventually to eliminate them”.
The next few weeks and months will determine the course of nuclear weapons policy for the U.S. and the world. There are only two choices: expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal or reduce it, agree on verifiable nuclear weapons treaties with Russia and China or threaten catastrophic war, spend trillions of dollars on demonic weapons or on medicine, schools and art… life or death.
Report states there are minimal chances of general war between India and Pakistan but the crises between the two are likely to become more intense, risking an escalatory cycle The prospects of striking a peace deal in Afghanistan during the next year remain dim: report Fahad Zulfikar Updated 16 Apr 2021
(Karachi) India is more likely to respond with military force to “perceived or real” provocations from Pakistan under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a report released by US intelligence revealed.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in its Annual Threat Assessment report to the US Congress, stated that there are minimal chances of general war between arch-rivals, India and Pakistan. However, the crises between the two are likely to become more intense, risking an escalatory cycle.
The report said, “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is more likely than in the past to respond with military force to perceived or real Pakistani provocations, and heightened tensions raise the risk of conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, with violent unrest in Kashmir or a militant attack in India being potential flashpoints.”
The ODNI report transpired that tensions between the two nuclear states are a concern for the world.
It stated that the fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, violence between Israel and Iran, the activity of foreign powers in Libya, and conflicts in other areas including Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have the potential to escalate or spread.
About the Afghan peace process, the report assessed that the prospects of striking a peace deal during the next year remain dim.
“The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support. Kabul continues to face setbacks on the battlefield, and the Taliban is confident it can achieve military victory, it said.
“Afghan forces continue to secure major cities and other government strongholds, but they remain tied down in defensive missions and have struggled to hold recaptured territory or reestablish a presence in areas abandoned in 2020,” the report highlighted.
Regarding Iran’s role in Afghanistan, the report said: “Iran will hedge its bets in Afghanistan.” It added that Iran publicly backs Afghan peace talks, but it is worried about a long-term US presence in Afghanistan. As a result, “Iran is building ties with both the government in Kabul and the Taliban so it can take advantage of any political outcome,” the report mentioned.
BERLIN — Iran has enriched uranium to slightly higher purity than previously thought because of “fluctuations” in the process, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog said Wednesday.
The report underscores the challenges diplomats face in ongoing talks, that began in April, to bring the United States back into the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which is supported by President Joe Biden.
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The initial announcement from Iran that it would start enriching to 60% — which is not weapon’s grade but its highest purity yet — was made just as the talks were to begin in Vienna. Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported to member agencies Tuesday that the latest inspections confirmed Iran continues to enrich uranium at up to 60% purity in its Natanz plant.
Additionally, samples taken April 22 “showed an enrichment level of up to 63% … consistent with fluctuations of the enrichment levels experienced in the mode of production at that time,” the agency said.
Iran has been steadily violating the restrictions of the landmark 2015 deal after then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out unilaterally in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions. The deal promised Iran economic incentives in exchanges for curbs on its nuclear program.
Iran has intended the violations to pressure the other nations involved — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — into finding ways to offset the U.S. sanctions, so far unsuccessfully.
The U.S. is not at the table for the talks that began in April, but the other members of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, have been shuttling between an American delegation also in Vienna and the Iranian delegation.
The pact is meant to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb, something the country insists it does not want to do. The government in Tehran has said that it is prepared to reverse all of its violations but that Washington must remove all sanctions imposed under Trump — including measures imposed over issues not related to its nuclear program.
In addition to exceeding the purity of uranium enrichment past the 3.67% allowed, Iranian violations of the nuclear deal have included installing more advanced centrifuges and stockpiling more enriched uranium than permitted.
The U.S. has insisted that Iran must return to full compliance, but just how that would be carried out is still being discussed.
Despite its violations of all major restrictions of the nuclear deal, the other countries involved have insisted that it has been worth preserving, if nothing else because it has meant atomic-agency inspectors have been able to continue monitoring Iran’s nuclear program.
That access may be further restricted soon, however.
Iran in February began restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities, but under a last-minute deal worked out on Feb. 21 during a trip to Tehran by Grossi, some access was preserved.
Under the agreement, Iran said that it no longer would provide surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the U.N. agency but promised to preserve the tapes for three months.
It then will hand them over to the agency if it is granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to erase the recordings.
May 21 represents the end of that three-month window, though there has been some suggestion Iran may extend the deadline if it is satisfied with the progress of the Vienna talks.
Information for this article was contributed by Amir Vahdat of The Associated Press.
FILE – This Jan. 15, 2011 file photo shows Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. The United Nations’ atomic watchdog says Iran has enriched uranium to slightly higher purity than previously thought due to “fluctuations” in the process in a report that underscores the challenges diplomats face in ongoing talks to bring the United States back into the nuclear deal with Tehran. (AP Photo/ISNA, Hamid Foroutan, File) FILE – This Jan. 15, 2011 file photo shows Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. The United Nations’ atomic watchdog says Iran has enriched uranium to slightly higher purity than previously thought due to “fluctuations” in the process in a report that underscores the challenges diplomats face in ongoing talks to bring the United States back into the nuclear deal with Tehran. (AP Photo/ISNA, Hamid Foroutan, File)
Rockets land in Iraqi base hosting US contractors Updated 03 May 2021 AFP May 03, 2021 20:05 BAGHDAD: Three rockets were fired Monday evening toward Iraq’s Balad air base north of Baghdad, a security source told AFP, but without causing US casualties or damage, the Pentagon said, citing initial reports. The rockets fell in an area where US company Sallyport — the contractor that maintains F-16 aircraft Iraq has purchased from the US in recent years — is located, the security source said. “Initial reports are that there are no US casualties or damages,” said Commander Jessica McNulty, Pentagon spokesperson. No US or coalition troops are assigned at Balad, although US citizen contractors work there, the Pentagon said. It is the second attack targeting US interests in under 24 hours, after two rockets Sunday targeted an air base at Baghdad airport housing US-led coalition troops. Sunday’s attack did not cause casualties. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack. Around 30 rocket or bomb attacks have targeted American interests in Iraq — including troops, the embassy or Iraqi supply convoys to foreign forces — since President Joe Biden took office in January. Two foreign contractors, one Iraqi contractor and eight Iraqi civilians have been killed in the strikes. Washington routinely blames Iran-linked Iraqi factions for such attacks on its troops and diplomats. In early April, two rockets hit near Balad, without causing casualties or property damage.
Iran’s former hardline president Ahmadinejad to run again May 11, 202110:27 PM HST Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad listens to a question during a joint news conference with Najaf governor Adnan al-Zurufi in Najaf, Iraq, July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Karim Kadim/Pool Iran’s hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday registered to run again in an election in June which is being seen as a test of the legitimacy of the country’s clerical rulers.
Vilified in the West for his questioning of the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad had to step down in 2013 because of term limit rules, when incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who negotiated Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, won in a landslide.
“People should be involved in Iran’s decision-making process… We must all prepare ourselves for fundamental reform,” state TV quoted Ahmadinejad as saying after submitting his registration.
Candidates began signing up for the polls on Tuesday with the clerical rulers hoping for a high turnout which may be hit by rising discontent over an economy crippled by U.S. sanctions reimposed after Washington exited the nuclear deal three years ago.
Registration will end on Saturday, after which entrants will be screened for their political and Islamic qualifications by a 12-member vetting body, the Guardian Council. Six members of the hardline body are appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei backed Ahmadinejad after his 2009 re-election triggered protests in which dozens of people were killed and hundreds arrested, rattling the ruling theocracy, before security forces led by the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) stamped out the unrest.
But a rift developed between the two after then-president Ahmadinejad explicitly advocated checks on Khamenei’s ultimate authority. Ahmadinejad was disqualified by the Guardian Council in the 2017 presidential election.
In an open letter to Khamenei in 2018, Ahmadinejad called for “fundamental reforms” in the three branches of government – executive, parliament and judiciary – as well as the office of the Supreme Leader.
A former officer of the Guards, who has tried to re-brand himself as a moderate politician by criticising the clerical establishment, Ahmadinejad relies on Iran’s devout poor and working class who have grown impatient with the mounting economic pressure.
However, his popularity remains in question and hardline political groups are expected to back prominent cleric and judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi if he decides to run.
Rouhani cannot seek re-election under Iran’s constitution.
Several hardline candidates, including some IRGC commanders, have said they would withdraw if Raisi enters the race to avoid splitting the vote.
Appointed by the supreme leader as head of the judiciary, Raisi has emerged as one of Iran’s most powerful figures and a contender to succeed Khamenei.
United Nations — Iran has enriched uranium to a slightly higher purity than previously thought due to “fluctuations” in the technical process, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency says in its latest report. The new report, still unpublished but obtained on Wednesday by CBS News, confirms that Iran is moving forward with its nuclear program as it engages in tense negotiations over a potential return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said its analysis of a sample taken from an Iranian facility in mid-April, “shows an enrichment level consistent with that declared by Iran.”
In the report obtained by CBS News on Wednesday, the IAEA said Iran had produced uranium with a purity of 63%, it’s highest-grade product yet, but said that was “consistent with the fluctuations of the enrichment levels” associated with uranium hexafluoride.
The report underscores the challenges diplomats face in their ongoing talks with Iran, which began in April, to bring the United States and Iran back into the 2015 nuclear deal — an effort supported by President Joe Biden.
While the IAEA report does not show a significant deviation from what Iran said it would do, it makes clear that if the international talks fail to bring a new agreement that includes a lifting of U.S. sanctions, Iran could easily move forward with its nuclear weapons technology, CBS News’ Pamela Falk said.
Iran: Crisis In The Middle East
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi reported to members on Tuesday that the latest inspections confirmed Iran continued to enrich uranium at up to 60% purity at its plant in Natanz.
The IAEA report is based on information that the watchdog agency has been given by Iran, illustrating that Iran wants to make its movements clear.
Iran has been steadily violating the restrictions of the landmark 2015 deal since then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out unilaterally in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.
The deal promised Iran economic incentives in exchanges for curbs on its nuclear program. Iran has intended the violations to pressure the other nations involved — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — into finding ways to offset the U.S. sanctions, so far unsuccessfully.
The U.S. is not at the table to engage with Iran directly in the talks that began in April, but the other members of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, have been shuttling between an American delegation also in Vienna and the Iranian delegation.
The government in Tehran has said it is prepared to reverse all of its violations but that Washington must remove all sanctions imposed under Trump — including measures imposed over issues not related to its nuclear program.
The U.S. has insisted that Iran must return to full compliance, but just how that would be carried out is still being discussed. For example, diplomats involved concede that Iranian nuclear scientists cannot unlearn the knowledge they acquired in the last three years, but it is not clear whether new centrifuges put into use by Iran in violation of the agreement would need to be destroyed, mothballed and locked away, or simply taken offline.
Despite its violations of all major restrictions of the JCPOA, the other countries involved have insisted that it has been worth preserving, if nothing else because it has meant IAEA inspectors have been able to continue monitoring Iran’s nuclear program.
That access may be further restricted soon, however. Iran in February began restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities, but under a last-minute deal worked out on Feb. 21 during a trip to Tehran by Grossi, some access was preserved.
Under the agreement, Iran said it would no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the IAEA but promised to preserve the tapes for three months. It will then hand them over to the IAEA – if it is granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to erase the recordings.
May 21 — one week from Friday — represents the end of that three-month window, though there has been some suggestion Iran may extend the deadline if it is satisfied with the progress of the Vienna talks.
Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted optimistically early Wednesday that it may even be possible to conclude an agreement on bringing the U.S. back into the JCPOA by that time.
“The Vienna talks make progress and the negotiators aim at completing the process as soon (as) possible,” he wrote. “Hopefully by May 21. It’s very difficult but doable.”
Iran’s delegate to the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, threw some cold water on the hope of extending the deadline, however, tweeting that the resumption of the regular IAEA inspections “is predicated on sanctions being lifted.”
“We’d like to get to it before 21 May, if possible,” he wrote “We’re serious & determined, ready to do it even tomorrow: once sanctions (are) verifiably lifted, we’ll return to full implementation of the JCPOA.”
CBS News’ Elizabeth Palmer and Eleanor Watson contributed to this report.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he seeks ‘to have good relations’ with Iran. Three years ago, Salman had said Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei ‘makes Hitler look good.’
Eli Lake10 May, 2021 9:36 am IST File photo of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman | Simon Dawson/Bloomberg File photo of Saudi Arabia’s Crowned Prince Mohammed bin Salman | Photo: Simon Dawson | Bloomberg Text Size:
Late last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offered an olive branch to his country’s main adversary. Speaking on Saudi television, the kingdom’s de facto ruler said he seeks “to have good relations” with Iran.
That represents at least a rhetorical retreat for the Saudis, who are fighting a vicious and destructive war against Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen and were public supporters of former President Donald Trump’s economic warfare against Iran. It was only three years ago that Prince Mohammed said that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “makes Hitler look good.”
Now President Joe Biden has made clear he will not give the Saudis a blank check. He has pursued a path for the U.S. to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that would release billions of frozen revenues to Iran’s cash-strapped government.
Yet this explanation goes only so far. U.S. diplomats tell me that the Saudis began their quiet outreach to Iran in late 2019, after a devastating missile attack on their oil infrastructure in September. The crown prince pleaded with Trump to respond to Iran’s escalation, but Trump declined. As a result, lower-level talks between the Saudis and Iranians began. The only difference between 2019 and 2021 is that there is a new U.S. administration and Prince Mohammed has publicly acknowledged this diplomacy.
After the Iranian missile attack, according to my sources, the State Department urged the Saudis to hold tight. In January 2020, a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, and afterwards Trump sent more U.S. forces to the region in a show of deterrence.
By contrast, the Biden administration has encouraged the kingdom’s outreach to Iran. Schenker told me that it reminds him of the Arab outreach to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in the late 2000s. After the U.S. hosted a regional Arab-Israeli peace conference in 2007, several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, dropped their policy of isolation toward Syria as punishment for its role in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The Arab states went back to isolating Syria in 2011, after the regime launched a war against its own citizens that rages on to this day.
Then as now, the policy of the U.S. president influenced the relationships among its Arab allies. What’s different this time is that America’s Arab allies are now preparing for a Middle East where their most powerful friend is no longer around.
This explains why a country like the United Arab Emirates, the first Arab state to join the Abraham Accords with Israel, is also quietly pursuing a diplomatic dialogue with Iran. If the Biden administration follows through with its promise to begin America’s disentanglements in the Middle East, then Arab states will need as many friends and as few enemies as possible.
Khamenei also had a message for the Arab states that have recognized Israel. Will the Jewish state’s “normalization of relations with a few weak, pitiful countries be able to help that regime?!” he asked on his English-language Twitter account.
For now, it’s clear that the Abraham Accords have helped Israel. Their lasting impact, however, depends on Israel’s new Arab friends coming around to the realization that feeding an Iranian crocodile only whets its appetite. — Bloomberg
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (Associated Press) camera-icon View 1 more image
WASHINGTON (AP) — A group of 13 armed speedboats of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard made “unsafe and unprofessional” high-speed maneuvers toward U.S. Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz on Monday, and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter fired warning shots when two of the Iranian boats came dangerously close, U.S. officials said.
Asked whether it appeared the Revolutionary Guard are trying to pick a fight with the U.S. Navy, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to comment on the Iranians’ intentions.
“Sadly, harassment by the IRGC Navy is not a new phenomenon. It is something that all of our commanding officers and the crews of our vessels are trained to for,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. “This activity is the kind of activity that could lead to somebody getting hurt and could lead to a real miscalculation there in the region, and that doesn’t serve anybody’s interests.”
On April 26, an American warship fired warning shots when vessels of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard came too close to a patrol in the Persian Gulf. That was the first such shooting in nearly four years. The Navy released black-and-white footage of that encounter in international waters of the northern reaches of the Persian Gulf near Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
In the latest incident, Kirby said 13 Iranian vessels maneuvered at high speed toward six Navy ships that were escorting the guided missile submarine USS Georgia through the Strait on Monday. The sub was sailing on the surface. The six Navy escort ships included the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey. A day earlier, the Monterey had intercepted an arms shipment aboard a dhow in the Arabian Sea apparently headed for Yemen, whose Houthi rebels are supported by Iran.
At one point, two of the Iranian boats broke away from the others and positioned themselves on the other side of the U.S. ship formation. The two then sped toward some of the U.S. ships. In an attempt to de-escalate the situation, U.S. crews issued multiple warnings to both groups of Iranian boats, including repeated bridge-to-bridge verbal warnings, said Navy Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Navy 5th Fleet spokesperson.