The National / May 4, 2023
‘Iran will not be satisfied by a single nuclear bomb’, says Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.
Iran could have enough enriched uranium for five nuclear weapons, Israel’s Defence Minister claimed on Thursday, warning Tehran that working towards achieving weapons-grade enrichment could “ignite the region”.
Yoav Gallant’s comments echo international concerns that have mounted over the past months over Iran enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
Experts have said that Iran now has enough fuel to build “several” atom bombs if it chooses.
“Make no mistake: Iran will not be satisfied by a single nuclear bomb,” Mr Gallant said on Thursday during a visit to Athens.
Uranium enriched for use in nuclear power plants is normally below 20 per cent, while 90 per cent enrichment is considered to be weapons grade.
“So far, Iran has gained material enriched to 20 per cent and 60 per cent for five nuclear weapons,” Mr Gallant said.
“Iranian progress, enrichment to 90 per cent, would be a grave mistake on Iran’s part and could ignite the region.”
Israel’s leadership argues that Iran can only be stopped from developing nuclear weapons by the threat of military action, while the US publicly favours a return to multilateral diplomatic efforts.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said in March it would restart inspections and camera-monitoring at some Iranian nuclear facilities after it reported that particles of highly enriched uranium had been found at an underground nuclear site.
In Athens, Mr Gallant was hosted by Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos. The two promised to further enhance military co-operation.
Greece last year launched a new international pilot training centre, assisted by Israel and Israeli defence contractor Elbit in a $1.65 billion deal.
Last month, Israel agreed to provide Greece with Spike anti-tank missiles in an agreement worth $400 million.
Paul Carey joined The National in 2020 as deputy bureau chief in London
White House’s Sullivan to travel to Saudi this weekend
Reuters / May 4, 2023
WASHINGTON – White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday he will travel to Saudi Arabia this weekend for talks with Saudi leaders, as the United States seeks to bolster often-frayed ties with Riyadh.
Sullivan, speaking at a think tank conference, also said the United States will “take the necessary action to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon” and still seeks a diplomatic outcome to the challenge posed by Tehran.
Sullivan, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he would be traveling to Saudi Arabia on Saturday for talks with Saudi leaders. A source said Sullivan is expected to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Oil production cuts by Saudi-led OPEC+ and differences between the United States and Saudi Arabia over the 2018 death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi have damaged ties.
Sullivan said that also going to Saudi Arabia will be representatives from India and the United Arab Emirates to discuss “new areas of cooperation between New Delhi and the Gulf as well as the United States and the rest of the region.”
Former President Donald Trump’s administration brokered a number of normalization deals between Gulf allies and Israel. Sullivan said the United States was working hard to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“Ultimately getting to full normalization is a declared national security interest of the United States. We have been clear about that,” he said.
“Now as a sign of my seriousness about how much we’re focused on this, and how seriously we are taking this, I am not going to say anything further lest I upset the efforts we are undertaking on this issue,” he said.
Sullivan said the United States still seeks a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program and lamented Trump’s decision in 2018 to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
“Yes, we will take the necessary action to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon,” Sullivan said.
“At the end of the day, that is the fundamental test – Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon. They do not today and they cannot have one,” he said.
Sullivan said Washington was working with allies including Israel to deter Iran from developing a weapon.
“We will continue to send a clear message about the costs and consequences of going too far, while at the same time continuing to seek the possibility of a diplomatically brokered outcome that puts Iran’s nuclear program back into a box.”
Sullivan played down U.S. tensions with Israel that have developed since Benjamin Netanyahu took over again as Israeli prime minister late last year. He said he held a video conference with his Israeli counterpart on Wednesday and Netanyahu joined in for part of it.
He did not say, however, when Biden would extend an invitation to the Israeli leader to visit Washington.
Reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Sandra Maler
Analysis: Smoldering Iran nuclear crisis risks catching fire
Arshad Mohammed a.o.
Reuters / May 5, 2023
WASHINGTON/PARIS/DUBAI – Even as the United States and its European allies grapple with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions with China, the smoldering crisis over Iran’s nuclear program threatens to reignite.
In a sign of European concern, Britain, France and Germany have warned Iran they would trigger a return of U.N. sanctions against Tehran if it enriched uranium to the optimal level for a nuclear weapon, three European officials said.
The threat, made last year in a previously unreported letter sent by the countries’ foreign ministers, underscores Western fears that Iran could produce bomb-grade uranium of 90% purity.
Those concerns intensified in February after U.N. inspectors revealed their discovery of uranium particles of 83.7% purity at an Iran nuclear facility built deep underground to protect it from air strikes.
A renewed crisis over Iran would come at a bad time for U.S. President Joe Biden who is focused on maintaining allies’ support for the war in Ukraine and on rallying Western countries to push back on China’s military and diplomatic ambitions.
But while some White House aides may prefer to keep Iran off the president’s desk, officials and analysts suggested they may not have that luxury.
“They are busy with Ukraine, Russia and they don’t want, for the time being, to open another front,” said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity. “Therefore, they want to do everything in their power to prevent this (90%) from happening.”
‘SNAPBACK’ OF U.N. SANCTIONS ?
Western officials fear a nuclear-armed Iran could threaten Israel, Gulf Arab oil producers, and spark a regional arms race.
Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
U.S. and European officials have been searching for ways to curb Tehran’s program since the breakdown of indirect U.S.-Iranian talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States.
The accord, aimed at keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, required Tehran to accept restrictions on its nuclear program and more extensive U.N. inspections, in exchange for an end to U.N., U.S., and EU sanctions.
The deal, which had capped Iran’s uranium enrichment at 3.67%, was abandoned in 2018 by then-U.S. President Donald Trump, who argued it was too generous to Tehran.
Trump re-imposed broad U.S. sanctions, many of which have the secondary effect of forcing non-U.S. firms stop dealing with Iran or risk losing access to the U.S. market, but UN sanctions were not reactivated.
The deal had set out a procedure for the veto-proof “snapback” of the U.N. sanctions on Iran – including an oil embargo and banking restrictions – in response to Iranian violations. Any of the states who signed onto the original deal can trigger the snapback.
U.S. sanctions – even with their secondary effects – have failed to keep Iran from producing ever-purer levels of uranium and China has flouted them by buying Iranian oil, making it unclear if the U.N. measures would be any more effective.
But Iran might refrain from enriching to 90% to avoid the public rebuke implicit in the return of U.N. sanctions.
A senior Iranian nuclear official said Tehran would not take the revival of U.N. sanctions lying down.
“If the other parties under any pretext trigger it, they will be responsible for all the consequences,” he told Reuters. “Iran’s reaction could range from leaving the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) to accelerating our nuclear work.”
Leaving the NPT would free Iran to develop nuclear arms.
The Iranian official’s threat was more explicit than comments by an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, who on Monday said only that Iran had told Western powers how it would react.
It remains unclear if the 83.7% particles were created deliberately. But Western officials and analysts say that Iran’s production of 90% uranium would demand a significant response.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said Biden “is absolutely committed” to making sure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon.
“We believe diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal, but President Biden has also been clear that we have not removed any option from the table,” the spokesperson added, hinting at the possibility of military action.
‘FACE A CRISIS AT SOME POINT’
While Western officials want to leave the door open for diplomacy, tensions with Russia and China make that harder.
Divisions over the Ukraine war, which has seen Iran provide military aid to Russia, and rising Sino-U.S. tensions further reduce the odds of resurrecting the deal because it is unclear how hard Moscow or Beijing might push for its revival.
If the deal is dead, the West has three broad options: deterrence, military action, or a new negotiated arrangement.
Deterrence has a downside: it could give Tehran time to creep toward a nuclear weapons capability.
Dennis Ross, a veteran U.S. diplomat now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, suggested Biden may have to do more to make Iran fear the consequences of enriching to higher levels.
“If you don’t do enough to persuade the Iranians of the risks they are running, you will face a crisis at some point because they will go to 90%” or move toward weaponization, he said. “What you are seeing is an effort to walk that tightrope.”
Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay in Washington, John Irish in Paris and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; editing by Don Durfee and Alistair Bell