Iran eyes new ura­nium en­rich­ment

Arab Times - - FRONT PAGE -

TEHRAN, Iran, Jan 13, (Agen­cies): The head of Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram says the Is­lamic Repub­lic has be­gun “pre­lim­i­nary ac­tiv­i­ties for de­sign­ing” a modern process for 20-per­cent ura­nium en­rich­ment for its 50-year-old re­search re­ac­tor in Tehran, sig­nal­ing new dan­ger for the nu­clear deal.

The com­ment on state tele­vi­sion Sun­day from Ali Ak­bar Salehi in­creases the pres­sure on the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as 20-per­cent en­rich­ment would mean Iran has aban­doned the terms of the 2015 atomic ac­cord.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump al­ready pulled Amer­ica out of the ac­cord in May and re­sumed sanc­tions on Tehran. So far, United Na­tions in­spec­tors say Iran con­tin­ues to com­ply with the deal’s terms, which lim­its en­rich­ment to 3.5 per­cent.

Salehi said “we are at the verge” of be­ing ready, with­out elab­o­rat­ing in his re­marks.

The US do­nated the re­ac­tor to Iran in 1967.

The White House’s na­tional se­cu­rity team last fall asked the Pen­tagon to pro­vide it with op­tions for strik­ing Iran af­ter a group of mil­i­tants aligned with Tehran fired mor­tars into an area in Bagh­dad that is home to the US Em­bassy, the Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported Sun­day.

The re­quest by the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, which is led by John Bolton, sparked deep con­cern among Pen­tagon and State Depart­ment of­fi­cials, the news­pa­per re­ported, cit­ing cur­rent and for­mer US of­fi­cials.

The Pen­tagon com­plied with the re­quest, but it is not known whether the op­tions for an Iran strike were also pro­vided to the White House or if Trump knew about it.

The de­ci­sion to seek op­tions strik­ing Iran was prompted by an in­ci­dent in Septem­ber in which three mor­tars were fired into a diplo­matic quar­ter in Bagh­dad, the news­pa­per said. The shells landed in an open lot and no one was hurt.

State Depart­ment Sec­re­tary Mike Pom­peo did not com­ment on the story when asked about it by re­porters and a State Depart­ment spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment.

A Pen­tagon spokesman did not have any im­me­di­ate com­ment on the story and the White House and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil could not be im­me­di­ately reached.

A spokesman for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil was quoted in the Wall Street Jour­nal, how­ever, as say­ing: “We con­tinue to re­view the sta­tus of our per­son­nel fol­low­ing at­tempted at­tacks on our em­bassy in Bagh­dad and our Basra con­sulate, and we will con­sider a full range of op­tions to pre­serve their safety and our in­ter­ests.”

An­gered by Pom­peo’s an­nounce­ment that Poland will host an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on Iran in mid-Fe­bru­ary, Ira­nian au­thor­i­ties on Sun­day sum­moned War­saw’s top diplo­mat in the coun­try and called off a Pol­ish film fes­ti­val.

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