Daily Archives: June 17, 2019

Iran Says it Will Break Uranium Stockpile Limit in 10 Days

FILE -  Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks during a press conference.
FILE – Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks during a press conference.

TEHRAN, IRAN – Iran will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days, the spokesman for the country’s atomic agency said Monday while also warning that Iran has the need for uranium enriched up to 20%, just a step away from weapons-grade levels.

The announcement indicated Iran’s determination to break from the landmark 2015 accord, which has steadily unraveled since the Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year and re-imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into free-fall.

The spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, made the announcement during a press conference with local journalists at Iran’s Arak heavy water facility that was carried live on Iranian state television.

The development comes in the wake of suspected attacks on oil tankers last week in the region, attacks that Washington has blamed on Iran, and also as tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States, a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America for the nuclear deal.

Kamalvandi acknowledged that the country already quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and said Tehran would increase uranium enrichment levels “based on the country’s needs.”

That increase could be to any level, from 3.67% which is the current limit set by the nuclear deal.

Iran’s needs 5% enrichment for its nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it also needs 20% enrichment for a Tehran research reactor, the spokesman said.

When uranium is mined, it typically has about 140 atoms of this unwanted isotope for every atom of U-235. Refining it to the purity of 3.67%, the level now allowed by the nuclear deal means removing 114 unwanted atoms of U-238 for every atom of U-235.

Boosting its purity to 20% means removing 22 more unwanted isotopes per atom of U-235 while going from there to 90% purity means removing just four more per atom of U-235, he noted. Ninety percent is considered weapons-grade material.

That means going from 20% to 90% is a relatively quicker process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts.

US Resident Freed by Iran to Trump: ‘Get Back Your Hostages’

US Resident Freed by Iran to Trump: ‘Get Back Your Hostages’

By Associated Press

Nizar Zakka speaks during his meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon, June 11, 2019.
Nizar Zakka speaks during his meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon, June 11, 2019.

BEIRUT – A Lebanese man and permanent U.S. resident who was released after spending years in an Iranian prison called on President Donald Trump and Western countries to “please get back your hostages from Iran,” adding that he saw American detainees during his nearly four-year imprisonment.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Nizar Zakka said he was subjected to “all kinds of torture,” both physical and mental, during his detention in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, including standing on one leg for hours, extended periods of interrogation and lack of food.

“Nobody on earth deserves such suffering,” he said in the 30-minute emotional interview during which he broke down in tears at one point.

Zakka, an information technology expert, was arrested in Iran in September 2015 while trying to fly out of Tehran. He had just attended a conference there at the invitation of one of the country’s vice presidents. The following year, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after authorities accused him of being an American spy — allegations he and his associates vigorously reject.

He was released Tuesday and flew back to his native Lebanon, amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Last year, the Trump administration decided to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and re-impose heavy sanctions on Iran. The past weeks have witnessed a flurry of diplomatic activity to ease tensions and salvage the landmark deal.

Zakka is one of several prisoners with either dual nationality or links to the West held in the Islamic Republic’s prisons. It was not clear why Iran decided to act now, after years of Lebanese officials asking for his release.

“In my opinion, it was good timing for the Iranians, and especially they had a request from the President of the Lebanese Republic,” Zakka said. “They took this opportunity to send also a message … de-escalating tensions within the region.”

Zakka told the AP that during his detention he met several Westerners held in Iran, and for two years shared a cell with Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate student sentenced to 10 years behind bars after being accused of “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad.

“I really ask President Trump to not leave Xiyue behind and other Americans behind, please,” he said.

Zakka also said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British woman, was held in the same building where he was until she was moved to the women’s section inside Evin prison.  She is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government while traveling with her young daughter.

Zakka added that Iranian-American Siamak Namazi was held in a cell “almost two meters away” from his, while the man’s father Baquer Namazi was held on a floor above. Both father and son are serving a 10-year sentence after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power.

Asked whether he met former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, Zakka said: “We heard some stories. Some people told me that they saw him. It wasn’t confirmed stories.”

Zakka called on the “American Congress, American administration and all Western countries, please get back your hostages in Iran.”

“I will take the opportunity to speak to the American Congress and to the American administration and to all the Western countries, please get back the hostages in Iran. Get them back home. They deserve to be back home,” Zakka added.

Zakka, 52, described how he was detained as he was headed to the airport in a taxi on Sept. 18, 2015, after a visit to Iran following an invitation by one of its vice presidents. “I was stopped by a civilian car and taken by people in civilian clothes. They took me as a hostage since then. I didn’t know anything. They blindfolded me and they took me to a place for almost 40 days. I didn’t know where I am.”

He added that the men told him that they are members of the intelligence department of the Revolutionary Guard and that they control the country.

“We decide. We are the judge. We are everything,” he recalled them saying.

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