Iran breaches another nuclear deal cap, on heavy water stock: IAEA report

Iran breaches another nuclear deal cap, on heavy water stock: IAEA report
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has breached another limit of its nuclear deal with major powers by accumulating slightly more than 130 tonnes of heavy water, a substance used in a type of reactor it is developing, a U.N. nuclear watchdog report showed on Monday.

The limit is the latest in a series imposed by the deal that Iran has exceeded in protest at Washington’s withdrawal from the deal last year and its imposition of punishing economic sanctions against Tehran.

Heavy water is not as sensitive as uranium, which Iran is enriching in a quantity and to a level of purity beyond limits in the deal. However, the 2015 deal says Iran should not have more heavy water than it needs, specifying this is estimated to be 130 metric tonnes.

“On 16 November 2019, Iran informed the Agency that its stock of heavy water had exceeded 130 metric tonnes,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report to member states obtained by Reuters.

“On 17 November 2019, the Agency verified that the Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) was in operation and that Iran’s stock of heavy water was 131.5 metric tonnes.”

Heavy water is, among other things, used as a moderator to slow down reactions in the core of nuclear reactors like one Iran has been developing at Arak.

Since that reactor could eventually have produced plutonium, which can also be used in atom bombs, the deal required Iran to remove its core and fill it with concrete. The reactor is now being redesigned with a view to reducing any weapons proliferation risk.

It is not the first time Iran has breached the heavy-water cap. Iran first went over that limit in 2016 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear/iran-once-again-exceeds-a-nuclear-deal-limit-iaea-report-idUSKBN1342T1, soon after the deal went into force and well before the U.S. withdrawal in 2018. Major powers then agreed Iran could store its excess heavy water outside the country while it sought a buyer for it.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Iran launches nuclear enrichment at underground Fordow plant, IAEA confirms

Iran launches nuclear enrichment at underground Fordow plant, IAEA confirms
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has begun enriching uranium at its underground Fordow site in the latest breach of its deal with major powers, the U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed on Monday, adding that Tehran’s enriched uranium stock has continued to grow.

Iran is contravening the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities step by step in response to Washington’s withdrawal from the accord last year and its renewed sanctions on Tehran. Tehran says it can quickly undo those breaches if Washington lifts its sanctions.

In a quarterly report, the International Atomic Energy Agency policing the deal confirmed Iran’s announcement last week that it had begun enriching uranium at its Fordow site buried inside a mountain, something prohibited by the deal. “Since 9 November…, Iran has been conducting uranium enrichment at the plant,” said the confidential IAEA report, obtained by Reuters.

Iran’s stock of enriched uranium has increased, to 372.3 kg, well above the deal’s 202.8 kg cap. The maximum fissile purity to which Iran has enriched uranium so far, however, remains 4.5 %, above the deal’s 3.67% cap but still well below the 20% Iran has achieved before and the 90% required for atomic bomb fuel.

Iran has continued to enrich with centrifuge machines other than its most basic model, the IR-1, which is not allowed under the deal, the IAEA report added. It has enriched with more advanced centrifuges and even installed small numbers of centrifuges not mentioned in the deal, the report showed.

Iran said last week it was working on a advanced prototype of centrifuge that could enrich 50 times as fast as the IR-1, deemed by experts as antiquated and prone to breakdown.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Netanyahu: Iran had secret nuclear weapons development site in Abadeh

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Iran had been developing nuclear weapons at a secret site near the city of Abadeh, but that Tehran destroyed the facility after learning it had been exposed.

It was the first time Netanyahu had identified the site, which, he said, was discovered in a trove of Iranian documents Israel previously obtained and disclosed last year.

“In this site, Iran conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks, showing an aerial picture of several small buildings, including their coordinates, that he said were taken at the Abadeh facility late in June 2019.

“When Iran realized that we uncovered the site, here’s what they did,” he said, showing a picture from a month later in which the buildings no longer appeared. “They destroyed the site. They just wiped it out.”

Netanyahu’s comments followed a Reuters report revealing that the International Atomic Energy Agency found traces of uranium at a different site in Iran that the Israeli leader had first pointed to during a speech last year at the United Nations.

Iran had yet to explain the traces of uranium at that site, though it denies ever having sought a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu, who strongly opposed a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, made the remarks in a televised speech about a week before a general election in Israel in which he is in a tight race to win another term.

“I call on the international community to wake up, to realize that Iran is systematically lying,” Netanyahu said.

“The only way to stop Iran’s march to the bomb, and its aggression in the region, is pressure, pressure and more pressure.”

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch,; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump accuses Iran of secret nuclear enrichment, says sanctions to be cranked up ‘substantially’

FILE PHOTO - A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Doina Chiacu and Francois Murphy

WASHINGTON/VIENNA (Reuters) – President Donald Trump accused Iran on Wednesday of secretly enriching uranium for a long time and said U.S. sanctions would be increased “substantially” soon, as the U.N. nuclear watchdog held an emergency meeting on Tehran’s breach of a nuclear deal.

Washington used the session of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors to accuse Iran of extortion after it inched past the deal’s limit on enrichment levels, while still offering to hold talks with Tehran.

Iran says it is reacting to harsh U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Tehran since Trump pulled out of world powers’ 2015 nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic last year, and says all its steps were reversible if Washington returned to the deal.

“Iran has long been secretly ‘enriching,’ in total violation of the terrible 150 Billion Dollar deal made by John Kerry and the Obama Administration,” Trump said on Twitter.

“Remember, that deal was to expire in a short number of years. Sanctions will soon be increased, substantially!”

While Iran was found to have had covert enrichment sites long before the nuclear accord, the deal also imposed the most intrusive nuclear supervision on Iran of any country, and there has been no serious suggestion Iran is secretly enriching now.

The deal confines enrichment in Iran to its Natanz site, which was itself exposed in 2003. Any clandestine enrichment elsewhere would be a grave breach of the deal. It was not immediately clear from Trump’s comments whether he was referring to previous, long-known activities or making a new allegation.

The U.S. statement, made just hours before Trump’s tweet, made no mention of either secret enrichment or an imminent tightening of sanctions.

Iran’s IAEA ambassador said in a German newspaper interview published on Wednesday that Tehran intended to preserve the nuclear deal with major powers if all other signatories honored their commitments under it.

“Everything can be reversed within a single hour – if all of our partners in the treaty would just fulfill their obligations in the same way,” Gharib Abadi was quoted by the weekly Die Zeit as saying.

In the past two weeks Iran has breached two limits pivotal to the 2015 deal, which aimed to extended the time Iran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to do so, to a year from around 2-3 months.

President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday the Islamic Republic’s moves were permissible under the deal, rebuffing a warning by European powers to continue compliance.

The Trump administration says it is open to negotiations with Iran on a more far-reaching agreement on nuclear and security issues. But Iran says it must first be able to export as much oil as it did before the U.S. withdrawal.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen sharply, culminating in a plan for U.S. airstrikes on Iran last month that were called off at the last minute.

“There is no credible reason for Iran to expand its nuclear program, and there is no way to read this as anything other than a crude and transparent attempt to extort payments from the international community,” said a Trump administration statement issued at the closed-door session of the IAEA board in Vienna.

“We call on Iran to reverse its recent nuclear steps and cease any plans for further advancements in the future. The United States has made clear that we are open to negotiation without preconditions, and that we are offering Iran the possibility of a full normalization of relations.”

Iran says it will continue to breach the deal’s caps one by one until it receives the economic windfall – trade and investment deals with the wider world – promised under terms of the agreement.

IRAN RAISING ENRICHMENT LEVEL

In a separate closed-door meeting with member states on Wednesday, IAEA inspectors confirmed that Iran was now enriching uranium to 4.5% purity, above the 3.67% limit set by its deal. This would be Iran’s second breach of the deal in as many weeks, diplomats familiar with the figures said.

However, that is still far below the 20% to which Iran refined uranium before the deal, and the roughly 90% needed to yield bomb-grade nuclear fuel.

“The latest steps indicate that Tehran’s leadership has made a decision to move onto the offensive to create leverage vis-a-vis the international community and bring about a solution to its constraints,” a Western intelligence source told Reuters.

Washington is set on isolating Iran to force it to negotiate stricter limits on its nuclear program and, for the first time, to address calls to curb its ballistic missile program and its role around the conflict-ridden Middle East.

EUROPEAN POWERS IN DILEMMA

Diplomats from several countries on the IAEA board said that while fiery exchanges between the Iranian and U.S. envoys were likely at the meeting at agency headquarters, they did not expect the board to take any concrete action.

While Iran has breached the terms of the deal which the IAEA is policing, the IAEA is not a party to the deal and Iran has not violated the Safeguards Agreement binding it to the agency.

Britain, France and Germany are considering their next move, torn between the urge to show their displeasure at Iran’s breach of the deal and wanting to keep alive a pact that signatories in 2015 touted as vital to preventing wider war in the Middle East.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Tassilo Hummel in Berlin; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Iran makes new nuclear threats that would reverse steps in pact

Abbas Araqchi, Iranian deputy foreign minister for political affairs (R), Behrouz Kamalvandi, Iran's Atomic Energy Organization spokesman (L) and Iran's government spokesman Ali Rabiei attend a news conferenece in Tehran, Iran July 7, 2019. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Tuqa Khalid

GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran threatened on Monday to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity as its next potential big moves away from a 2015 nuclear agreement that Washington abandoned last year.

The threats, made by the spokesman for Tehran’s nuclear agency, would go far beyond the small steps Iran has taken in the past week to nudge its stocks of fissile material just beyond limits in the nuclear pact.

That could raise serious questions about whether the agreement, intended to block Iran from making a nuclear weapon, is still viable.

The two threats would reverse major achievements of the agreement, although Iran omitted important details about how far it might go to returning to the status quo before the pact, when Western experts believed it could build a bomb within months.

In a separate standoff, Iran’s foreign minister accused Britain on Monday of “piracy, pure and simple” for seizing an Iranian oil tanker last week. Britain says the ship was bound for Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, confirmed an announcement that Tehran had enriched uranium beyond the deal’s limit of 3.67% purity, passing 4.5%, according to the student’s news agency ISNA.

That followed an announcement a week ago that it had amassed a greater quantity of low-enriched uranium than permitted.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, said it was still verifying whether Iran had indeed exceeded the 3.67% limit.

Iran has said it will take another, third step away from the deal within 60 days but has so far held back from formally announcing what it plans. Kamalvandi said options included enriching uranium to 20% purity or beyond, and restarting IR-2 M centrifuges that were dismantled as one of the deal’s core aims.

Such threats will put new pressure on European countries, which insist Iran must continue to comply with the agreement even though the United States is no longer doing so.

CENTRIFUGES

Washington has imposed sanctions that eliminate any of the benefits Iran was meant to receive in return for agreeing to curbs on its nuclear program under the 2015 deal with world powers. The confrontation has brought the United States and Iran close to the brink of conflict, with President Donald Trump calling off airstrikes last month minutes before impact.

Enriching uranium up to 20% purity would be a dramatic move since that was the level Iran had achieved before the deal was put in place, although back then it had a far larger stockpile than it is likely to be able to rebuild in the short term.

It is considered an important intermediate stage on the path to obtaining the 90% pure fissile uranium needed to make a bomb.

One of the main achievements of the deal was Iran’s agreement to dismantle its advanced IR-2M centrifuges, used to purify uranium. Iran had 1,000 of them installed at its large enrichment site at Natanz before the deal was reached. Under the deal, it is allowed to operate only up to two for testing.

Still, the threatened measures also appear intended to be sufficiently ambiguous to hold back from fully repudiating the deal. Kamalvandi did not specify how much uranium Iran might purify to the higher level, nor how many centrifuges it would consider restarting. He did not mention other more advanced centrifuges, including the most advanced, the IR-8. Iran has said all the steps it is contemplating are reversible.

‘PIRACY, PURE AND SIMPLE’

Nuclear diplomacy is only one aspect of a wider confrontation between Washington and Tehran that has threatened to spiral into open conflict since the United States sharply tightened sanctions on Iran from the start of May.

Last month, President Donald Trump ordered U.S. airstrikes on Iran, only to call them off minutes before.

Washington’s European allies have been warning that a small mistake on either side could lead to war.

European countries do not directly support the U.S. sanctions but have been unable to come up with ways to allow Iran to avert them.

Britain, one of Washington’s main European allies, was drawn deeper into the confrontation last week when its Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker entering the Mediterranean off the coast of Gibraltar over separate sanctions against Syria.

“Iran is neither a member of the EU nor subject to any European oil embargo. Last I checked, EU was against extraterritoriality. UK’s unlawful seizure of a tanker with Iranian oil on behalf of #B_Team is piracy, pure and simple,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Monday, using ‘B team’ as a derisory term for the Trump administration.

The nuclear agreement guaranteed Iran access to world trade in return for accepting curbs on its nuclear program. Iran says the deal allows it to respond to the U.S. breach by reducing its compliance, and it will do so every 60 days.

“If signatories of the deal, particularly Europeans, fail to fulfill their commitments in a serious way, the third step will be stronger, more decisive and a bit surprising,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Europeans urge Iran to abide by nuclear pact; Israel says preparing military

FILE PHOTO - French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the media ahead of a European Union leaders summit that aims to select candidates for top EU institution jobs, in Brussels, Belgium June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

By John Irish and Parisa Hafezi

PARIS/DUBAI (Reuters) – European signatories to a nuclear pact with Iran said on Tuesday they were “extremely concerned” by Tehran’s apparent breach of the 2015 deal, as Israel said it was preparing for possible involvement in any confrontation between Iran and the United States.

Iran announced this week it has amassed more low-enriched uranium than is permitted under the nuclear pact, a move that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to say Iran was “playing with fire”.

“We regret this decision by Iran, which calls into question an essential instrument of nuclear non-proliferation,” the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain said in a joint statement with the EU’s High Representative on Iran. “We urge Iran to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal,” they said.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased since Trump pulled Washington out of the pact last year and moved to bar all international sales of Iranian oil. Washington also blames Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, something Tehran denies.

The European signatories to the accord have sought to pull back the two longstanding foes from direct confrontation, fearing a mistake could lead to war accidentally.

Israel has encouraged the Trump administration to press ahead with sanctions against its arch-foe Iran, predicting that Tehran will eventually renegotiate a more limiting nuclear deal.

But Foreign Minister Israel Katz told an international security forum that Iran might accidentally stumble out of what he termed the “gray zone” of contained confrontation.

“It should be taken into account that mistaken calculations by the (Iranian) regime … are liable to bring about a shift from the ‘gray zone’ to the ‘red zone’ – that is, a military conflagration,” he said in a speech to the Herzliya Conference.

“We must be prepared for this, and thus the State of Israel continues to devote itself to building up its military might for the event that it will have to respond to escalation scenarios.”

Israel has long threatened to take preemptive military action to deny Iran the means of making nuclear weapons. Tehran says it has no such designs. One of its senior lawmakers warned on Monday that Israel would be destroyed within “only half an hour” should the United States attack Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies that Iran is in violation of the nuclear accord by amassing more low-enriched uranium, saying Iran is exercising its right to respond following the U.S. pullout.

By exceeding the limit, Tehran could prompt the return of all international sanctions on Iran but one European diplomat, asked if Europe would trigger a dispute resolution mechanism that is part of the accord, said:

“Not for now. We want to defuse the crisis.”

A second diplomat said Britain, France and Germany would focus on bringing Iran back into compliance and that they wanted to gain more time for dialogue.

“In the immediate term, Iran must return to its obligations. There is room for dialogue,” a French diplomatic source added.

China, like France a signatory to the deal, said it regretted Iran’s move but urged all parties to exercise restraint and said the U.S. policy of increasing pressure on Iran was the “root cause of the current tensions”.

IRANIAN DEMANDS

The nuclear deal lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear work. It aimed to extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.

Iran’s main demand – in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States – is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels before Washington pulled out of the deal and restored sanctions.

Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day or less in late June, industry sources said, a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.

Iran says it will breach the deal’s nuclear curbs one by one until it is able to sell that amount of oil, saying this is the least it should be able to expect from an accord that offered economic gains in exchange for nuclear restrictions.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported on Monday that the Islamic Republic’s enriched uranium stockpile had passed the 300kg (661 lb) limit allowed under the deal.

“We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to the deal by the abbreviation of its formal title, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani accused Trump of trying to bully Tehran with his remark about playing with fire, and said such language would only made Iran stronger.

Zarif reacted with exasperation to a White House accusation that Tehran had long violated the terms of the deal.

“Seriously?” he said in a one-word message on Twitter, after White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that “there is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.”

Her comment contrasted with CIA Director Gina Haspel&rsquo’s testimony in January to the Senate Intelligence Committee that “at the moment, technically, they are in compliance.”

(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Writing by William Maclean and Alistair Bell; Editing by Jon Boyle and Grant McCool)

Iran says it has breached 2015 nuclear deal’s stockpile limit

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sits for an interview with Reuters in New York, New York, U.S. April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Parisa Hafezi and Francois Murphy

DUBAI/VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has breached the limit of its enriched uranium stockpile set in a 2015 deal with major powers, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday, according to the ISNA news agency, defying a warning by European co-signatories to stick to the deal despite U.S. sanctions.

Zarif confirmed that Iran had exceeded the relevant limit of 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), but Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran’s steps to decrease its commitments to the nuclear deal were “reversible”.

The International Atomic Energy agency (IAEA) said that its inspectors were verifying whether Iran had accumulated more enriched uranium than allowed.

“Our inspectors are on the ground and they will report to headquarters as soon as the LEU (low-enriched uranium) stockpile has been verified, a spokesman for the U.N. agency said.

Enriching uranium to a low level of 3.6% fissile material is the first step in a process that could eventually allow Iran to amass enough highly-enriched uranium to build a nuclear warhead.

Last Wednesday, the IAEA verified that Iran had roughly 200 kg of low-enriched uranium, just below the deal’s 202.8 kg limit, three diplomats who follow the agency’s work told Reuters. A quantity of 300 kg of UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) corresponds to 202.8 kg of LEU.

After talks on Friday in Vienna, Iran said European countries had offered too little in the way of trade assistance to persuade it to back off from its plan to breach the limit, a riposte to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last year to quit the deal and reimpose economic sanctions.

Mousavi urged them on Monday to step up their efforts. “Time is running out for them to save the deal,” state TV quoted him as saying.

The deal between Iran and six world powers lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for restrictions on its nuclear work aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.

ISRAEL WORRIED

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, including generating power. Its regional adversary Israel, which Iran does not recognize, says the program presents it with an existential threat.

Joseph Cohen, head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, urged the international community to stop Iran from “stepping up enrichment”.

“Just imagine what will happen if the material stockpiled by the Iranians becomes fissionable, at military enrichment grade, and then an actual bomb,” he told the Herzliya security conference before Zarif’s announcement.

“The Middle East, and then the entire world, will be a different place. Therefore, the world must not allow this to happen.”

In May, Washington piled pressure on Tehran by ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil, and tensions have been growing in the Gulf ever since.

Washington has dispatched extra forces to the Middle East, and U.S. fighter jets came within minutes of conducting air strikes on Iran last month after Tehran downed an unmanned American drone.

In a speech on Monday broadcast on state TV, Iranian Zarif said: “Iran will never yield to pressure from the United States … If they want to talk to Iran, they should show respect …

“Never threaten an Iranian … Iran has always resisted pressure, and has responded with respect when respected.”

Trump has called for negotiations with Iran with “no preconditions”, but Tehran has ruled out talks until the United States returns to the nuclear pact and drops its sanctions.

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Francois Murphy in Vienna, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Iran says it can produce higher enriched uranium if U.S. exits nuclear deal

FILE PHOTO: Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi attends the lecture "Iran after the agreement: Hopes & Concerns" in Vienna, Austria, September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

ANKARA (Reuters) – Iran has the technical capability to enrich uranium to a higher level than it could before a multinational nuclear deal was reached to curb its nuclear program, state TV quoted the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy organization Ali Akbar Salehi as saying.Middle East, U.S. sanctions,

U.S. President Donald) Trump has given European signatories to the 2105 deal a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” in the agreement, or he will refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

Salehi warned Trump against taking this course. “Iran is not bluffing … Technically, we are fully prepared to enrich uranium higher than we used to produce before the deal was reached… I hope Trump comes to his senses and stays in the deal.”

Under the deal, which led to the lifting of most international sanctions in 2016, Iran’s level of enrichment must remain around 3.6 percent.

Iran stopped producing 20 percent enriched uranium and gave up the majority of its stockpile as part of the agreement with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

Uranium refined to 20 percent fissile purity is well beyond the 5 percent normally required to fuel civilian nuclear power plants, though still well short of highly enriched, or 80-90 percent, purity needed for a nuclear bomb.

Tehran has ruled out any possibility of negotiating over the country’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 and its international role in the Middle East, as demanded by Trump.

Britain, France and Germany back the deal as the best way of stopping Tehran getting nuclear weapons, but have called on Iran to limit its regional influence and curb the missile program.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra and David Stamp)

New Jersey man sentenced for role in Russian uranium bribe scheme

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A New Jersey man was sentenced on Monday to a year and a day in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with his role in arranging bribes for the awarding of contracts with Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Boris Rubizhevsky, 67, of Closter, New Jersey, was sentenced to prison along with three years of supervised release and a $26,500 fine by U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang for the District of Maryland, the department said in a statement.

Rubizhevsky pleaded guilty to the money-laundering conspiracy charge in June 2015. He was accused of acting as an intermediary in connection with bribes to co-conspirator Vadim Mikerin, a former nuclear official of Russia’s state-run enterprise Rosatom, the statement said.

Mikerin, former president of a U.S.-based Rosatom subsidiary, pleaded guilty in 2015 to helping orchestrate more than $2 million in bribe payments through secret accounts in Cyprus, Latvia and Switzerland.

Between October 2011 and February 2013, Rubizhevsky and Mikerin agreed to conceal bribes paid from the United States to overseas bank accounts, including a payment to an account in Latvia, the statement said.

Mikerin was sentenced in December 2015 to 48 months in prison for his role in the money-laundering scheme.

Authorities have said those payments went to Russian nuclear energy officials in exchange for contracts to U.S. companies involved in the shipment of uranium from Russia. Attorneys for Rosatom have said Mikerin acted alone.

Mikerin oversaw the shipment of uranium from Russia for use in American power plants. Much of that material was drawn from decommissioned Russian weapons under an agreement with Washington known as the “Megatons to Megawatts” program, which converted the uranium from thousands of nuclear warheads for civilian use in U.S. nuclear power plants.

At one point, the arrangement fueled 10 percent of U.S. electricity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Daren Condrey, the former owner of Transport Logistics International, pleaded guilty in 2015 to conspiring to make bribe payments to Mikerin in exchange for uranium shipping contracts. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it a crime to bribe overseas officials to win business.

Mikerin’s arrest followed a seven-year investigation that began as a U.S. intelligence probe into Russian nuclear officials, according to court records and people familiar with the matter.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh; Additional reporting by Joel Schectman; Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker)

Iran says can produce highly enriched uranium in days if U.S. quits deal

FILE PHOTO: Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi attends the lecture "Iran after the agreement: Hopes & Concerns" in Vienna, Austria, September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran can resume production of highly enriched uranium within five days if the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015 is revoked, Iran’s atomic chief was quoted by state media as saying on Tuesday.

The deal that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani championed with the United States, Russia, China and three European powers led to the lifting of most sanctions against Tehran in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Rouhani has intensified efforts to protect the deal, also known by its acronym JCPOA, against Washington’s return to an aggressive Iran policy, after U.S. President Donald Trump approved new sanctions on Tehran.

Rouhani warned last week that Iran could abandon the nuclear agreement “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions.

“The president’s warning was not baseless,” Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi said on Tuesday.

“If we decide, we can reach 20 percent (uranium) enrichment within five days in Fordow (underground nuclear plant),” he added.

However, Salehi who was reappointed this month as vice president and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, said his main priority would be to protect the JCPOA.

Following the nuclear deal, Iran drastically reduced the number of centrifuges – machines that enrich uranium – installed at Fordow, and kept just over 1,000 there for research purposes.

The JCPOA states that no enrichment is permitted at Fordow for 15 years.

Uranium enriched to a high level can be used to make an atomic bomb. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on six Iranian firms in late July for their role in the development of a ballistic missile program after Tehran launched a rocket capable of putting a satellite into orbit.

Trump also signed in August a U.S. Senate bill that imposed sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea.

Iran says new U.S. sanctions breach the JCPOA but the United States says they were unrelated to the deal.

During his election campaign Trump called the deal a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated”. This month he said he did not believe Iran was living up to the deal’s spirit.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)