Trump Flirts With $15 Billion Bailout for Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE DAILY BEAST)

 

Trump Flirts With $15 Billion Bailout for Iran, Sources Say

Trump says he hates the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran. But he’s toying with a French proposal to get the Iranians to comply with it: a $15 billion line of credit to Tehran.

EXCLUSIVE

NICHOLAS KAMM

President Donald Trump has left the impression with foreign officials, members of his administration, and others involved in Iranian negotiations that he is actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion credit line to the Iranians if Tehran comes back into compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal.

Trump has in recent weeks shown openness to entertaining President Emmanuel Macron’s plan, according to four sources with knowledge of Trump’s conversations with the French leader. Two of those sources said that State Department officials, including Secretary Mike Pompeo, are also open to weighing the French proposal, which would effectively ease the economic sanctions regime that the Trump administration has applied on Tehran for more than a year.

The deal put forth by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions. A large portion of Iran’s economy relies on cash from oil sales. Most of that money is frozen in bank accounts across the globe. The $15 billion credit line would be guaranteed by Iranian oil. In exchange for the cash, Iran would have to come back into compliance with the nuclear accord it signed with the world’s major powers in 2015. Tehran would also have to agree not to threaten the security of the Persian Gulf or to impede maritime navigation in the area. Lastly, Tehran would have to commit to regional Middle East talks in the future.

While Trump has been skeptical of helping Iran without preconditions, In public, the president has in public at least hinted at an openness to considering Macron’s pitch for placating the Iranian government—a move intended to help bring the Iranians to the negotiating table and to rescue the nuclear agreement that Trump and his former national security adviser John Bolton worked so hard to torpedo.

At the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France last month, Trump told reporters that Iran might need a “short-term letter of credit or loan” that could “get them over a very rough patch.”

Iranian Prime Minister Javad Zarif made a surprise appearance at that meeting. To Robert Malley, who worked on Iran policy during the Obama administration, that visit indicated that “Trump must have signaled openness to Macron’s idea, otherwise Zarif would not have flown to Biarritz at the last minute.” “Clearly, Trump responded to Macron in a way that gave the French president a reason to invite Zarif and Zarif a reason to come,” he said.

The French proposal would require the Trump administration to issue waivers on Iranian sanctions. That would be a major departure from the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign to exact financial punishments on the regime in Tehran. Ironically, during his time in office, President Barack Obama followed a not-dissimilar approach to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, throttling Iran’s economy with sanctions before pledging relief for talks. The negotiations resulted in the Iran nuke deal that President Trump called “rotten”—and pulled the U.S. out of during his first term.

Trump’s flirtations with—if not outright enthusiasm toward—chummily sitting down with foreign dictators and America’s geopolitical foes are largely driven by his desire for historic photo ops and to be seen as the dealmaker-in-chief. It’s a desire so strong that it can motivate him to upturn years worth of his own administration’s policymaking and messaging.

And while President Trump has not agreed to anything yet, he did signal a willingness to cooperate on such a proposal at various times throughout the last month, including while at the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France, according to four sources with knowledge of the president’s conversations about the deal.

Several sources told The Daily Beast that foreign officials are expecting Trump to either agree to cooperate on the French deal or to offer to ease some sanctions on Tehran. Meanwhile, President Trump is also consideringmeeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

“I do believe they’d like to make a deal. If they do, that’s great. And if they don’t, that’s great too,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “But they have tremendous financial difficulty, and the sanctions are getting tougher and tougher.” When asked if he would ease sanctions against Iran in order to get a meeting with Iran Trump simply said: “We’ll see what happens. I think Iran has a tremendous, tremendous potential.”

Spokespeople for the State Department, White House, and Treasury did not provide comment for this story. A spokesperson for the National Security Council simply referred The Daily Beast to Trump’s Wednesday comments on Iran. Bolton didn’t comment on Wednesday, either.

“By the end he viewed [Bolton] as an arsonist hell bent on setting fire to anyone’s agenda that didn’t align with his own—including the president’s.”
— source close to Mike Pompeo

Trump’s willingness to discuss the credit line with the French, the Iranians and also Japanese President Shinzo Abe frustrated Bolton who had for months had urged Trump against softening his hard line against the regime in Tehran.

Bolton, who vociferously opposed the Macron proposal, departed the Trump administration on explicitly and mutually bad terms on Tuesday. On his way out of door, Trump and senior administration officials went out of their way to keep publicly insisting he was fired, as Bolton kept messaging various news outlets that Trump couldn’t fire him because he quit. The former national security adviser and lifelong hawk had ruffled so many feathers and made so many enemies in the building that his senior colleagues had repeatedly tried to snitch him out to Trump for allegedly leaking to the media.

On Tuesday afternoon, Bolton messaged The Daily Beast to say that allegations about him being a leaker were “flatly incorrect.

At a press briefing held shortly after Bolton’s exit on Tuesday, neither Secretary of State Mike Pompeo nor Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin showed much sympathy for Bolton’s falling star in Trumpworld. “There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed,” Pompeo told reporters. “That’s to be sure, but that’s true with a lot of people with whom I interact.”

According to those who know Pompeo well, the secretary’s public statement was a glaring understatement.

“By the end he viewed [Bolton] as an arsonist hell bent on setting fire to anyone’s agenda that didn’t align with his own—including the president’s,” said a source close to Pompeo who’s discussed Bolton with the secretary in recent weeks. Pompeo “believes him to be among the most self-centered people he’s ever worked with. A talented guy, no doubt, but not someone who was willing to subordinate his ego to the president’s foreign-policy agenda.”

Whether or not the president follows through with supporting Macron is unclear, as Trump is known to consider or temporarily back high-profile domestic or foreign policy initiatives, only to quickly backtrack or about-face.

IAEA: Iran Installing More Advanced Centrifuges for Uranium Enrichment

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

IAEA: Iran Installing More Advanced Centrifuges for Uranium Enrichment

Monday, 9 September, 2019 – 10:30
Iran is moving towards enriching uranium by installing more advanced centrifuges in breach of the 2015 nuclear deal. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Iran is moving towards enriching uranium by installing more advanced centrifuges in breach of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Monday.

The deal only lets Iran produce enriched uranium with just over 5,000 of its first-generation IR-1 centrifuge machines. It can use far fewer advanced centrifuges for research but without accumulating enriched uranium.

But in response to US sanctions imposed since Washington withdrew from the deal in May last year, Iran has been breaching the limits it imposed on its atomic activities step by step.

Last week Tehran said it would breach the deal’s limits on research and development, the term applied to Iran’s use of advanced centrifuges.

An IAEA spokesman said Iran had informed it that it was making modifications to accommodate cascades – or interconnected clusters – of 164 of the IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuge. Cascades of the same size and type were scrapped under the deal.

Inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog have verified that smaller numbers of various advanced centrifuges had been or were being installed, the spokesman added.

“All of the installed centrifuges had been prepared for testing with UF6,” though none of them were being tested with UF6 on Sept. 7 and 8, he said, referring to the uranium hexafluoride feedstock for centrifuges.

He added that Iran had told the agency it would modify lines of research centrifuges so that enriched uranium was produced, which is not allowed under the deal.

In a confidential report to member states, the IAEA also said Iran had made those modifications on some lines.

Iran defended Sunday its decision to use advanced centrifuges as IAEA acting chief Cornel Feruta urged Tehran to offer “time and active cooperation” with his inspectors.

Feruta met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear program, while in Tehran.

He is serving as the IAEA’s acting director after the death of late director-general Yukiya Amano in July.

While Iran continues to pull away from the deal, Tehran has made clear it wants IAEA inspectors to continue their work. But officials blamed European leaders for being unable so far to offer a way for Iran to sell its crude oil around US sanctions.

A proposal by France to offer a $15 billion line of credit failed to materialize. China, Britain, France, Germany and Russia all were parties to the accord.

Be glad Iran’s satellite launch failed

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER)

 

Be glad Iran’s satellite launch failed

Satellite imagery provided to Fox News suggests that an Iranian satellite launch this week failed quite spectacularly.

The rocket blew up on its launchpad or shortly after launch.

This is good news for the United States and regional security. Iran claims that its satellite program is peaceful and designed only to monitor the weather, but the reality is very different. Iran’s satellite program is just a cover for the regime’s development of a competent ballistic missile program. Because satellites are launched from Earth into a controlled orbit trajectory, they help Iran better understand how to get ballistic missiles onto their targeting course.

That is something the U.S. doesn’t want to see happen. There is no good reason for Iran to build ballistic missiles, aside from striking distant targets with nuclear weapons.

If Iran can develop and deploy a nuclear-armed ballistic missile, it would achieve two malevolent opportunities. First, it would dangle the annihilation of a major Israeli city (or, if it can build many warheads, Israel itself). Such a development would require Israel to go to war with Iran in order to mitigate the risk of a second Holocaust. But Iran would also hope that Western powers would restrain Israel from that action and isolate the Jewish state into fear.

Second, Iran would extort the U.S., the Sunni-Arab kingdoms, and Europe for economic or political reasons. Considering Iran’s theological project to dominate the Middle East, this extortion threat would either cause a war or allow Iran to subjugate the rights of its neighbors. Certainly, it would spark regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to build their own nuclear forces.

So, yeah, it’s a good thing that Iran’s satellite blew up on its launchpad.

Earth’s inner core is doing something weird

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)

 

Earth’s inner core is doing something weird

Data from old Soviet weapons tests are helping scientists get a high-resolution look inside our planet.

ON SEPTEMBER 27, 1971, a nuclear bomb exploded on Russia’s Novaya Zemlya islands. The powerful blast sent waves rippling so deep inside Earth they ricocheted off the inner core, pinging an array of hundreds of mechanical ears some 4,000 miles away in the Montana wilderness. Three years later, that array picked up a signal when a second bomb exploded at nearly the same spot.

This pair of nuclear explosions was part of hundreds of tests detonated during the throes of Cold War fervor. Now, the records of these wiggles are making waves among geologists: They have helped scientists calculate one of the most precise estimates yet of how fast the planet’s inner core is spinning.

Surface-dwellers know that Earth spins on its axis once about every 24 hours. But the inner core is a roughly moon-size ball of iron floating within an ocean of molten metal, which means it is free to turn independently from our planet’s large-scale spin, a phenomenon known as super-rotation. And how fast it’s going has been hotly debated.

© NGP, Content may not reflect National Geographic’s current map policy.

Capitalizing on the zigzagged signals from those decades-old nuclear explosions, John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Southern California, now has the latest estimate for this rate. In a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, he reports that the inner core likely inches along just faster than Earth’s surface. If his rate’s right, it means that if you stood on a spot at the Equator for one year, the part of the inner core that was previously beneath you would wind up under a spot 4.8 miles away.

“It’s a careful, good piece of work,” says Paul Richards, a seismologist at Columbia University who was a coauthor on a 1996 study that first documented super-rotation of the inner core. “Something is changing down there.”

Better understanding the history and current dynamics of the iron blob nestled within our planet could yield more clues to the processes charging and stabilizing our magnetic field—a geologic force field that protects our world from various kinds of harmful radiation. We don’t yet fully understand how this magnetic dynamo works, but scientists strongly suspect it’s tied to the mysterious motions deep inside the planet. (Learn what really happens when Earth’s magnetic field flips.)

“The Earth is this extreme natural lab,” says Elizabeth Day, a deep-earth seismologist at Imperial College London who was not part of the work. Thousands of miles below our feet, pressures are crushing and temperatures are searing. “We can’t easily reproduce all of those in an actual laboratory. But if we can peer into the Earth, we get a bit of insight into this really extreme set of conditions.”

The new work is just one of many attempts to figure out the core’s rate of super-rotation, but offers one of the slowest rates for super-rotation yet suggested. Still, the differences between these studies is not necessarily a bad thing, Day says.

“It doesn’t mean anyone is wrong,” she says. “It just means everyone is looking at slightly different things.”

Core conundrum

Previous work, including the paper Richards coauthored, used various properties of earthquake waves traveling through the planet to deliver their estimates for the inner core’s super-rotation, with several sitting around a few tenths of a degree a year. Such measurements aren’t easy to make, though, and the resolution of many of these analyses were low. But unlike earthquakes, which send out juddering waves, nuclear explosions provide a clean signal to work with.

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“This is like Earth just got hit with a hammer,” Day says.

The issue was extracting the data, which were encoded on nine-track tapes by the Large Aperture Seismic Array in Montana. By the 1990s, the tapes had made their way to the Albuquerque Seismological Laboratory, where Paul Earle, then a graduate student at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, was tasked with extracting the echoes of Soviet nuclear tests from the deteriorating tapes.

Earle spent two weeks in a room full of boxes laden with discs sporting cryptic labels. Many of the tapes were worn, their magnetic information lost to time. Roughly one in 10 couldn’t be read by a tape-player, says Earle, who is now a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

But the effort was worth it. Earle, Vidale, and Doug Dodge of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used the scattered waves from these nuclear explosions to peer into the planet’s core. By comparing the fingerprint of waves scattered back from explosions at nearly the same location in 1971 and 1974, the team could calculate how much faster the inner core turned relative to the rest of the planet. The process is similar to tracking a moving airplane using radar, Richards notes.

Their initial results, published in a 2000 Nature study, pointed to a rotation rate of 0.15 degrees a year. Vidale then shifted gears and didn’t give the inner core much thought for nearly 15 years.

Digging deeper

That changed in December 2018, when he walked through the bustling poster hall at the American Geophysical Union’s annual conference. There, Vidale spotted the work of Jiayuan Yao, now a research fellow in geophysics at Nanyang Technological University.

Yao had combed through tens of thousands of earthquakes in search of pairs that strike at different times in precisely the same location. By comparing the seismic waves that grazed the inner core from 40 of these geologic twins, he hoped to suss out the mysteries held deep in our planet.

“That is really great data,” Vidale recalls thinking. However, Yao’s interpretation of the data didn’t point toward super-rotation, and instead suggested something else seemed to be going on.

Intrigued by this conundrum, Vidale turned back to his dataset on the nuclear explosions, but with the original analysis codes nowhere to be found, he had to start from scratch, digging even deeper into the Cold War-era ripples with an updated method.

His resulting analysis still yielded super-rotation, but it was both slower and more precise than previous estimates, pointing instead toward the newly described rate of 0.07 degree a year between 1971 and 1974.

Certain uncertainty

But while other scientists praise the thoroughness of Vidale’s latest work, the debate seems far from settled.

Yao and his colleagues recently published an intriguing alternative explanation using his data from twin earthquakes. Perhaps, they posit, the inner core is actually rotating at the same speed as the rest of our planet, and the apparent difference could instead be explained by the inner core having a jagged surface that shifts over time, with mountains rising or canyons cutting into the iron orb. (Read about ‘mountains’ taller than Everest that lurk deep inside Earth.)

Vidale finds that analysis intriguing, but while he agrees that there may be more than super-rotation in the mix, he’s skeptical of Yao’s precise explanation.

One possibility, Richards argues, is that blob itself is warping over time.

“It’s like when you throw a pizza up in the air,” he says. “It’s spinning, but it’s flopping around. It’s deforming as it rotates.”

It’s also possible that the rate of inner core rotation varies over time, adds Xiaodong Song, a deep-earth seismologist at the University of Illinois who coauthored the 1996 study first documenting inner core rotation. While Vidale’s latest rate is robust, it’s limited to a single time period, so further confirmation is necessary, he says via email.

“It’s so hard to do these studies,” says Jessica Irving, a deep-earth seismologist at Princeton University. “Every scrap of data becomes valuable, and unfortunately there just aren’t very many scraps of data.” Perhaps more definitive answers may be on the horizon. Analyses are getting better, and data are accruing on seismometers around the world that are constantly listening for our planet’s every tremble.

Solving the puzzle of the inner core, Yao says, “doesn’t need to take another decade.”

Editor’s note: Paul Earle’s affiliation has been corrected. He was a graduate student at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The story has also been updated to show that Song and Richards were the first to provide seismic evidence of inner core super-rotation.

Maya Wei-Haas is a science staff writer for National Geographic.

 

Iran’s threats are an attempt to negotiate

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF) 

 

ORDER FROM CHAOS

Iran’s threats are an attempt to negotiate

Suzanne Maloney

Editor’s Note:By ratcheting up tensions, Iran is hoping to expand the crisis with the United States, force a dialogue, and hopefully find their way out of an increasingly dire set of circumstances, Suzanne Maloney writes. This piece originally appeared in Politico Magazine.

In July 2012, several senior U.S. government officials made a clandestine visit to Muscat, where they met with Iranian diplomats in the first of what would be a series of back-channel negotiations. Officially, nothing like this meeting in Oman was ever supposed to happen: The two countries had severed their formal diplomatic relations decades earlier, and intensifying U.S. economic pressure on Iran had made direct diplomacy more toxic than ever.

But this secret dialogue ended up providing the genesis for the historic 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran, Washington, and five other world powers—the first time that the international community managed to slow the clerical regime’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons capability.

Seven years later, that agreement is on life support. The Trump administration pulled out in May 2018, and Iran has recently begun breaching the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities. Tensions are high in the Persian Gulf, with Iran seizing a British ship and announcing plans to execute a ring of supposed CIA spies. Fears are mounting that the two countries are on a collision course, headed toward a wider and far more destabilizing military conflict.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the breakdown: Iranian officials now appear to be negotiating—and rather than using back-channels, they’re doing it in plain sight.

Iranian officials now appear to be negotiating—and rather than using back-channels, they’re doing it in plain sight.

Iranian officials, most notably the foreign minister, have been angling for diplomacy with Washington. And Tehran’s provocations in the Gulf, if you look past the breathless headlines, can be seen as a crucial part of their good cop-bad cop negotiating strategy—one that reinforces persuasion with intimidation. Taken together, the signals suggest that Iranians are setting the table for talks, and if President Donald Trump is serious about wanting to “make Iran great again,” he should make the most of this opportunity before tensions spiral out of control.

Engagement between the Islamic Republic and the government still castigated in its official rhetoric as the “Great Satan” has come a long way lately. In 1979, after the revolution, media coverage of official contacts between Iran’s new leaders and senior U.S. officials sparked furious protests in Tehran that culminated with the seizure of the U.S. Embassy and the 444-day hostage crisis. After the Iran-Contra scandal—in which the U.S. and Iran were again revealed to be doing backdoor deals—even quiet diplomacy with American officials was seen as the kiss of death by the Iranian establishment. For decades, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spurned any suggestion of official talks with Washington, and his grudging consent to Obama-era nuclear negotiations was vehemently rescinded after Trump’s breach of the deal.

However, even with its bitter outcome, the nuclear deal and the intense bilateral contacts throughout the final years of the Obama administration have left an imprint on Iran’s political landscape. Contact with Washington is now effectively normalized in the Islamic Republic—so much so that a meeting between Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and a Republican senator who sought Trump’s endorsement for the encounter barely generates a second glance. Twenty years ago, an Iranian leader’s interview with an American cable news channel was seen as a shocking breakthrough; today, it’s just another Sunday morning, with Zarif deploying his silver tongue to send signals to an audience of one in White House.

Zarif, a polished chief diplomat with an outsized Washington Rolodex, has made two high-profile visits to New York in recent months, meeting with representatives from the media, academia, and Capitol Hill—a kind of public relations tour underscoring that the Islamic Republic is testing the waters with the Trump administration.

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In typical Iranian fashion, this campaign is happening at the same time Iran’s leaders are sending strong signals against doing any such thing. The U.S. maximum pressure campaign has had catastrophic effects on the Iranian economy, and Iran’s official position, as articulated by Khamenei, is that Iran will not negotiate with a knife to its throat. He has categorically rejected the prospect of bargaining over what Tehran views as the country’s essential defensive capabilities, such as its missile program. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tehran last month, apparently at Trump’s behest, he was sent back empty-handed, with a curt rebuff that coincided with a new round of proxy attacks on shipping in the Gulf. Just in case the message wasn’t clear, one of the tankers attacked was owned by a Japanese company.

The one-two punch from Tehran reflects the harsh reality of the regime’s current predicament. Iranian officials insist that they can cope under American pressure, but the concerted campaign to ramp up the threat level even as they flirt with diplomatic overtures betrays an awareness within the theocracy’s highest levels that the country cannot afford an indefinite American economic siege.

Zarif’s media appearances and private meetings here, accordingly, have conveyed a flexible, even cordial message. He offered careful compliments toward Trump with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, praising the president’s “very prudent decision” to call off a military strike initially ordered after Tehran shot down a U.S. drone last month. He dangled some minor overturesaround the nuclear deal in a conversation with print reporters, and in a virtuoso Fox News performance, he played to Trump’s narcissism and his mistrust of his hawkish advisers.

Shortly after Zarif touted to U.S. reporters the possibility of prisoner swaps, Iranian authorities unexpectedly released Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese man with permanent resident status in the United States, after more than three years’ detention on bogus espionage charges. None of this offers the makings of the comprehensive agreement that the Trump administration has advocated, but Iranian maneuvers are beginning to shape a preliminary framework for bilateral negotiations.

Zarif’s artful outreach is consistent with the broader contours of the debate within Iran’s political establishment, where there has been quiet speculation for months about the possibilities for devising a diplomatic pathway out of the country’s current predicament. Well-known dissidents and moderate politicians recently released an appeal for unconditional talks, and even former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, known for his hard-line vitriol but also an idiosyncratic tendency to reach out to Washington, has publicly embraced new diplomacy.

Longtime observers of Iran find it no surprise that Zarif was dispatched to New York even as tensions are rising in the Persian Gulf, with a string of attacks on oil tankers, an oil pipeline, and various U.S.-linked facilities in Iraq, the drone downing, and the latest provocation—Iran’s seizure of a British tanker as it transited the Gulf. The Islamic Republic has made an art form of pairing diplomacy with force, exploiting Zarif’s unctuous charm alongside a punch in the face from the Revolutionary Guard.

While some analysts, echoing Iranian officials, blame factional infighting, Zarif’s smiling warning on CNN that “in such a small body of water, if you have so many foreign vessels … accidents will happen” underscores that Iran’s dual-track approach is deliberate, a coordinated deployment of pressure and persuasion to advance its interests. With a feint and a jab, Tehran is deploying diplomacy and force in tandem in hopes of extricating the regime from an increasingly perilous quagmire.

This game plan offers greater efficacy than any other alternative available to Tehran today. The rest of the world has proven unwilling or unable to circumvent U.S. sanctions or cushion their economic fallout on Iran. At the very least, flexing its muscles in the world’s most important energy corridor can inflate oil prices, improving Tehran’s beleaguered bottom line and complicating Trump’s appeal to his domestic base as he begins his reelection campaign. Mounting tensions may galvanize diplomatic energy from Europe and the other stakeholders to the nuclear deal, and the images of burning tankers offer a powerful warning to Iran’s neighbors of the potential consequences of further escalation. The increasing frictions amplify the gravity of the crisis for the rest of the world, while Iran’s incremental breaches of the nuclear deal provide Tehran with something to trade should an opportunity for bargaining avail itself.

Although Tehran is currently dictating the tempo and intensity of escalation, what happens next depends largely on the Trump administration.

The president has long expressed disdain for costly, protracted U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and he has repeatedly appealed for direct dialogue with Iranian leaders. To achieve that, Washington will have to be ready to compromise on its “maximum pressure” strategy. Tehran is ready to talk, but will require some sanctions relief as the price of admission.

For his part, Trump proclaims to be detached, emphasizing that he is in “no hurry” and insisting that he is “just going to sit back and watch.” Tehran is unlikely to afford him that luxury. Iran is determined to change the status quo, since it is now so unfavorable to their interests. By ratcheting up tensions, the Iranians are hoping to expand the crisis, force a dialogue, and hopefully find their way out of an increasingly dire set of circumstances.

A how-to guide for managing the end of the post-Cold War era. Read all the Order from Chaos content »

Make no excuses for Iran. This is pure piracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TELEGRAPH.UK)

 

Make no excuses for Iran. This is pure piracy

This handout photo made available on July 20, 2019, by Jan Verhoog shows the Stena Impero, a British-flagged tanker, off the coast of Europoort in Rotterdam on April 3, 2018.
The Stena Impero, a British-flagged tanker, off the coast of Europoort in Rotterdam on April 3, 2018.CREDIT: JAN VERHOOG 

Nothing justifies Iran’s piracy in the Gulf. Jeremy Corbyn – as night follows day – suggested the United States is partly to blame for Iran seizing a British-flagged tanker because the Americans walked away from the Iran nuclear deal. But Britain has not. Whatever one thinks of the deal – and this newspaper believes it to be a terrible mistake – the UK government remains in favour and has been trying to rescue it, so the Iranians have turned on one of the Western powers most sympathetic to their cause. Tehran rages mightily about the British seizure of an Iranian vessel at Gibraltar, but the situations are not comparable. That vessel is accused of trying to break sanctions by providing oil to Syria. The Iranians have targeted ships going about perfectly legal business.

Mr Corbyn’s attempt to blame this on tensions raised by the US doesn’t hold water – and given the paid work he’s previously done for an Iranian broadcaster, his objectivity is in question. No: Iran is a bloodthirsty dictatorship that oppresses women and religious and sexual minorities. It has exported terrorism. It is threatening already to break the nuclear agreement and, say some analysts, has been developing rocket technology that means when the deal finally comes to an end, it might be in an even stronger position. The issue isn’t Iran’s absolute responsibility for this crisis but why Britain wasn’t able to respond more swiftly and decisively.

Questions need to be asked. Why wasn’t the UK prepared for this eventuality, especially given that Iran has menaced vessels previously and hardliners explicitly threatened to take control of a British tanker in retribution for the Gibraltar raid? Why has Britain downgraded its fleet from having 35 frigates in 1982 to just 13 today? Could it prove necessary to run a convoy system in and out of the Gulf, to protect shipping? This will all cost more money, which is why it’s essential that the next prime minister spends more on defence. He also needs to review British foreign policy, as it’s clear that trying to play nice on the nuclear deal isn’t working. The United States has given up on Iran and, considering what’s just happened in the Gulf, understandably so. This is a rogue state. It should be treated as such.

Israel: IAEA finds traces of radioactive material at Iran site flagged by Netanyahu

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

TV: IAEA finds traces of radioactive material at Iran site flagged by Netanyahu

10 months after PM identified ‘secret atomic warehouse’ in Tehran, UN inspectors reportedly conclude that it was indeed used as a nuclear storage facility

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018 in New York City, and holds up a picture of what he said was a secret Iranian nuclear warehouse. (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018 in New York City, and holds up a picture of what he said was a secret Iranian nuclear warehouse. (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)

Inspectors from the UN’s nuclear agency have found traces of radioactive material at a building in Tehran that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu identified last year as a “secret atomic warehouse,” an Israeli television report said on Thursday.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited the site several times after Netanyahu identified it in an address to the UN General Assembly last September, took soil samples, and have now definitively concluded that there were “traces of radioactive material” there, Channel 13 news reported.

It quoted what it said were four senior Israeli officials involved in the matter, and said the UN agency’s findings had become known to these officials recently.

Iran has denied that the site was a nuclear facility or served any secretive purpose. In an initial response to Netanyahu’s UN speech, Iranian state media claimed the warehouse was actually a recycling facility for scrap metal.

Iran’s alleged ‘atomic warehouse’ in Turquzabad, Tehran (YouTube screenshot)

But the IAEA inspectors, who last visited the site in March, have reached a “definitive conclusion” that “there were traces of radioactive material” there, Channel 13 said, and are currently preparing a report on the matter.

The TV report noted that “the storing of radioactive material in a secret facility without informing the IAEA is a breach of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons [NPT], to which Iran is a signatory.”

Indicating that Washington is also aware of the IAEA inspectors’ findings, the TV report said that Israel and the US expect the agency to issue a public report on the matter shortly.

Coincidentally or otherwise, Netanyahu spoke on Wednesday by phone with US President Donald Trump about Iran. “The two leaders discussed cooperation between the United States and Israel in advancing shared national security interests, including efforts to prevent Iran’s malign actions in the region,” the White House said.

An image from a placard displayed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly showing a suspected “secret atomic warehouse” in the Turquzabad district of Tehran containing up to 300 tons of nuclear material. (GPO)

Speaking at the United Nations last September, Netanyahu called on the IAEA to inspect what he said was the “secret atomic warehouse” in the Iranian capital.

He claimed some 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of radioactive material had been recently removed from the atomic warehouse and squirreled away around Tehran, endangering the capital’s residents. The site may have contained as much as 300 tons of nuclear-related equipment and material in 15 shipping containers, Netanyahu added. He did not specify what nuclear material was contained at the site.

Netanyahu specified that there was a rug-cleaning business nearby: “Like the atomic archive [revealed by the prime minister in April], it’s another innocent-looking compound. Now, for those of you at home using Google Earth, this no-longer-secret atomic warehouse is on Maher Alley, Maher Street. You have the coordinates, you can try to get there. And for those of you who try to get there, it’s 100 meters from the Kalishoi, the rug cleaning operation. By the way, I hear they do a fantastic job cleaning rugs there. But by now they may be radioactive rugs.”

He added: “Now, countries with satellite capabilities may notice some increased activity on Maher Alley in the days and weeks ahead. The people they’ll see scurrying back and forth are Iranian officials desperately trying to finish the job of cleaning up that site. Because, you see, since we raided the atomic archive, they’ve been busy cleaning out the atomic warehouse.

“Just last month, they removed 15 kilograms of radioactive material,” he went on. “You know what they did with it? They had 15 kilograms of radioactive material, they had to get it out of the site, so they took it out and they spread it around Tehran in an effort to hide the evidence. The endangered residents of Tehran may want to know that they can get a Geiger counter on Amazon for only $29.99… They took this radioactive material and spread it around Tehran.

“Now, the Iranian officials cleaning out that site still have a lot of work to do because they’ve had at least, at least 15 ship containers, they’re gigantic, 15 ship containers full of nuclear related equipment and material stored there. Now, since each of those containers can hold 20 tons of material, this means that this site contains as much as 300 tons, 300 tons of nuclear related equipment and material.”

That speech came months after Israel’s disclosure that it had spirited away what it said was a “half-ton” of Iranian nuclear documents from Tehran, with Netanyahu saying both the archive and the warehouse were proof that Iran continues to seek atomic weapons despite the 2015 international agreement to limit its nuclear program. “Iran has not abandoned its goal to develop nuclear weapons…. Rest assured that will not happen. What Iran hides, Israel will find,” Netanyahu told the UN.

A local businessman speaks to Tasnim news reporter near an alleged secret Iranian nuclear site in the Turquzabad district of Tehran on September 30, 2018. (screen capture: Tasnim)

Following Netanyahu’s UN appearance, IAEA head Yukiya Amano said nuclear inspectors had visited “all the sites and locations in Iran which it needed to visit,” while pushing back against the prime minister’s assertion that the organization had failed to act on intelligence provided by Israel on the warehouse.

Diplomats quoted in April, however, said the IAEA visited the site in Tehran’s Turquzabad district multiple times the previous month. They said tests were underway on environmental samples taken from the facility in order to determine if nuclear materials were present there. It was said then that results could be ready by June.

“We have nothing to hide and any access given to the IAEA so far has been in the framework of laws and regulations and nothing beyond that,” an Iranian official said at the time.

Referring to Netanyahu’s statements as “ridiculous,” an Iranian state TV report said the country was committed to nonproliferation and noted Iran’s nuclear program was under surveillance of the IAEA. A state TV website briefly reported the Netanyahu accusation and called it an “illusion.”

A Tasnim News reporter who visited the warehouse last October was told by a worker from inside the facility that it was not a military site, and that the Israeli leader was “a stupid person” for believing it was a nuclear warehouse. The reporter did not enter the facility, only speaking to the worker via intercom from outside the locked gate.

The owner of the nearby carpet cleaning business told Tasnim “there was nothing out of the ordinary” about the warehouse, and asserted that Netanyahu was fed disinformation to “make him a fool.”

In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, right, and Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Yukiya Amano shake hands for media at the start of their meeting at the Presidency office in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, December 18, 2016. (Iranian Presidency Office/AP)

Netanyahu was a vocal opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran when it was signed under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, arguing that it would not stop but only delay Iran’s nuclear weapon program, while removing sanctions critical to curbing Tehran. He praised Trump for withdrawing from the accord in May.

Iran has denied it is seeking atomic weapons, while warning it would walk back its commitment to the nuclear accord if it does not receive economic inducements from its remaining signatories — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. In recent days, it has breached the accord’s cap on uranium enrichment levels.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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Iran Says It Will Exceed Nuclear Deal’s Limit On Uranium ‘In 10 Days’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

 

Iran Says It Will Exceed Nuclear Deal’s Limit On Uranium ‘In 10 Days’

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, pictured at a July 2018 news conference in Tehran, said Monday: “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment and even increased it more recently.”

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 11:50 a.m. ET

Within days Iran will exceed the limit on its stockpile of uranium under a 2015 nuclear deal, according to a spokesman for the country’s atomic energy agency, who also said Tehran would increase uranium enrichment levels in violation of the agreement, “based on the country’s needs.”

The remarks come amid increased tension between the U.S. and Iran, particularly after last week’s attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman that Washington has blamed on Tehran. Iran has denied any involvement.

Under the multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that the U.S. withdrew from a year ago, Iran can keep no more than 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium enriched no higher than 3.67% — far below the 90% level considered suitable for building nuclear weapons.

At a news conference at the Arak Nuclear Complex that was carried live Monday on Iranian television, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that stockpile limit could be exceeded within 10 days.

“We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit,” Kamalvandi said.

He added that his country needs uranium enriched to 5% for its Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, built in the 1990s with Russian help, and uranium of 20% purity to be used as fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which the U.S. supplied to Iran in 1967.

Although not weapons-grade, 20% purity is generally considered “highly enriched” uranium, and as The Associated Press notes, “going from 20% to 90% is a relatively quicker process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts.”

Even so, Kamalvandi held out the possibility that “there is still time … if European countries act.”

“Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate. And if it is important for them (Europe) to safeguard the accord, they should make their best efforts. … As soon as they carry out their commitments, things will naturally go back to their original state,” he said, according to AP.

That sentiment was echoed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday. “It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” he was quoted by the Fars News Agency as saying during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.

Reuters reports that Rouhani said the collapse of the nuclear deal would not be in the interests of the region and the world.

In response to Iran’s announcement on uranium enrichment levels, National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said in a statement: “Iran’s enrichment plans are only possible because the horrible nuclear deal left the their capabilities intact. President Trump has made it clear that he will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The regime’s nuclear blackmail must be met with increased international pressure.”

Following last week’s reported attack on the tankers Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “there’s no doubt” that Iran was responsible for disabling the vessels.

“The intelligence community has lots of data, lots of evidence,” Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday. “The world will come to see much of it, but the American people should rest assured we have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks as well as half a dozen other attacks throughout the world.”

On CBS’ Face the Nation, Pompeo said the U.S. was “considering a full range of options.”

“We are confident that we can take a set of actions that can restore deterrence, which is our mission set,” he said.

On Monday, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff again denied the country’s involvement in the attacks.

“Regarding the new incidents in the Persian Gulf … if the Islamic Republic of Iran decides to block exports of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, it is militarily strong enough to do that fully and publicly,” Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri said, according to Fars News Agency.

1,500 Chernobyl ‘liquidators’ live in Israel. They are appallingly mistreated

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

1,500 Chernobyl ‘liquidators’ live in Israel. They are appallingly mistreated

A 2001 law promised housing, medical care to this group of heroes, but scandalously has never been implemented. Maybe interest sparked by the remarkable TV series will change that

Ksenia Svetlova
Chernobyl liquidators visiting the Knesset in Jerusalem. (Ksenia Svetlova)

Chernobyl liquidators visiting the Knesset in Jerusalem. (Ksenia Svetlova)

The much-discussed new TV series, “Chernobyl,” which focuses on the worst nuclear disaster of the twentieth century, has reminded the world about what happened at the plant’s No. 4 nuclear reactor 33 years ago.

Despite the very real health dangers, many curious tourists have been making their way to the remote Ukrainian city where time stopped in April 1986. And journalists have been seeking out the people who fought the devastating fire and built the Chernobyl sarcophagus, the massive steel and concrete structure that was constructed on top of the destroyed reactor to isolate it and limit radioactive contamination of the surrounding area.

The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Chernobyl “liquidators”— those who were called in to deal with the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic nuclear leak — who are still alive today reside in the former Soviet Union. But about 5,000 of them immigrated to Israel at the start of the 90s, and 1,500 of them still live here. Unfortunately, the liquidators are elderly and suffer from ill health. Unsurprisingly, those facts are less interesting than the painful memories from those terrible days: the friends who died, the hair that fell out, the diseases that spread.

I came into contact with this unique group of people four years ago in the course of the election campaign for the twentieth Knesset. The head of the association of Chernobyl liquidators here, Alexander Kalantirsky, got in touch with me before I was elected, and asked for my help. When we started talking, it emerged that he had studied construction engineering together with my mother at the same university in Moscow.

Alex Kalantirsky (R) during a demonstration of Chernobyl liquidators at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (Ksenia Svetlova)

Kalantirsky was in his 40s, married and with children, when he was sent to Chernobyl to work on the construction of the sarcophagus.

Did he know what was waiting for him there, and that his health would be irreparably harmed? Absolutely. But at no point did he contemplate evading this mission.

“We knew that if the radiation continued to spread, not only would Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia be hit, but all of Europe, including the Mediterranean basin. That was all we were thinking about. We hoped we would be able to neutralize that immense danger,” he told me in our first discussion.

A concrete and steel sarcophagus that seals the Chernobyl nuclear power plant’s No. 4 reactor is seen in this picture from December 8, 1999, in Ukraine’s Chernobyl. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

The rights of the Chernobyl disaster liquidators are anchored in several international treaties to which Israel is not a signatory. Nonetheless, when the liquidators immigrated to Israel, they asked for the assistance that would enable them to deal with their illnesses and other needs.

And indeed in 2001, the late Knesset member Yuri Stern initiated legislation that recognized the liquidators’ work and gave them a unique status. The law specifies their right to public housing, to a one-time grant and to treatment in a special medical facility to be set up for this purpose.

An aerial view of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, is seen in April 1986, two to three days after the explosion in Chernobyl, Ukraine. In front of the chimney is the destroyed 4th reactor. (AP Photo)

Since the passage of the law 18 years ago, however, the state has not implemented it and has not allocated the funding to implement it. In the four years that I served as a Knesset member, I sought answers from the government ministries responsible for this failure. Some of their responses were quite fascinating.

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry, and the Construction and Housing Ministry, for example, completely ignored the liquidators. The insurance companies refuse to insure the liquidators, because of the high level of illness to which they were exposed, but an effort to involve the Treasury in this issue was thwarted, with the explanation that the Treasury has no right to require private companies to insure or not insure an individual.

Deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman during a press conference after meeting with president Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But the most outrageous response of all was from Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who told me that “research does not prove that the Chernobyl disaster liquidators suffer from illnesses as a consequence of their work at the reactor. Most of them are smokers and it is possible that cancer in their cases is a consequence of that smoking.”

Once that contemptuous and offensive response was received, the path to a petition to the High Court of Justice was plainly open, since the 2001 legislation had instructed the government ministries to set up a medical facility to treat the Chernobyl liquidators. A petition was submitted by attorney Gilad Sher, who has been working for years on their behalf.

A doctor examines a boy who was evacuated from near the Chernobyl disaster area to Artek, June 14, 1986. (AP Photo)

At a hearing on December 17, 2018, the High Court accepted most of the liquidators’ key demands. The court made clear that the state had no right not to provide the liquidators with all their rights via a pretext that their medical situation was unclear.

The state was given 120 days to rectify the situation. But then the election campaign, and now the second election campaign, have frozen the work of the government and the Knesset, and nothing has moved.

Children from Chernobyl come to Israel for medical treatment in 1990 (Natan Alpert / GPO)

Very few reporters have taken an interest in this saga and the dire situation of the liquidators here. Among those who have focused on the story at all, most have concentrated on the awful details of what happened 33 years ago and interviewed these elderly, ailing people about that. For most of the liquidators, this is a profoundly traumatic experience.

And now came the remarkable “Chernobyl” historical drama.

Poster for Chernobyl, the 2019 miniseries

Says Kalantirsky: “This series returned me to the nightmare. The more I talk about my experiences there, the sicker I get.”

He and his friends, he says, do not understand why interviewers ignore their tales from the last three decades in Israel — the relentless battle they have been waging against government ministries who try to fob off responsibility from one ministry to another, and their dire financial situation.

“It’s been 18 years since Yuri Stern’s law passed. How many more years will it be before they start taking care of our issue?” asks Kalantirsky, a wise, intelligent, clearheaded man.

He has been amazed by the number of requests he has received for comments from the media, and disappointed by the superficiality of the questions.

“I have no problem talking about what happened at Chernobyl, even though it’s not easy for me,” he told me recently. “I watched the series. It was staggeringly accurate, apart for a few minor details. But it’s vital for me that it is not only the story of what happened then that is heard, but also our cry today.”

Workers who constructed the cement sarcophagus covering Chernobyl’s reactor four, pose with a poster reading: “We will fulfill the government’s order!” in summer of 1986 next to the uncompleted construction.(AP Photo/ Volodymyr Repik)

In contrast to the characters in the TV series, the Chernobyl disaster liquidators are real people, flesh and blood.

I can only hope that the renewed interest in the greatest ecological disaster of the twentieth century will eventually lead the media to focus not only on the horror stories of the two-headed chickens and the prematurely lost teeth, but also on the actual lives of 1,500 Israelis who live here.

Chernobyl ‘liquidators’ testify at a Knesset committee meeting (Ksenia Svetlova)

As their right, and not as an act of pity of charity, they require and deserve our practical help with homes and medical treatment. This is the least we should be doing for them, and it is scandalously long overdue.

The writer was a Zionist Union member of Knesset in 2015-19.

This article originally appeared in Hebrew on Zman Yisrael, ToI’s Hebrew site

Trump admin gave green light to nuclear permits for Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi killing

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Trump admin gave green light to nuclear permits for Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi killing

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia says the approvals show “President Trump’s eagerness to give the Saudis anything they want.”
Image: President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House on March 20, 2018.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House on March 20, 2018.Mandel Ngan / AFP – Getty Images file

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