Iran starts enriching uranium at Fordow amid reports UN nuclear inspector detained

In this Jan. 13, 2015, file photo released by the Iranian President's Office, President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran. (AP)
Updated 09 November 2019

Iran starts enriching uranium at Fordow amid reports UN nuclear inspector detained

  • Tasnim news agency said uranium gas had been injected into centrifuges
  • Move is a further step away from the 2015 nuclear deal signed with world powers

VIENNA: Iran resumed uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear facility by injecting uranium gas into centrifuges, Iran's Tasnim news agency quoted the country's Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI) as saying on Thursday.
"After all successful preparations ... injection of uranium gas to centrifuges started on Thursday at Fordow ... all the process has been supervised by the inspectors of (the) UN nuclear watchdog," Tasnim reported, quoting the AEOI's statement.
A 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers bans Fordow from producing nuclear material. But, with feedstock gas entering its centrifuges, the facility - built inside a mountain - will move from the permitted status of research plant to being an active nuclear site. "The process will take a few hours to stabilize and by Saturday, when International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will again visit the site, a uranium enrichment level of 4.5% will have been achieved," AEOI's spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told state TV. Ninety percent purity is required for bomb-grade fuel.
Iran has gradually scaled back its commitments to the deal, under which it curbed its nuclear programme in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions, after the United States reneged on the agreement last year.
Under the pact, Iran agreed to turn Fordow into a "nuclear, physics and technology centre" where 1,044 centrifuges are used for purposes other than enrichment, such as producing stable isotopes, which have a variety of civil uses.
"All the centrifuges installed in Fordow are IR1 types. Uranium gas (UF6) was injected to four chains of IR1 centrifuges (696 centrifuges)," Kamalvandi said.
"Two other remaining chains of IR1 centrifuges (348 centrifuges) will be used for producing and enriching stable isotopes in the facility."
US President Donald Trump exited the deal, saying it was flawed to Iran's advantage. Washington has since renewed and intensified sanctions on Iran, slashing the country's economically vital crude oil sales by more than 80 percent.
The measure will further complicate the chances of saving the accord, which European powers have called on Iran to respect.
Responding to Washington’s "maximum pressure" policy, Iran has bypassed the restrictions of the deal step-by-step - including by breaching both its cap on stockpiled enriched uranium and on the fissile level of enrichment. 

Earlier, it emerged that Iran briefly held an inspector for the IAEA and seized her travel documents, diplomats familiar with the agency's work said on Wednesday, some describing it as harassment.

The incident appears to be the first of its kind since Tehran's landmark deal with major powers was struck in 2015.

The issue is due to be discussed at a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors on Thursday convened at short notice to discuss "two safeguards matters" not specified in the agenda, which was circulated on Monday.
"The agency wants to show how seriously they are taking this. It is a potentially damaging precedent," one Western official said.
Three diplomats familiar with the agency's work said the female inspector had her travel documents taken, and two said she was briefly held while working in Iran.
One of the diplomats said the incident occurred at Iran's enrichment site at Natanz last week. Another one also said the incident took place at Natanz.
"There is a real concern that it will harm how (the IAEA) carry out their inspections in the future," a European diplomat said.
The nuclear deal, which the IAEA is policing, allows for 130-150 inspectors from the agency designated for Iran.
 


Vandals damage cars in Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem

Updated 09 December 2019

Vandals damage cars in Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem

  • Masked suspects operated under the cover of darkness to vandalize the cars in east Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood
  • The graffiti included the phrases “When Jews are stabbed, we aren’t silent”

JERUSALEM: Vandals slashed the tires of over 160 vehicles and sprayed slogans such as “Arabs=enemies” in a Palestinian neighborhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli police said Monday. Elsewhere, Palestinian residents of the volatile West Bank city of Hebron staged a general strike to protest the construction of a new Jewish settlement there.
Masked suspects operated under the cover of darkness to vandalize the cars in east Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood and spray-painted Hebrew graffiti on a nearby wall, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. He said the authorities were treating the incident as criminal with “nationalistic motives.”
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion condemned the “hate crime” and called upon the police “to find the criminals as fast as possible and bring them to justice.”
The graffiti included the phrases “When Jews are stabbed, we aren’t silent,” and “There is no place in the land for enemies.”
Hard-line nationalist Israelis have been known to execute so-called “price tag” attacks against Palestinians in response to Palestinian militant attacks or perceived efforts by Israeli authorities to limit settlement expansion.
It was unclear what motivated Monday’s incident.
In Hebron, the West Bank’s largest city, Palestinian shops, schools and businesses were shuttered for the one-day strike. Some youngsters hurled stones at Israeli military patrols, and soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.
Israel’s new defense minister, Naftali Bennett, presented his plan for a new settlement there early this month. Bennett, a longtime supporter of the West Bank settlement movement, said his plan will double the Jewish population of Hebron.
Hebron is frequent flashpoint of violence. Hundreds of hard-line Jewish settlers guarded by thousands of soldiers live in the heart of the city, which has a population of over 200,000 Palestinians.
Palestinian Mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh said the city has formed a legal team to challenge the decision in Israeli courts.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory.
Over the past five decades, Israel, citing security needs, has established a military bureaucracy in the West Bank that enforces movement restrictions on Palestinians through a complex permit system. Some 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The US announced a new American doctrine last month that does not consider Israeli settlements a violation of international law. It was the latest in a string of diplomatic gifts by the Trump administration to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.