Iran says it begins 60% uranium enrichment following nuclear site incident

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran has begun 60% uranium enrichment, the country’s chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state media on Tuesday, a day after Tehran accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear site.

Araqchi made his announcement shortly before the resumption of talks in Vienna aimed at reviving Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, an accord Israel fiercely opposed, after former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned it three years ago.

Last week, Iran and the global powers held what they described as “constructive” talks to salvage the deal, which has unraveled as Iran has breached its limits on sensitive uranium enrichment since Trump reimposed harsh sanctions on Tehran.

The deal had capped the level of purity to which Iran can enrich uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for centrifuges, at 3.67%, far below the 90% of weapons grade.

Iran in recent months has raised enrichment to 20% purity, a level where uranium is considered to be highly enriched and a big step towards enriching to weapons-grade.

Iran’s top diplomat said earlier on Tuesday that an attack on its Natanz nuclear facility which it blames on Israel was a “very bad gamble” that would strengthen Tehran’s hand in talks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

Tehran has said an explosion on Sunday at its key nuclear site was an act of sabotage by arch-foe Israel and vowed revenge for an attack that appeared to be the latest episode in a long-running covert war. Israel, which the Islamic Republic does not recognize, has not formally commented on the incident.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said Tehran must resume full compliance with restrictions on its nuclear activity under the deal before Washington can rejoin the pact.

The White House said on Monday the United States was not involved in Sunday’s attack and had no comment on speculation about the cause of the incident.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean and Jon Boyle)

Iran blames Israel for Natanz nuclear plant outage, vows revenge

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran on Monday accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging its key Natanz nuclear site and vowed revenge for an attack that appeared to be the latest episode in a long-running covert war.

Iran said the person who caused an electricity outage in one of the production halls at the underground uranium enrichment plant had been identified. “Necessary measures are being taken to arrest this person,” Iranian state media reported, without giving further details.

The incident occurred amid diplomatic efforts by Iran and the United States to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, an accord Israel fiercely opposed, after former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned it three years ago.

Last week, Iran and the global powers held what they described as “constructive” talks to salvage the deal, which has unraveled as Iran has breached its limits on sensitive uranium enrichment since Trump reimposed harsh sanctions on Tehran.

Iranian authorities described the incident a day earlier as an act of “nuclear terrorism” and said Tehran reserved the right to take action against the perpetrators.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif explicitly blamed Israel. “The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions… We will not fall into their trap…We will not allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks,” Zarif was quoted by state TV as saying.

“But we will take our revenge against the Zionists.”

Multiple Israeli media outlets have quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying the country’s Mossad spy service carried out a successful sabotage operation at the underground Natanz complex, potentially setting back enrichment work there by months.

Israel – whose existence Iran does not recognize – has not formally commented on the incident. The White House said the United States was not involved in the attack and had no comment on speculation about the cause of the incident.

Iranian nuclear energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said an emergency power system had been activated at Natanz to offset the outage. “Enrichment of uranium has not stopped at the site.”

ADVANCED CENTRIFUGES

A spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said the facility was hit by an explosion.

“It is a power grid issue. The explosion was not powerful enough to destroy everything but the ceiling collapsed in one of the control rooms,” Kamalvandi told state TV.

The incident took place a day after Tehran, which has insisted it wants only peaceful nuclear energy not nuclear bombs from the enrichment process, launched new advanced centrifuge machines at Natanz.

Referring to Iran’s first generation of enrichment machines more vulnerable to outages, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that :”all of the centrifuges that went out of circuit at Natanz site were of the IR-1 type”.

“Our nuclear experts are assessing the damage but I can assure you that Iran will replace damaged uranium enrichment centrifuges in Natanz with advanced ones.”

Modernized centrifuges can refine uranium to higher fissile purity at a much faster rate, helping accumulate a stockpile that could shorten Iran’s route to a nuclear weapon, if it chose to develop them, than the IR-1 that still predominates in Natanz’s production halls.

The 2015 deal only allows Iran to enrich with up to 5,060 IR-1 machines, in a plant designed to house around 50,000, but it has begun enriching at Natanz with hundreds of advanced centrifuges including the IR-2m.

Despite strong Israeli opposition, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is committed to rejoining the deal if the Islamic Republic returns to full compliance with restrictions on nuclear fuel production.

Asked by reporters about the Natanz outage, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman, alluding warned that such incidents could adversely affect the nuclear negotiations.

Khatibzadeh said nuclear talks would resume on Wednesday in Vienna. Diplomatic headway has been made, delegates said on Friday. Iran insists all U.S. sanctions crippling its oil-based economy must be lifted first before it stops accelerating enrichment and restores caps on the process.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday Iran had never given up efforts to develop nuclear weapons and that Israel would never allow Tehran to do so. Israel sees the Iranian enrichment drive as a existential menace.

There have been sporadic episodes of sabotage and outages at Iranian nuclear installations over more than a decade, for which Tehran has blamed Israel, including a fire last July that broke out at Iran’s Natanz site.

In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz, causing damaging breakdowns of centrifuge cascades that refine uranium.

Iran also accused Israel of responsibility for last November’s ambush killing outside Tehran of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was considered by Western intelligence services as the mastermind of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in his death.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Francois Murphy in Vienna and Alexander Ratz in Berlin; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Hugh Lawson)

Iran’s final report blames air defense operator error for Ukraine plane crash

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s civil aviation body, in a final report, has blamed an error by an air defense operator for the shooting-down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January 2020 that killed all 176 people aboard, the agency said on Wednesday.

Ukraine’s foreign minister criticized the report, calling it a cynical attempt by the Islamic Republic authorities to cover up the true reasons for the crash.

The Iranian report said: “The plane was identified as a hostile target due to a mistake by the air defense operator…near Tehran and two missiles were fired at it,” according to the agency’s website.

“The flight’s operation did not have a role in creating the error by the air defense battery,” the report added.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight on Jan. 8, 2020 shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport.

The Iranian government later declared that the shooting-down was a “disastrous mistake” by forces who were on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

As in a preliminary report issued last June, Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said the error arose from a misalignment of a battery’s radar and a lack of communication between the air defense operator and his commanders.

“Following a tactical relocation, the relevant ADU (air defense unit) failed to adjust the system direction due to human error, causing the operator to observe the target flying west from IKA (airport) as a target approaching Tehran from the southwest at a relatively low altitude,” the final report said.

“Without receiving a go-ahead or response from the command center, he (operator) came to identify the target as a hostile one and fired missile(s) at the aircraft against the procedure planned,” it said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba lambasted the report in a post on Facebook. “What we saw in the published report today is nothing more than a cynical attempt to hide the true reasons for the downing of our plane,” he said.

“We will not allow Iran to hide the truth, we will not allow it to avoid responsibility for this crime.”

The Tehran government has allocated $150,000 for damages to be paid to families of the crash victims said several people have been put on trial over the disaster.

Ukraine has said the compensation should be set through talks, taking into account international practice, once the causes of the tragedy are established and those responsible are brought to justice.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Israeli defense chief sees ‘special security arrangement’ with Gulf allies

By Dan Williams

KEREM SHALOM, Israel (Reuters) – Israel’s defense minister said on Tuesday it intends to develop a “special security arrangement” with Gulf Arab allies, who share common concerns over Iran.

The United Arab Emirate and Bahrain established formal relations with Israel last year. As part of their U.S.-backed rapprochement, Israel and the UAE have proposed defense and military cooperation.

On a visit to an Israel-Gaza border crossing, Defense Minister Benny Gantz played down a report by public radio Kan that Israel was considering a defense agreement with Gulf Arab countries, but said security ties would be pursued.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a defense pact but we are going to develop defense relations with every country that we have relations with,” Gantz told Reuters.

“We have this process of setting up (a) special security arrangement, and within this arrangement we can continue and develop our relations,” he said.

Gantz declined to go into details on what such an arrangement would entail.

He signaled that Israel had no opposition to the sale, approved during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s last days in office, of 50 Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth jets to the UAE. The deal is now under review by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.

Asked about Israel’s view of the sale, Gantz said Israel’s “qualitative military edge” must be preserved by the United States, adding that the advanced warplane was already in the country’s arsenal.

On Monday, the UAE’s ambassador to Israel took up his post, pledging to build up new bilateral relations. Israel opened an embassy in Abu Dhabi in January.

Their so-called U.S.-brokered “Abraham Accords,” joined by Bahrain, have uncorked tourism and commerce between Israel and Gulf Arab countries. Palestinians have been critical of the rapprochement, worried that their own unmet statehood goal might be sidelined.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Israel aims to resolve Iran disputes with Biden at adviser level

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel hopes to prevent personal tension between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden over their differences on the Iranian nuclear question by delegating talks on the topic to their senior staff, an Israeli official said.

Netanyahu’s foreign-policy fortunes have waned since Biden succeeded Republican president Donald Trump, who withdrew the United States from world powers’ 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, deeming it too advantageous for Tehran – a view Israel shared.

Biden, a Democrat, wants to rejoin the deal. That has set the stage for possible new strains in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

On Monday, Netanyahu conferred with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to present a united Israeli front on Iran – even as the conservative premier runs against the two centrists in a March election.

An official briefed on Monday’s meeting said it was agreed that Israeli misgivings about, and proposed improvements to, the deal would be relayed by Netanyahu’s National Security Council to the counterpart National Security Council in the White House.

“The intent is to work everything out at that level, and to keep that communication channel open,” the official told Reuters on Tuesday on condition on anonymity. “Obviously this has benefits where there is a risk of a ‘cold shoulder’ at chief-executive level.”

Citing unnamed sources involved in the meeting, Israel’s Army Radio reported the Netanyahu and the other ministers had decided to keep disputes with Biden “under the radar” for now.

Netanyahu’s office declined comment.

When the 2015 deal was being put together, Netanyahu’s opposition – including in a speech he delivered to the U.S. Congress – led to feuds with the then Democratic administration of Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president.

Netanyahu’s office said on Friday that Israel was “in close contact” with Washington on the issue and asserted that a return to the 2015 deal would “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal”.

Israel previously hinted it might shun Iran talks with Washington in the event of a new deal that it still opposes, lest such engagement give the impression of consent.

Iran, which denies seeking the bomb, began breaching the deal in 2019, following the U.S. withdrawal. It has recently stepped up violations and was cool to an administration announcement on Thursday that Washington was ready to talk about a mutual return to compliance.

Israel is reputed to have the region’s only nuclear arsenal, something it neither confirms nor denies under an “ambiguity” policy designed to ward off foes while avoiding arms races.

(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

Iran stops snap nuclear inspections, state-run daily urges caution

DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian government newspaper warned on Tuesday that overly radical actions in the nuclear wrangling with the West may lead to the country’s isolation after Tehran ended snap inspections by United Nations inspectors.

Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibabadi, said it had ended implementation of the so-called Additional Protocol at midnight (2030 GMT) on Monday. The agreement allowed the IAEA to carry out short-notice inspections.

The state-run daily newspaper Iran criticized hardline lawmakers who protested on Monday at Tehran’s decision to permit “necessary” monitoring by U.N. inspectors for up to three months, saying this broke a law passed by parliament in an apparent effort to pressure the United States to lift sanctions.

The law requires ending snap inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog from Tuesday if sanctions are not lifted.

“Those who say Iran must take swift tough action on the nuclear accord should say what guarantee there is that Iran will not be left alone as in the past… and will this end anywhere other than helping build a consensus against Iran?” the daily Iran said.

To create room for diplomacy, the U.N. watchdog IAEA on Sunday reached a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of Tehran’s reduced cooperation and refusal to permit short-notice inspections.

On Monday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran might enrich uranium up to 60% purity if the country needed it, while repeating a denial of any Iranian intent to seek nuclear weapons.

Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, which it has been breaching since the United States withdrew in 2018, caps the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67%, well under the 20% achieved before the agreement and far below the 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Khamenei’s comments “sounds like a threat” but reiterated U.S. willingness to engage in talks with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Washington said last week it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Tehran said last week it was studying a European Union proposal for an informal meeting between current members of the deal and the United States, but has yet to respond to it.

Iran, which has resumed enriching to 20% in an apparent bid to heap pressure on the United States, has been at loggerheads with Washington over which side should take the initial step to revive the accord.

Iranian leaders insist Washington must end its punitive campaign first to restore the deal, while Washington says Tehran must first return to full compliance.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Khamenei says Iran may enrich uranium to 60% purity if needed

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday Iran might enrich uranium up to 60% purity if the country needed it and would never yield to U.S. pressure over its nuclear program, state television reported.

Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, which it has been breaching since the United States withdrew in 2018, caps the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67%, well under the 20% achieved before the agreement and far below the 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon.

“Iran’s uranium enrichment level will not be limited to 20%. We will increase it to whatever level the country needs … We may increase it to 60%,” the TV quoted Khamenei as saying, upping the ante in a stand-off with U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration over the future of the fraying deal.

“Americans and the European parties to the deal have used unjust language against Iran … Iran will not yield to pressure. Our stance will not change,” Khamenei said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Khamenei’s comments “sounds like a threat” and declined to respond to what he described as “hypotheticals” and “posturing”.

He reiterated U.S. willingness to engage in talks with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.

The Biden administration said last week it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Tehran said last week it was studying a European Union proposal for an informal meeting between current members of the deal and the United States, but has yet to respond to it.

Iran, which has resumed enriching to 20% in an apparent bid to heap pressure on the United States, has been at loggerheads with Washington over which side should take the initial step to revive the accord.

Although under domestic pressure to ease economic hardships worsened by sanctions, Iranian leaders insist Washington must end its punitive campaign first to restore the deal, while Washington says Tehran must first return to full compliance.

DIPLOMACY PATH

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday Washington intended to bolster and extend the 2015 pact, which aimed to limit Iran’s enrichment potential – a possible pathway to atomic bombs – in exchange for a lifting of most sanctions.

Blinken, addressing the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said in a pre-recorded speech: “The United States remains committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. Diplomacy is the best path to achieve that goal.”

Khamenei, in his televised remarks, repeated a denial of any Iranian intent to weaponize uranium enrichment.

He added: “That international Zionist clown (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) has said they won’t allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons. First of all, if we had any such intention, even those more powerful than him wouldn’t be able to stop us.”

To pressure the Biden administration to drop sanctions, Iran’s hardline-dominated parliament passed a law last year obliging the government to end roving snap inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog from Tuesday if sanctions are not lifted.

Iran said it would end the implementation of the so-called Additional Protocol, which allows International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out short-notice inspections, at midnight (2030 GMT).

To create room for diplomacy, the U.N. watchdog on Sunday reached a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of Iran’s reduced cooperation and refusal to permit short-notice inspections.

Iranian lawmakers protested on Monday at Tehran’s decision to permit “necessary” monitoring by U.N. inspectors for up to three months, saying this broke the new law.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

Iran reacts coolly to U.S. talk offer, demands lifting of sanctions

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will “immediately reverse” actions in its nuclear program once U.S. sanctions are lifted, its foreign minister said on Friday, reacting coolly to Washington’s initial offer to revive talks with Tehran aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal.

President Joe Biden’s administration said on Thursday it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord, which aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons while lifting most international sanctions. Former President Donald Trump left the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Tehran said Washington’s move was not enough to persuade Iran to fully respect the accord.

When sanctions are lifted, “we will then immediately reverse all remedial measures. Simple,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.

Since Trump ditched the deal, Tehran has breached the accord by rebuilding stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.

Tehran and Washington have been at odds over who should make the first step to revive the accord. Iran says the United States must first lift Trump’s sanctions while Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance with the deal.

However, a senior Iranian official told Reuters that Tehran was considering Washington’s offer to talk about the revival of the deal.

“But first they should return to the deal. Then within the framework of the 2015 deal, a mechanism to basically synchronize steps can be discussed,” the official said. “We have never sought nuclear weapons and this is not part of our defense doctrine,” the Iranian official said. “Our message is very clear. Lift all the sanctions and give diplomacy a chance.”

The European Union is working on organizing an informal meeting with all participants of the Iran deal and the United States, which has already signaled willingness to join any gathering, a senior EU official said on Friday.

Adding to pressure for a resolution to the impasse, a law passed by the hardline parliament obliges Tehran on Feb. 23 to cancel the sweeping access given to U.N. inspectors under the deal, limiting their visits to declared nuclear sites only.

The United States and the European parties to the accord have urged Iran to refrain from taking the step, which will complicate Biden’s efforts to restore the pact.

POLITICAL INFIGHTING

“We have to implement the law. The other party must act quickly and lift these unjust and illegal sanctions if they want Tehran to honor the deal,” said the Iranian official.

The IAEA’s short-notice inspections, which can range anywhere beyond Iran’s declared nuclear sites, are mandated under the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol” that Iran agreed to honor under the deal.

While Iran’s demand for a lifting of all U.S. sanctions is unlikely to be met anytime soon, analysts said, Tehran faces a delicate choice about how to respond to Biden’s overture with an upcoming presidential election in June.

With growing discontent at home over economic hardship, the election turnout is seen as a referendum on the clerical establishment — a potential risk for Iran’s rulers. Hardliners, set to win the vote and tighten their grip, have been pushing to squeeze more concessions from Washington for reviving the deal.

Iran’s fragile economy, weakened by U.S. sanctions and coronavirus crisis, has left the ruling elite with few options.

“Hardliners are not against dealing with Washington. But their tactic is to stall any engagement to get more concessions until a hardline president is at the office,” said a senior government official.

Some Iranian hardliners said top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s tough stance had forced Washington to cave in. On Wednesday he demanded “action, not words” from the United States if it wants to restore the deal.

“They have reversed some measures … It is a defeat for America … but we are waiting to see whether there will be action on lifting sanctions,” state media quoted Tabriz city’s Friday prayer leader Mohammadali Ale-Hashem as saying.

Biden has said that he will use the revival of the nuclear deal as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran’s ballistic missile development and regional activities.

Tehran has ruled out negotiations on wider security issues such as Iran’s missile program.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

Yemen famine could threaten opportunity for peace, U.N. warns

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A massive famine could wipe out a new opportunity, created by renewed U.S. engagement, to end the war in Yemen, top U.N. officials told the Security Council on Thursday.

U.N. Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths also called for a stop to an offensive by the Houthi movement on the government-held city of Marib, warning “the quest for territorial gain by force threatens all of the prospects of the peace process.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has made ending the conflict in Yemen a priority since taking office last month, appointing a special envoy and ending U.S. support for offensive operations by Saudi Arabia in neighboring Yemen.

“International support for ending the conflict is indispensable, and this offers us a new opportunity to reopen space for a negotiated solution,” Griffiths told the 15-member Security Council.

However, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock then warned: “There’s an important opportunity right now to help Yemen move towards lasting peace … but that opportunity will disappear, it will be wasted, if Yemen tips into a massive famine.”

The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of the people in need of help.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis. The more than six-year-long conflict is widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Griffiths visited Tehran this month for the first time since becoming the U.N. envoy three years ago. He made no reference to his visit during his public Security Council statement.

He said the warring parties needed to immediately agree to a nationwide ceasefire, allow the unhindered flow of fuel and other commodities into Hodeidah port and permit international commercial traffic to use Sanaa airport. Griffiths said these issues had been discussed regularly for the past year.

“What is needed is simply and fundamentally the political will to end this conflict. We know need a decision,” he said.

Lowcock said some $4 billion was needed in 2021 to fund humanitarian operations as “Yemen is speeding towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades.” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Switzerland and Sweden plan to convene a pledging conference on March 1 to raise funds for Yemen.

When famine loomed in 2019, Lowcock said it was averted after the United Nations received about 90 percent of the $4 billion it requested. But last year the world body only received about $1.9 billion, about half of what it needed.

Lowcock said some 16 million people in Yemen were going hungry and 5 million of those people are “just one step away from famine.”

Some 400,000 children under the age of 5 are severely malnourished, he said. “Those children are in their last weeks and months,” he warned. “They are starving to death.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)

Merkel tells Rouhani Iran should return to nuclear deal

BERLIN (Reuters) – Iran should send positive signals to increase the chances of a return to the 2015 nuclear deal and defuse a standoff with western powers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Hassan Rouhani in a phone call on Wednesday.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German leader told Rouhani she was concerned that Iran was continuing to breach its commitments under the deal, which U.S. President Joe Biden wants to restore should Iran halt nuclear activities.

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Madeline Chambers)