UN Watchdog Confirms That Iran Is Building Underground Nuclear Site | Iran International

UN Watchdog Confirms That Iran Is Building Underground Nuclear Site


AP - The Secretary-General of UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy confirmed that Iran has started building an underground centrifuge assembly plant after the explosion that destroyed the Natanz nuclear site.

Rafael Grossi also stated that Iran continues to stockpile greater amount of low-grade enriched uranium, which does not appear to be enough to produce a weapon.

Following the July explosion at the Natanz nuclear site, Tehran said it would build a new, more secure, structure in the mountains around the area. Satellite pictures of Natanz analyzed by experts have yet to show any obvious signs of construction at the site in Iran's central Isfahan province.

“They have started, but it’s not completed,” Grossi said. “It’s a long process.”

He would not give further details, saying it’s “confidential information.” Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear department, last month told state television the destroyed above-ground facility was being replaced with one “in the heart of the mountains around Natanz.”

Natanz hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. In its long underground halls, centrifuges rapidly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium.

Meanwhile, Iran has been steadily exceeding the deal's limits on how much uranium it can stockpile, the purity to which it can enrich uranium and other restrictions to pressure those countries to come up with a plan to offset U.S. sanctions.

Even Under Sanctions 30 percent of Medicine Comes From US: Chairman Of Iran's Medicine Importers Union

The chairman of the medicine importers union denied any problems with money transfer for importing coronavirus vaccine during sanctions, and said even under sanctions, 30 percent of Iran’s imported medicine comes from the US.

Chairman Naser Riahi told the official ISNA news: “Currently 30 percent of the medicine that enters Iran each month comes from the US, and we must note that sanctions will not include vaccines either.”

Regarding the coronavirus vaccine, he said vaccines from the American companies Pfizer and Moderna will arrive in Iran. According to the reports, the two companies have announced a 95 percent success rate for their vaccines and have received permission for mass production.

However, Riahi believes Iranians will not receive the vaccine before the Persian new year in March.

Referring to the Iranian airlines announcing their readiness to import coronavirus vaccine, Riahi said: “Maybe import conditions have changed and we have not received any information about it.”

The chairman of the union emphasized that issues like sanctions or the transfer of money create no obstacles in the import of vaccines.

“During this time of sanctions and money shortage of the Central Bank, we import 100 million Euros of medicine and medical raw material each month, and if we add equipment, it reaches around 150 million Euros a month,” he added. “We won’t have any problem putting up the money for the vaccine, of course, it would be better if we could barter the cost of the vaccine with our frozen money.”

His comments come at a time that many high-ranking Islamic Republic officials and many in the western media claim that the shortage of medicine in the country, including the recent insulin shortage, is due to the problems with the transfer of money due to sanctions.

Doctor Transferred For Execution In Iran, Call For Action To Save Him

The wife of an Iranian-Swedish medical doctor, Ahmad-Reza Djalali (Jalali), said on Tuesday [December 1] that Djajali’s lawyer had been informed of his transfer to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj in preparation for his execution.

Vida Mehrannia told Iran Human Rights that her husband would be transferred on Tuesday afternoon to Rajai Shahr, where executions are routinely carried out. Djalali, 49, was detained in 2016 and later sentenced to death for alleged espionage.  

A world-renowned emergency-medicine and disaster specialist, and lecturer at Karolinska University in Sweden, Djalali was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents while visiting Iran on the invitation of the University of Tehran and Shiraz University. The father of two young children was initially charged with “collaborating with hostile states” and later convicted of “enmity against God through espionage for Israel” by the Revolutionary Court of Tehran. He was sentenced to death on October 21, 2017.

Mahmoud Amiri-Moghadam, Director of Iran Human Rights, on Tuesday said Djalali was in imminent danger of execution and that his life might be saved only if the international community showed a strong and urgent reaction. A social-media campaign has been underway with the hashtag #FreeAhmadreza.

On November 25 United Nations rapporteurs issued a statement pleading for a stay of execution. “We are horrified by the reports that Mr. Djalali is soon to be executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran,” it read. “His torture, arbitrary detention, death sentence and now reported imminent execution are unconscionable acts that should be condemned by the international community in the strongest terms.”

Iranian state television (IRIB) aired a video of Djalali supposedly confessing, but the doctor subsequently released an audio message from prison alleging he had been coerced.

Journalist Arrested For ‘Spreading Lies’ About Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

Iranian media on Tuesday reported that Mehdi Mahmoudian, a prominent reformist journalist and political activist who had been summoned by the judiciary, was arrested due to his failure to present a ‘guarantor’ who would promise he would not abscond if left at liberty.

In a Twitter post on Monday, Mahmoudian had published an image of a letter summoning him to the office of the Culture and Media Prosecutor to answer a charge of “spreading lies with intention of disturbing the public’s mind,” brought against him by the Legal and Parliamentary Bureau of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

The case goes back at least to July, when Mahmoudian in a series of tweets said the IRGC had filed a complaint against him over his disclosure that the Guards and the Intelligence Ministry were prosecuting five managers and journalists in the official news agency (IRNA) for publishing an interview on May 30 with Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, the Coordinating Deputy of Iran’s regular Army (Artesh). The following day an IRGC spokesman denounced Mahmoudian’s claims as “fake news” that was aimed at “affecting the unity of the Army and the Revolutionary Guards.”

In the IRNA interview, which disappeared from the IRNA website a few hours after publication, Sayyari had implicitly criticized the Revolutionary Guards for their role in the country’s political and economic affairs. He also expressed dismay at the state media for ignoring the achievements of the Army while constantly praising the IRGC.

Mahmoudian is no stranger to prison. His journalism has included documenting allegations of rape and abuse of detainees at the Kahrizak Detention Center, which was closed in 2009.


Saudi Arabia Condemns Killing Of Iran Nuclear Official As ‘Act of Terror’

Abdallah al-Mouallimi, the permanent representative of Saudi Arabia at the United Nations, has in a short video message condemned Friday’s assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian nuclear official, which many believe was planned by Israel.

Saudi Arabia “does not accept terror acts and every Muslim scientist who is attacked, is a loss for the whole Muslim world,” al-Mouallimi told RT Arabic on Tuesday.

Iran has called on other countries and international organizations to condemn the killing. The European Union has said it was incompatible with the EU’s commitment to human rights.

While Saudi Arabia’s ally, the United Arab Emirates, had condemned the attack, Riyadh had been silent. Al-Mouallimi’s remarks are the first Saudi statement on Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

The Saudi diplomat’s condemnation of the assassination, however, did not temper his criticism of Iran. Al-Mouallimi said the Islamic Republic was responsible for “launching missiles” and supporting “troublemakers and terrorism.” He also dismissed last year’s Iranian proposal for a non-aggression pact. “We do not believe in these kinds of plans and promises,” he insisted, citing Saddam Hussein making a similar proposal weeks before invading Kuwait in 1990.

Saudi Arabia, other Persian Gulf Sunni-led states, and Western countries all accused Iran of being responsible for a destructive drone and missile attack on Saudi oil installations in September 2019. Relations between Riyadh and Tehran have worsened since January 2016 when protestors attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, prompting Riyadh to cut off diplomatic relations.

Al-Mouallimi repeated earlier Saudi denials of a secret meeting in late November between  Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Iran Speaker Asks International Organizations To Condemn Killing Of Nuclear Official

The Speaker of Iran’s parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in letters to international organizations following the assassination of a top nuclear official has insisted that Iran has the right to retaliate against acts of “organized terrorism”.

It is not clear which international organizations were the recipients of Ghalibaf’s message, which also asks for the condemnation of Mohesn Fakhrizadeh’s killing, who was a top manager and operative in the secret aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, as well as high-tech military projects.

However, Ghalibaf in his letter does not mention Fakhrizadeh’s role in the nuclear program. Instead, the speaker repeats a claim made earlier in state-controlled media that Fakhrizadeh played an important role in the scientific effort to develop an Iranian coronavirus test kit and vaccine, and “in international efforts” to control Covid-19.

Iranian officials have accused Israel and the United States for the targeted killing, vowing revenge at a time of their own choosing. Although some Islamic Republic sources have claimed to have evidence of an Israeli plot, they have not produced any. Ghalibaf does not accuse any country in his letter.

The brazen operation last Friday in which attackers ambushed Fakhrizadeh convoy north of the capital Tehran, has come as a shock for the Islamic Republic and its multiple intelligence agencies that have always spoken of their omnipotence to the local audience. This year there have been multiple incidents of mysterious explosions in sensitive installations in Iran thought to be directed from abroad. In July, an explosion ripped through a building at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

Iran Has Nothing To Gain From Halting Inspections: UN Nuclear Watchdog

Iran has nothing to gain from ending inspection of nuclear facilities, said the head of UN nuclear watchdog IAEA in response to the calls by Iranian members of parliament to end nuclear inspections after the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear official last Friday.

The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi said: “We understand the distress but at the same time it is clear that no-one, starting with Iran, would have anything to win from a decrease, limitation, or interruption of the work we do together with them."

“It is essential to give the world the necessary and credible assurances that there is no deviation from the nuclear program to military uses,” Grossi added.

Iran's parliament on Sunday decided tp consider a bill halting IAEA inspections of nuclear sites in the country, signaling another potential retreat from a key commitment in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

“This is not the first time that parliamentarians have expressed themselves in this way or in very similar ways," Grossi pointed out.

According to Grossi, the IAEA has not received any signal from Iranian officials that would indicate a change in inspections of nuclear facilities after the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

"We haven't received any indication of restriction or limitation of their cooperation with us," he said. "I do not see any reason to believe that this would be the case now."

Regarding the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, Grossi said: "Let me say that we abhor violence of any type, we are an international organization for peace and security.”


Iran's Representative In Vienna: We Reserve The Right To Respond To Assassination

In response to the assassination of the high-ranking IRGC member and head of Iran’s nuclear defense, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Vienna said Iran reserves its "essential right to take all the necessary actions in response to this terrorist attack.”

According to the Islamic Republic’s Fars news agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi said in a letter to the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Ghada Fathi Waly, that Iran will take “necessary action in response to the terrorist attack” and asked him to “unconditionally condemn this terrorist act in accordance with its efforts to eliminate terrorism.”

Gharib Abadi accused Israel of being involved in the assassination and wrote: “Obvious evidence shows the involvement of the Zionist regime in this terrorist attack.”

Previously, Iran’s ambassador to the UN Majid Takht-Ravanchi also in a letter to the secretary-general of the UN claimed Israel and the US were involved in the assassination.

Several countries in the Middle East have condemned the assassination of Fakhrizadeh. 

“The UAE condemns assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and (calls) on all parties to exercise self-restraint to avoid dragging the region into new levels of instability and threat to peace," the Twitter account of the UAE foreign ministry wrote.

Kingdoms of Bahrain and Jordan also condemned the assassination, with the foreign ministry of Bahrain calling on “all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid the region drifting to new levels of instability and threatening peace."


Artists In Iran Told To ‘React Appropriately’ To Nuclear Official’s Killing

Ershad, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, has sent a message to several Iranian artists warning them not to remain silent regarding Friday’s assassination of top nuclear official Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, sources have told Iran International Television.

In the message, the security department of the Islamic Republic’s cultural watchdog told film, theater, music and cultural personalities that reacting “appropriately” to Fakhrizadeh’s death was their “human and national duty.” The message suggested that some artists who often “intervene” in issues “not related to their profession” had adopted a “deadly silence in this matter.”

Writers, actors and other cultural personalities have on occasion spoken out against human rights violations by the authorities or in defense of freedom of speech. Many have been prosecuted and jailed for signing petitions or writing open letters.

The Ershad message warned artists and cultural figures that remaining silent would lead “to fundamental criticisms” against them. Since the assassination, media outlets controlled by the government, Islamic foundations and security organs have all criticized cultural personalities for being silent about Fakhrizadeh’s assassination near Tehran. Some officials appear to have been flabbergasted by the killing, responding in often contradictory and incoherent ways – while the top security official claimed security forces had known in advance of the plot.

Tasnim news agency, which is close to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), published a condolence letter from some artists but also noted that the social media pages of many celebrities contained more views about the passing of footballer Diego Maradona than about Fakhrizadeh.

All Iranian government ministries and institutions have security departments that deal with political issues, including the ideological orientation of employees. Ershad plays a leading role in book, film and music censorship.

Dozens Arrested In Tehran For Anti-Government Graffiti

Information acquired by Iran International TV indicates that in the past two months Iranian security forces have arrested at least 40 people in Tehran for anti-government graffiti.

In the past three years there have been widespread anti-government protests across the country, including the bloody protests of November 2019. Anti-government graffiti, particularly against the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards, has become more frequent. Social media over the past two months has seen many photos of graffiti about the November protests and their victims, vowing revenge, including calls for ‘Death to Khamenei.’

An informed source told Iran International TV that most of those arrested for such graffiti are aged between 20 and 40. The source added that detainees had not been allowed legal representation and that their families had been threatened to ensure their silence over the arrest.

Some detainees have been forced to make “confessions” and at least two of the young people have been coerced into saying they did the graffiti under the influence of drugs, sources in Iran say. The Iranian security forces often favor dissidents making televised confessions, either implicating themselves or others.

Hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested by security forces during the November 2019 protests.

Iran has not announced figures for deaths or arrests, but Amnesty International has reported the killing of at least 304 protesters, including at least 23 minors. Reuters on December 23, 2019 said three sources close to Khamenei’s inner circle had confirmed he had grown impatient and ordered officials to stop the protests. According to Reuters about 1,500 people were killed in the two weeks after November 15.

As Top Iran Official Buried, Calls For 'Punishment' Of Those Responsible

Speaking at a funeral ceremony for Iran’s slain nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on Monday, the Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier-General Amir Hatami said the culprits would be pursued “to the end.” In a short message read on his behalf, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for serious efforts to track down “those who ordered and carried out” the assassination and for “definite punishment.”

The ceremony was held at the Ministry of Defense, before Fakhrizadeh was taken for burial at Emamzadeh Saleh cemetery, Tajrish, north Tehran.

Hatami thanked the “nations and governments” that had condemned the killing and warned governments and international organizations that had failed to do so that “terrorism” would “catch up” with them if they continued to display “double-standards.” The European Union on Saturday condemned Fakhrizadeh’s killing as a “criminal act…counter to the principle of respect for human rights the EU stands for” and extended condolences to the family.

Monday’s ceremony was attended by the Revolutionary Guard Commander-in-Chief Major-General Hossein Salami, the regular Army Commander Major-General Abdolrahim Mousavi, Revolutionary Guards Qods Force Commander Brigadier-General Esmail Ghaani (Qaani), and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi.

Fakhrizadeh was assassinated on Friday in Absard, a resort town in the Damavand area east of Tehran. Several Iranian officials including President Hassan Rouhani have pointed fingers at Israel and the United States over the killing.

No official report about the details has been released. The Iranian media have offered at least four contradictory accounts, including one claiming there were no assailants at the scene and that remote-controlled machine guns were used. Another account claimed at least 12 were involved in the ambush.

The media and some officials have also blamed “intelligence gaps” and “infiltration” in Iran’s intelligence bodies for Fakhrizadeh’s death.

Russia Urges Iran To Avoid ‘Emotions’ In Reaction To Scientist’s Killing

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, has cautioned Iranian lawmakers not to rush to cancel cooperation with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), based on “emotions’ triggered by the assassination of a top nuclear official.

An overwhelming majority in the Iranian parliament voted Sunday to review a bill that would halt implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treat (NPT), after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a senior manager and scientist in the country’s nuclear program was assassinated November 27.

“Such reaction is understandable, but emotions aren’t always helpful,” Ulyanov tweeted on Sunday. “Observers note that, probably, the assassination was aimed at undermining #JCPOA and cooperation with #IAEA.” Russia is among world powers that signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement.

Many analysts have suggested that if Israel is behind the killing, its aim was to lure Iran into retaliation, thereby dashing chances of negotiations among world powers to revive the JCPOA. US President-elect Joe Biden has said he will rejoin the JCPOA once in office. President Donald Trump called the agreement inadequate and withdrew the US in May 2018, imposing draconian sanctions on Iran.

Iran still allows the IAEA to conduct regular inspections of its nuclear facilities according to understandings reached when JCPOA was signed, despite having reduced other commitments set by the agreement. Russia as a signatory has urged the revival of the agreement and is wary of Iranian actions that could harm prospects for dialogue.