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Saturday , December 7 2019

Iran eyes new uranium enrichment

TEHRAN, Iran, Jan 13, (Agencies): The head of Iran’s nuclear program says the Islamic Republic has begun “preliminary activities for designing” a modern process for 20-percent uranium enrichment for its 50-year-old research reactor in Tehran, signaling new danger for the nuclear deal.

The comment on state television Sunday from Ali Akbar Salehi increases the pressure on the international community as 20-percent enrichment would mean Iran has abandoned the terms of the 2015 atomic accord. US President Donald Trump already pulled America out of the accord in May and resumed sanctions on Tehran. So far, United Nations inspectors say Iran continues to comply with the deal’s terms, which limits enrichment to 3.5 percent. Salehi said “we are at the verge” of being ready, without elaborating in his remarks.

The US donated the reactor to Iran in 1967. The White House’s national security team last fall asked the Pentagon to provide it with options for striking Iran after a group of militants aligned with Tehran fired mortars into an area in Baghdad that is home to the US Embassy, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

The request by the National Security Council, which is led by John Bolton, sparked deep concern among Pentagon and State Department officials, the newspaper reported, citing current and former US officials. The Pentagon complied with the request, but it is not known whether the options for an Iran strike were also provided to the White House or if Trump knew about it.

The decision to seek options striking Iran was prompted by an incident in September in which three mortars were fired into a diplomatic quarter in Baghdad, the newspaper said. The shells landed in an open lot and no one was hurt. State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo did not comment on the story when asked about it by reporters and a State Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

A Pentagon spokesman did not have any immediate comment on the story and the White House and National Security Council could not be immediately reached. A spokesman for the National Security Council was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, however, as saying: “We continue to review the status of our personnel following attempted attacks on our embassy in Baghdad and our Basra consulate, and we will consider a full range of options to preserve their safety and our interests.” Angered by Pompeo’s announcement that Poland will host an international conference on Iran in mid-February, Iranian authorities on Sunday summoned Warsaw’s top diplomat in the country and called off a Polish film festival.

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