cloudyn.png
Wednesday August 4th, 2021 1:25AM

Iran plans 20% uranium enrichment 'as soon as possible'

By The Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran said Saturday it plans to enrich uranium up to 20% at its underground Fordo nuclear facility “as soon as possible,” pushing its program a technical step away from weapons-grade levels as it increases pressure on the West over the tattered atomic deal.

The move comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. in the waning days of the administration of President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal in 2018.

That set in motion an escalating series of incidents capped by a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad a year ago, an anniversary coming Sunday that has American officials now worried about possible retaliation by Iran.

Iran's decision to begin enriching to 20% a decade ago nearly brought an Israeli strike targeting its nuclear facilities, tensions that only abated with the 2015 atomic deal. A resumption of 20% enrichment could see that brinksmanship return.

Even Ali Akbar Salehi, the U.S.-educated head of the civilian Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, offered a military analogy to describe his agency's readiness to take the next step.

“We are like soldiers and our fingers are on the triggers,” Salehi told Iranian state television. "The commander should command and we shoot. We are ready for this and will produce (20% enriched uranium) as soon as possible.”

The White House had no immediate comment and referred to a statement issued in December by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after Iran's parliament passed a bill on increasing uranium enrichment. Pompeo condemned the law as “nothing more than the regime's latest ploy to use its nuclear program to try to intimidate the international community.”

A spokesman for President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team declined to comment.

Iran's decision comes after its parliament passed a bill, later approved by a constitutional watchdog, aimed at hiking enrichment to pressure Europe into providing sanctions relief. It also serves as pressure ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Biden, who has said he is willing to re-enter the nuclear deal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged Iran had informed its inspectors of the decision by a letter after news leaked overnight Friday.

“Iran has informed the agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium ... up to 20 percent at the Fordo Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the IAEA said in a statement.

The IAEA added Iran did not say when it planned to boost enrichment, though the agency “has inspectors present in Iran on a 24/7 basis and they have regular access to Fordo.” The parliamentary bill also called on Iran to expel those inspectors, though it appears Tehran still hasn't decided to take that step.

Salehi said Iran would need to switch out natural uranium in centrifuges at Fordo for material already enriched to 4% to begin the process of going to 20%.

“It should be done under IAEA supervision,” Salehi added.

Since the deal’s collapse, Iran has resumed enrichment at Fordo, near the Shiite holy city of Qom, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Tehran.

Shielded by the mountains, Fordo is ringed by anti-aircraft guns and other fortifications. It is about the size of a football field, large enough to house 3,000 centrifuges, but small and hardened enough to lead U.S. officials to suspect it had a military purpose when they exposed the site publicly in 2009.

The 2015 deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief. The accord also called for Fordo to be turned into a research-and-development facility.

Under Iran's former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Tehran began 20% enrichment. Israel, which has its own undeclared nuclear weapons program, feared Tehran was building a bomb.

After the discovery of Fordo, the U.S. worked on so-called “bunker buster” bombs designed to strike such facilities. As Israel threatened at one point to bomb Iranian nuclear sites like Fordo, U.S. officials reportedly showed them a video of a bunker-buster bomb destroying a mock-up of Fordo in America’s southwestern desert.

Israel, which under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to criticize Iran's nuclear program, offered no immediate comment Saturday.

As of now, Iran is enriching uranium up to 4.5%, in violation of the accord’s limit of 3.67%. Experts say Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium stockpiled for at least two nuclear weapons, if it chose to pursue them. Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.

Iran separately has begun construction on a new site at Fordo, according to satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press in December.

Iran's announcement coincides with the anniversary of the U.S. drone striking Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last year. That attack later saw Iran retaliate by launching a ballistic missile strike injuring dozens of U.S. troops in Iraq. Tehran also accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet that night, killing all 176 people on board.

As the anniversary approached, the U.S. has sent B-52 bombers flying over the region and sent a nuclear-powered submarine into the Persian Gulf.

On Thursday, sailors discovered a limpet mine on a tanker in the Persian Gulf off Iraq near the Iranian border as it prepared to transfer fuel to another tanker owned by a company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. No one has claimed responsibility for the mining, though it comes after a series of similar attacks in 2019 that the U.S. Navy blamed on Iran. Tehran denied being involved.

In November, an Iranian scientist who founded the country's military nuclear program two decades earlier was killed in an attack Tehran blames on Israel.

___

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP World News, AP Business, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
In graying Italy, the old defy biases laid bare by pandemic
Italy has the world's second-oldest population, and many of its people in their 70s and older have kept working through the coronavirus pandemic
2:28AM ( 1 hour ago )
Fields' day: No. 3 Ohio State routs No. 2 Clemson 49-28
Justin Fields threw six touchdown passes to outshine Trevor Lawrence, and No. 3 Ohio State avenged last season's painful College Football Playoff loss to Clemson with a 49-28 victory in the Sugar Bowl semifinal
2:12AM ( 1 hour ago )
Clemson star QB Lawrence sputters in Superdome again
A stellar Clemson career for quarterback Trevor Lawrence has likely ended with a loss in the Superdome for a second straight season
1:47AM ( 2 hours ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Loeffler, Perdue run hard-line pitch in swing state Georgia
Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are appealing to the most conservative factions of a diversifying Georgia electorate as they try to win Tuesday runoffs that will determine control of the U.S. Senate
12:06AM ( 3 hours ago )
Bolsonaro's tough 2021 balance between ideology, pragmatism
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro survived 2020 in surprisingly good shape
12:00AM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: S Korea extends distancing rules for 2 weeks
South Korea is extending stringent distancing rules for two more weeks as authorities seek to suppress a viral resurgence, while confirming its first case of an apparently more contagious coronavirus variant detected in South Africa
11:10PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP National News
GOP torn over Trump's Electoral College challenge of Biden
President Donald Trump’s extraordinary election challenge over his defeat by President-elect Joe Biden is splitting the Republican Party
8:57PM ( 6 hours ago )
Roll Tide! No. Alabama beats Notre Dame 31-14 in Rose Bowl
Alabama is rolling into another College Football Playoff championship game
8:43PM ( 7 hours ago )
In a first, Congress overrides Trump veto of defense bill
Congress has overridden President Donald Trump's veto of a defense policy bill, a first by lawmakers since he took office nearly four years ago
6:00PM ( 9 hours ago )
AP Online National News
GOP rebuffs Trump on $2K aid, defense as Congress wraps up
The Senate has wrapped up a rare New Year’s Day session with Republicans rejecting President Donald Trump’s demand for $2,000 COVID-19 aid checks
12:02AM ( 3 hours ago )
Texas judge dismisses suit aimed at overturning election
A federal judge has dismissed a last-gasp lawsuit led by a House Republican that seeks to give Vice President Mike Pence the power to overturn the results of the presidential election won by Joe Biden when Congress formally counts the Electoral College votes next week
9:09PM ( 6 hours ago )
Trump vetoes Calif. fishing bill over seafood trade deficit
President Donald Trump has vetoed a bill that would have gradually ended the use of large-mesh drift gillnets used exclusively in federal waters off the coast of California
5:45PM ( 10 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
AP Online Congress News
Asia Today: Australian state under fire for slow response
Australia’s leading medical group says the New South Wales state government has put the rest of the country at risk by its decision not to go hard and early in its response to the COVID-19 outbreak on Sydney’s northern beaches, which is suspected to have also caused new cases in neighboring Victoria state
11:52PM ( 4 hours ago )
The Latest: US hits 20 million mark in coronavirus cases
The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases has surpassed 20 million
1:27PM ( 14 hours ago )
The Latest: US hits 20 million-mark in coronavirus cases
The U.S. continues to surpass other countries in COVID-19 cases as it reached 20 million at the start of the new year
1:01PM ( 14 hours ago )
AP Business
The Latest: Curfew-defying ravers in France attack police
Officials say ravers at an underground New Year’s Eve party that drew at least 2,500 people in western France attacked police units, injuring officers with volleys of bottles and stones
10:36AM ( 17 hours ago )
Iraq explosives experts working to defuse mine on oil tanker
Iraqi security forces say their explosives experts are working to neutralize a large mine discovered on an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and evacuate its crew
10:09AM ( 17 hours ago )
Iraq team working to 'neutralize' mine found on oil tanker
Iraqi security forces say their explosives experts are working to neutralize a large mine discovered on an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and evacuate its crew
9:57AM ( 17 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
AP Business - Utilities
In graying Italy, the old defy biases laid bare by pandemic
Italy has the world's second-oldest population, and many of its people in their 70s and older have kept working through the coronavirus pandemic
2:28AM ( 1 hour ago )
Fields' day: No. 3 Ohio State routs No. 2 Clemson 49-28
Justin Fields threw six touchdown passes to outshine Trevor Lawrence, and No. 3 Ohio State avenged last season's painful College Football Playoff loss to Clemson with a 49-28 victory in the Sugar Bowl semifinal
2:12AM ( 1 hour ago )
Clemson star QB Lawrence sputters in Superdome again
A stellar Clemson career for quarterback Trevor Lawrence has likely ended with a loss in the Superdome for a second straight season
1:47AM ( 2 hours ago )
Chris Paul helps Suns hold off Nuggets, improve to 5-1
Chris Paul hit a clutch jumper with 7.3 seconds remaining after a successful coach’s challenge on the other end and the Phoenix Suns moved to an NBA-best 5-1 by holding off the scuffling Denver Nuggets 106-103 on Friday night
1:06AM ( 2 hours ago )
EXPLAINER: Stakes high for U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia
Voters in Georgia still have unfinished business to resolve two months after the November elections
1:05AM ( 2 hours ago )