Thursday, June 13, 2024

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Iran expanding nuclear enrichment capacity after IAEA resolution, diplomats say

Iran is responding to last week's UN nuclear watchdog board resolution against it by expanding its uranium-enrichment capacity at two underground sites, but the escalation is not as big as many had feared, diplomats said on Wednesday.Iran bristles at such resolutions by the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation Board of Governors, and it reacted to the previous one 18 months earlier by enriching to up to 60% purity, close to weapons grade, at a second site and announcing a large expansion of its enrichment program.This time it plans to install more cascades, or clusters, of centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, at both its underground enrichment sites, five diplomats said. IAEA inspectors observing Iran's progress plan to issue a report to member states on Thursday, three of the diplomats said. Up to 60%"It's not as much as I would expect," one Vienna-based diplomat said, referring to the scale of Iran's escalation."Why? I don't know. Maybe they're waiting for the new government," they said, referring to the death in a helicopter crash last month of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, and the presidential election due to be held on June 28.Ayatollahs centrifuge 390 (credit: REUTERS)The IAEA Board passed a resolution a week ago calling on Iran to step up cooperation with the IAEA and reverse its recent barring of inspectors despite earlier US concerns Tehran would respond with atomic escalation. Only Russia and China opposed.Diplomats did not go into specifics on the number or type of centrifuges being added or what level they would enrich to, though one diplomat said they would not be used to quickly expand Iran's production of uranium enriched to up to 60%, close to the 90% of weapons grade. The diplomats said they would wait to see what the IAEA said Iran had actually done but they were aware of Iran's plans.The move is "at the lower end of expectations and something we're pretty sure they were going to do anyway", one diplomat said, meaning it would have happened even without the resolution.Iran did not fully follow through on its November 2022 announcement after the previous resolution. While it installed all the centrifuges it said it would at its underground enrichment plant at Natanz, 12 cascades of one advanced model, the IR-2m, are not yet in operation.Iran is only enriching to up to 60% at an above-ground pilot plant at Natanz and its Fordow site, which is dug into a mountain. In November 2022 it started enriching to up to 60% at Fordow but it has yet to install all the additional cascades it said it would.

Former local Tory chair applauded for challenging Sunak on Partygate: ‘People have long memories’

A former local Conservative Party chair was applauded for reminding Rishi Sunak that the public has “long memories” during Wednesday’s general election debate.The woman, who introduced herself as Amy from Leeds, told the prime minister she was “ashamed” by actions from the Tory government and admitted she was now an undecided voter.After pressing Mr Sunak on his decision to leave last week’s D-Day commemorations early, she warned that the British public will not forget other Tory scandals - including Partygate.“I just think we have long memories in this country,” Amy said, drawing applause from the audience.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi met with officers from Arab countries in Bahrain

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi met earlier this week in Bahrain with his counterparts from several Arab militaries to discuss regional security cooperation, according to reports from Walla and Axios on Wednesday. Two sources with direct knowledge of the meeting informed the latter.In Bahrain's capital, Manama, he met with generals from the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.The meeting was held under the auspices of US Central Command commander General Erik Kurilla. Due to regional and political sensitivities surrounding the war in Gaza, it was kept low-profile and not publicly disclosed. Continuing military dialogue between Israel and Arab statesThe Walla report stated that the meeting was a sign that the military dialogue and cooperation between Israel and the Arab countries continues within the framework of the US's Central Command despite the public criticism and harsh condemnations of the IDF's operations in Gaza by the countries of the region.Axios reported that neither the IDF nor CENTCOM responded to questions about the meeting.IDF Chief Herzi Halevi salutes during a ceremony marking Memorial Day in Jerusalem on May 13, 2024 (credit: GIL COHEN-MAGEN/POOL VIA REUTERS)The report cited American officials saying that cooperation with both Arab countries and Israel allowed them to gather intel on Iran's missile and drone attack on Israel in mid-April.

Hamas and Israel are still far apart over a ceasefire deal

The outburst of euphoria in Israel at the rescue on June 8th of four hostages who had been captive in Gaza for eight months was short-lived. Senior Israeli officers rushed to extol the commandos who carried out the mission, one of whom was killed, and the accurate intelligence that located the two apartments in the crowded Nuseirat refugee camp where they were incarcerated. But officials were just as quick to dampen expectations that the remaining 120 Israeli hostages held by Hamas could be rescued in a similar fashion.It was a “unique combination of intelligence and operational circumstances”, explained one general. But Israeli security officials still reckon that a deal will have to be struck with their enemies if most of the remaining hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7th are to be freed.

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