UN nuclear watchdog slams Iran over ‘hidden’ uranium 

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Diplomats attend the quarterly IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria on June 06, 2022. (Joe Klamar / AFP)
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IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi, left, and China's Ambassador to the UN, Wang Qun, attending the UN agency's meeting on June 06, 2022. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
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Iranian Charge d'Affaires to UN Mohammad Reza Ghaebi attending the IAEA governor's meeting on June 6, 2022. (REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)
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Russian Ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov at the meeting. (AFP)
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Updated 09 June 2022

UN nuclear watchdog slams Iran over ‘hidden’ uranium 

  • 30 members of the 35-nation board of governors voted for the resolution formally criticizing Tehran
  • Only China and Russia opposed the resolution, while three other members abstained

VIENNA/JEDDAH: In a stinging rebuke, the UN atomic watchdog on Wednesday adopted a resolution formally criticizing Tehran for its failure to cooperate with inspectors monitoring Iran’s nuclear program.

The critical resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency governors’ meeting in Vienna threatened to raise tension over Iran’s nuclear threat to the boiling point. It rebuked Iran for failing to provide “credible information” about unexplained fissile uranium particles discovered at three undeclared nuclear development sites.

US Ambassador Laura Holgate urged Tehran to cooperate with UN inspectors and said the aim of the censure motion was to hold Iran accountable. “Restricting IAEA acess and attempts to paint the IAEA as politicized for simply doing its job will serve no purpose,” she said.

Laura Holgate, US Ambassador to the UN's Vienna office and to the IAEA, attends IAEA Board of Governors meeting on June 06, 2022. (AFP)

Only two countries on the agency’s 35-nation board of governors, Russia and China, opposed Wednesday’s resolution; 30 voted in favor and three abstained. The motion brought by the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

The text says the board “expresses profound concern” that the uranium traces remain unexplained due to insufficient cooperation by Iran, and calls on Tehran to engage with the watchdog “without delay.”

Before the resolution was passed, Iran said it had turned off two cameras monitoring its nuclear program. Tehran deactivated two of the IAEA’s online monitors that observe the enrichment of uranium gas through piping at enrichment facilities. The move makes it even more difficult for inspectors to monitor Tehran’s nuclear program. Experts have warned that Iran now has enough uranium enriched close to weapons-grade levels to pursue an atomic bomb if it chooses to do so.

Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. Iran now has enough uranium enriched close to weapons-grade levels to pursue an atomic bomb if it chooses to do so, say monitors. (AFP file photo)

Building a nuclear bomb would still take Iran more time if it pursued a weapon, analysts say, though they warn that Tehran’s advances make the program more dangerous.

Talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, which curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions, have been stalled since March.

France, Germany and the UK warned that the latest moves by Tehran were “further reducing the time Iran would take to break out towards a first nuclear weapon, and fueling distrust as to Iran’s intentions.”

They said: “The IAEA has been without crucial access to data on centrifuge and component manufacturing for a year and half now. This means that neither the agency, nor the international community, know how many centrifuges Iran has in its inventory, how many were built, and where they may be located.”

The countries urged Iran “to stop escalating its nuclear program and to urgently conclude the deal that is on the table.”

Israel hailed the resolution chiding Iran. 

“This is a significant resolution that exposes Iran’s true face,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement, adding that IAEA members had “worked together with the aim of arresting and preventing Iran’s attainment of nuclear weaponry.”

“If Iran continues with its activities, major countries should bring the Iranian issue back to the Security Council,” he added.

(With Agencies)

US seeks to keep Yemen-bound ammunition seized from Iran

Updated 01 April 2023

US seeks to keep Yemen-bound ammunition seized from Iran

WASHINGTON: The United States is seeking to keep more than 1 million rounds of ammunition the US Navy seized in December as it was in transit from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to militants in Yemen, the Justice Department said on Friday.
“The United States disrupted a major operation by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to smuggle weapons of war into the hands of a militant group in Yemen,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
“The Justice Department is now seeking the forfeiture of those weapons, including over 1 million rounds of ammunition and thousands of proximity fuses for rocket-propelled grenades.”
US naval forces on Dec. 1 intercepted a fishing trawler smuggling more than 50 tons of ammunition rounds, fuses and propellants for rockets in the Gulf of Oman along a maritime route from Iran to Yemen, the Navy said.
They found more than 1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition; 25,000 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition; nearly 7,000 proximity fuses for rockets; and over 2,100 kilograms of propellant used to launch rocket propelled grenades, it said.
The forfeiture action is part of a larger government investigation into an Iranian weapons-smuggling network that supports military action by the Houthi movement in Yemen and the Iranian regime’s campaign of terrorist activities throughout the region, the Justice Department said.
The forfeiture complaint alleges a sophisticated scheme by the IRGC to clandestinely ship weapons to entities that pose grave threats to US national security.

Russia protests about ‘provocative actions’ by US forces in Syria

Updated 2 min 20 sec ago

Russia protests about ‘provocative actions’ by US forces in Syria

Russia has protested to the American-led coalition against the Daesh militant group about “provocative actions” by US armed forces in Syria, Tass news agency said on Friday.
Tass cited a senior Russian official as saying the incidents had occurred in the northeastern province of Hasakah. The United States has been deploying troops in Syria for almost eight years to combat Daesh.
Hundreds of Daesh fighters are camped in desolate areas where neither the coalition nor the Syrian army exert full control. Russia — which together with Turkiye is carrying out joint patrols in northern Syria — has agreed special zones where the coalition can operate.
But Russian Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov, head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, told Tass that US forces had twice been spotted in areas which lay outside the agreed zones.
“Provocative actions on the part of US armed forces units have been noted in Hasakah province ... the Russian side lodged a protest with the coalition,” he said, without giving details of timing.
Last week the US military carried out multiple air strikes in Syria against Iran-aligned groups that it blamed for a drone attack that killed an American contractor at a coalition base in the northeast of the country.
Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War in 2015, tipping the balance in President Bashar Assad’s favor. Moscow has since expanded its military facilities in the country with a permanent air base and also has a naval base.

Tunisia introduces water quota system due to severe drought

Updated 31 March 2023

Tunisia introduces water quota system due to severe drought

  • Tunisia recorded drop in dam capacity due to rain scarcity
  • Agriculture ministry banned use of potable water to wash cars, water green areas, clean streets and public places

TUNIS: Tunisia on Friday introduced a quota system for potable water and banned its use in agriculture until Sept. 30 in response to a severe drought that has hit the country, the agriculture ministry said.
Tunisia, which is suffering a fourth straight year of serious drought, recorded a drop in its dam capacity to around 1 billion cubic meters, or 30 percent of the maximum, due to a scarcity of rain from September 2022 to mid-March 2023, senior agriculture ministry official Hamadi Habib said.
The agriculture ministry also banned the use of potable water to wash cars, water green areas and clean streets and public places. Violators face a fine and imprisonment for a period of between six days to six months, according to the Water Law.
Residents said that Tunisian authorities have for the last two weeks been cutting off drinking water at night in some areas of the capital and other cities in a bid to cut consumption, a move that has sparked widespread anger. The government declined to comment on the claim.
The new decision threatens to fuel social tension in a country whose people suffer from poor public services, high inflation and a weak economy.
The Sidi Salem Dam in the north of the country, a key provider of drinking water to several regions, has declined to only 16 percent of its maximum capacity of 580 million cubic meters, official figures showed.
Tunisia’s grain harvest will be “disastrous,” with the drought-hit crop declining to 200,000-250,000 tons this year from 750,000 tons in 2022, senior farmers union official Mohamed Rjaibia told Reuters on Thursday.

At least 14 workers dead in gold mine collapse in Sudan

Updated 31 March 2023

At least 14 workers dead in gold mine collapse in Sudan

  • The workers died after the roof of the Jebel Al-Ahmar gold mine collapsed
  • Many other miners still missing

KHARTOUM, Sudan: At least 14 workers are dead after a gold mine collapsed in northern Sudan, state mining authorities said Friday.
According to the state-run news agency, SUNA, the fatal collapse happened after one of the hillsides that surround the Jebel Al-Ahmar gold mine — situated near the Egyptian border — gave way Thursday afternoon.
Many other miners are still missing among the rubble, it said.
Witnesses cited by SUNA said the workers were searching inside mining wells for gold using heavy machinery which caused the collapse.
Several of the bodies, mostly of young men, have been recovered from the site and search efforts are ongoing, SUNA said.
A security source cited by the state agency said workers are feared to be trapped beneath the mine’s groundwater. Few further details were given.
Collapses are common in Sudan’s gold mines, where safety standards and maintenance are poor.
In 2021, 31 people were killed after a defunct gold mine collapsed in West Kordofan province.
Sudan is a major gold producer with various mines scattered across the country.


Iran officer dies in new Israel strike in Syria

Updated 31 March 2023

Iran officer dies in new Israel strike in Syria

  • Second missile attack in two days
  • No immediate statement from Israel, which usually declines to comment on reports of strikes in Syria

JEDDAH: An officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed in an Israeli missile strike early on Friday on Iran-linked targets on the outskirts of Damascus in Syria.

The attack on an arms depot for Assad regime forces and Iran-backed groups just south of the Syrian capital was the sixth by Israel this month, and the second in two days.

The Revolutionary Guards said the dead man, Milad Haydari, was an officer and military adviser. They vowed to response, and said the “criminal attack” would not go unanswered.

Syrian state media said Israel had attacked just after midnight, firing missiles that hit a site in the Damascus countryside. Syrian air defenses had shot down a number of missiles, it said.

Iranian-backed groups, including Iraqi militias and Hezbollah in Lebanon, have positions around Damascusand in Syria’s north, east and south.

Israel has for years carried out attacks against what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting Bashar Assad in the civil war that began in 2011.

Iran says its officers serve in an advisory role in Syria at the invitation of Damascus. Dozens of Revolutionary Guard members, including senior officers, have been killed in Syria during the war.

“This is a very dangerous stage, the risks are very high and we should expect more to come,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. “The risk of escalation between Iran and Israel in Syria is higher than any time in the past few months, even possibly years.”

The latest violence underlined the possibility of further tensions in Syria even as several Arab countries move to normalize ties with Assad after 12 years of enmity. Syria remains partitioned, with several foreign armies on the ground, including US troops.

Iran-backed groups launched armed drones last week at a base hosting US forces in the northeast, killing one American contractor and injuring another. The US responded with airstrikes on installations in eastern Syria affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards.

Friday's attack followed a strike on Thursday that wounded two soldiers. A source with Syria's opposition factions said it hit a car carrying pro-Iran personnel near a Syrian security building.

On March 22, an Israeli strike near the airport at the northern city of Aleppo briefly put it out of service. Regional intelligence sources said the attack hit an Iranian arms depot.