Iran Wants Dialogue, Working To ‘Prevent War’, Says Rouhani

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows the Islamic republic’s President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting in Tehran on January 15, 2020. AFP

 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Friday he wants to avoid war after Tehran and Washington appeared on the brink of direct military confrontation in early January for the second time in less than a year.

Ahead of parliamentary elections on February 21 — predicted to be a challenge for Rouhani’s camp — and amid high tensions between Tehran and the West over Iran’s nuclear programme, the president said dialogue with the world was still “possible”.

“The government is working daily to prevent military confrontation or war,” Rouhani said in a televised speech.

The region seemed on the brink of new conflict earlier in January after the US killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad, prompting Iran to retaliate against US military targets in Iraq with a volley of missiles days later.

The strike caused significant material damage but no casualties, according to the US military.

Rouhani said the strike amounted to “compensation” for the death of Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s Middle East military strategy.

The tensions between the two enemies seemed to subside in the wake of the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger airliner hours after the retaliatory strikes, as Iran was on high alert for US reprisals.

The tragedy killed 176 people, mostly Iranians and Canadians.

Canada’s foreign minister on Thursday vowed to push Iran for answers about the tragedy.

“Families want answers, the international community wants answers, the world is waiting for answers and we will not rest until we get them,” Francois-Philippe Champagne said in London.

Better governance 

Ottawa said earlier that US President Donald Trump’s policies had contributed to the heightened tensions that led to the catastrophe.

In June 2019, Iran and the US had also appeared to be on the brink of direct military confrontation after Tehran shot down a US drone it said had violated its airspace.

Trump said he called off retaliatory strikes at the last minute.

The animosity between Washington and Tehran has increased since Trump withdrew the US from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions.

In Iran, the air disaster sparked outrage and anti-government demonstration took place every day from Saturday to Wednesday.

Concentrated in the capital, they appeared smaller than a wave of national protests in November. Prompted by a fuel price hike, those demonstrations were met with a crackdown that left at least 300 people dead, according to Amnesty International.

Rouhani implicitly acknowledged a crisis of confidence in authorities but looked to regain control on Wednesday, calling for “national unity”, better governance and more pluralism.

On Thursday, Rouhani also defended the policy of openness to the world that he has pursued since his first election in 2013, and which Iran’s ultra-conservatives criticise.

“Of course, it’s difficult,” he acknowledged, but he added, “the people elected us to lower tensions and animosity” between the Islamic republic and the world.

Rouhani said that with the nuclear deal “we have proven in practice that it is possible for us to interact with the world.”

Rouhani was speaking the day before supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is expected to lead the main weekly Muslim prayers in Tehran for the first time since 2012.

Khamenei, who maintains the West is not trustworthy, bans dialogue with Trump.

 ‘High school bully’ 

On Thursday, Rouhani said Iran’s “daily enrichment” of uranium was currently “higher” than before the conclusion of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani, who instigated the negotiations, made the comments while justifying his nuclear policy and Iran’s progressive disengagement from the accord. He also stated his willingness to continue dialogue on the agreement.

In response to the US withdrawal from the deal and sanctions, an increasingly frustrated Iran has hit back with a step-by-step suspension of its own commitments under the deal, which drastically limited its nuclear activities.

On Tuesday, Germany, the UK and France — the three European parties to the deal — announced they triggered a dispute mechanism in response to the latest step back from the deal by Tehran.

But Germany on Thursday confirmed a Washington Post report that the US had threatened to impose a 25 percent tariff on imports of European cars if EU governments continued to back the nuclear deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the European parties of having “sold out” the deal to avoid trade reprisals from the US and said Trump was again behaving like a “high school bully”.

According to a European Union Statement, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Zarif in New Delhi on Thursday and urged Iran to “preserve” the increasingly fragile nuclear deal.

AFP

Iran’s Zarif Accuses Europe Of Violating Nuclear Deal

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a press conference in Tehran.  ATTA KENARE / AFP

 

European powers have violated a 2015 international nuclear deal, Iran’s foreign minister told a conference in India on Wednesday, a day after Britain, France and Germany launched a complaint against Tehran for non-compliance.

The European states initiated a so-called dispute mechanism process, saying Iran had progressively scaled back its commitments under the agreement.

The move, which came at a time of red-hot tensions between Iran and the United States, sparked anger in Tehran and on Wednesday Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif said Europe was being “bullied” by Washington.

“They are not buying oil from us, all of their companies have withdrawn from Iran. So Europe is in violation,” Zarif told a conference in New Delhi, saying the future of the deal now “depends on Europe”.

He added that the European Union “is the largest global economy. So why do you allow the United States to bully you around?”

The accord, which makes it significantly more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons undetected, was struck in Vienna by Iran, the three European nations, the United States, China and Russia.

The agreement allows a party to claim significant non-compliance by another party before a joint commission.

If the issue is not resolved by the commission, it then goes to an advisory board and eventually to the UN Security Council, which could reimpose sanctions that were lifted under the accord.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018. Since then Iran has walked back on its commitments including on processing uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.

Tehran’s latest step in January to forgo the limit on the number of machines used to make uranium more potent prompted the Europeans to trigger the mechanism.

But the three powers said they “once again express our commitment” to the deal and expressed “determination to work with all participants to preserve it.”

Iran’s foreign ministry said in response on Tuesday that “if the Europeans… seek to abuse (this process), they must also be prepared to accept the consequences”.

 ‘Thoughtless’ 

Russia condemned the “thoughtless” European move, warning it risked causing a “new escalation”.

A US State Department spokesperson said Washington fully supported the three countries, adding “further diplomatic and economic pressure is warranted”.

Zarif also said that the US killing on January 3 of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq had served only to strengthen the Islamic State group.

“I think the war against Daesh (ISIS) just suffered a major setback, and Daesh just won a major victory,” he said.

He also implied that the crisis sparked by the killing of Soleimani had contributed to Iran’s accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner on January 8, killing all 176 people on board.

“Why did it happen? Because there was a crisis. People make mistakes, unforgivable mistakes, but it happened in the time of the crisis,” Zarif said.

AFP

Magnitude 4.5 Quake Hits Near Iran Nuclear Power Plant

 

 

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake on Wednesday rattled an area less than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant near the country’s Gulf coast, a US monitor said.

The quake, which had a depth of 10 kilometres, struck 17 kilometres south-southeast of Borazjan city at 6:49 am (0319 GMT), the US Geological Survey said on its website.

State news agency IRNA said the earthquake was felt in Bushehr, site of the country’s sole nuclear power plant.

So far, there were no reports of any deaths or damage, IRNA said, citing Jahangir Dehghani, the head of Bushehr’s crisis management centre.

The latest quake comes exactly a fortnight after a magnitude 5.1 earthquake hit the same area, without causing any casualties or major damage.

The Bushehr plant, which produces 1,000 megawatts of power, was completed by Russia after years of delay and officially handed over in September 2013.

In 2016, Russian and Iranian firms began building two additional 1,000-megawatt reactors at Bushehr. Their construction was expected to take 10 years.

US ‘Prepared For Whatever’ From North Korea, Says Pentagon

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley hold an end of year press conference at the Pentagon on December 20, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

The Pentagon’s top general said Friday the US military is ready for anything from North Korea in the face of Pyongyang’s ominous promise of a “Christmas gift” if Washington does not act to ease tensions.

“Korea is one of those places in the world where we’ve always maintained high levels of readiness,” said General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The US alliance with Japan and South Korea is “rock-solid,” he said.

“I think it’s prepared to defend the interests of the United States, Japan and South Korea at a moment’s notice,” he told reporters.

Milley declined to say whether US and allied forces in the region had stepped up readiness in the face of the possibility that North Korea could test a new nuclear-capable missile in the near future.

“North Korea has indicated a variety of things. And I think you’re aware of all those. So we are prepared for whatever,” he said.

Speaking next to Milley, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US was ready “to fight tonight” if necessary, but stressed the need for diplomacy with North Korea.

“I remain hopeful that we could get the process started again and remain on the diplomatic path,” Esper said.

Pyongyang has shown frustration at the lack of sanctions relief after three summits with President Donald Trump.

Earlier this month it promised a “Christmas gift” if the US does not come up with concessions by the end of the year after it placed a moratorium on long-range missile tests.

US-North Korea negotiator Stephen Biegun — just confirmed to the number two position in the State Department — visited Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing this week for discussions on the regional security situation.

In Seoul, he called Pyongyang’s comments “so hostile and negative and so unnecessary.”

He challenged North Korea to restart discussions.

“It is time for us to do our jobs. Let’s get this done. We are here and you know how to reach us.”

A provocative missile test, he added,  “will be most unhelpful in achieving lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.”

AFP

US ‘Foolish’ For Calling UN Security Meeting, Says North Korea

This picture taken on July 25, 2019 and released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 26 shows a new-type of tactical guided short-range missile being launched at an undisclosed location in North Korea.  KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea’s foreign ministry on Thursday criticised the United States as “foolish” for convening a UN Security Council meeting over growing concern about short-range rockets fired from the isolated state.

Washington on Wednesday used the meeting to warn of consequences for North Korea if it followed through with its promise of an ominous “Christmas gift” in the event that the US does not come up with concessions by the end of the year.

“By arranging the meeting, the U.S. did a foolish thing which will boomerang on it, and decisively helped us make a definite decision on what way to choose,” North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

Trump has met three times with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, but frustrated North Korea is seeking a comprehensive deal that includes sanctions relief.

“The U.S. talks about dialogue, whenever it opens its mouth, but it is too natural that the U.S. has nothing to present before us though dialogue may open,” it added.

North Korea said it has “nothing to lose more and we are ready to take a countermeasure corresponding to anything that the U.S. opts for”.

At the UN Security Council, US ambassador Kelly Craft voiced concern that North Korea was indicating it would test intercontinental ballistic missiles “which are designed to attack the continental United States with nuclear weapons”.

But she said the United States, which used its presidency of the Security Council to convene the meeting, wanted to work towards a deal.

She appeared, however, to rule out meeting North Korea’s demands for an offer in the final weeks of 2019: “Let me be clear: The United States and the Security Council have a goal — not a deadline.”

AFP

Nuclear: ‘Old Man’ Trump Is ‘Bluffing’, Says North Korea

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC.  MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

North Korea on Monday slammed US President Trump for “bluffing” and called him “an old man bereft of patience” as Pyongyang ramps up pressure on Washington over stalled nuclear talks.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un engaged in mutual insults and threats of devastation in 2017, sending tensions soaring before a diplomatic rapprochement the following year.

Pyongyang has set Washington an end-of-year time limit to offer it new concessions in deadlocked nuclear negotiations, and has said it will adopt an unspecified “new way” if nothing acceptable is forthcoming.

Denuclearisation negotiations have been at a standstill since a summit in Hanoi broke up in February.

Trump has indicated that the option of military action was still on the table while downplaying Pyongyang’s actions, saying the North’s leader would not want to “interfere” with the upcoming US presidential elections.

“I’d be surprised if North Korea acted hostiley,” Trump said Saturday.

But Kim Yong Chol, who served as the North’s counterpart to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo until the collapse of the Hanoi meeting, slammed Trump’s “odd words and expression”, referring to him as a “heedless and erratic old man”.

“Our action is for his surprise. So, if he does not get astonished, we will be irritated,” Kim, now the chairman of the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

“This naturally indicates that Trump is an old man bereft of patience,” he said, adding: “From those words and expressions we can read how irritated he is now.”

The official noted that the North Korean leader had not used “any irritating expression towards the US president as yet”, but warned his “understanding” of Trump could change.

“He must understand that his own style bluffing and hypocrisy sound rather abnormal and unrealistic to us,” Kim said. “We have nothing more to lose.”

The North has raised tensions in recent months with a series of assertive statements and multiple weapons tests — including a “very important test” at its key satellite launch site at the weekend — as its negotiating time limit approaches.

Kim’s New Year speech, a key political set-piece in the isolated country, is also due on January 1.

On Thursday, the North’s vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui warned of again referring to Trump as a “dotard” — Pyongyang’s favoured nickname for the US president at the height of tensions in 2017.

Another senior official said last week that what gift the US receives for Christmas will depend entirely on Washington’s actions.

AFP

Trump Warns N-Korea Has ‘Everything’ To lose Through Hostile Acts

US President Donald Trump addresses the Israeli American Council National Summit 2019 at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida on December 7, 2019. Mandel NGAN / AFP

 

 

President Donald Trump warned Sunday that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had “everything” to lose through hostility towards the United States after Pyongyang said it had carried out a major new weapons test.

“Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way,” Trump tweeted in response to the unspecified test at the Sohae space launch center.

The announcement of Saturday’s test came just hours after Trump said he would be “surprised” by any hostile action from the North, emphasizing his “very good relationship” with Kim.

Trump and Kim engaged in months of mutual insults and threats of devastation in 2017, sending tensions soaring before a diplomatic rapprochement the following year.

The pair have met three times since June 2018 but with little progress towards denuclearization. Pyongyang has set Washington a December 31 deadline to make new concessions to kickstart stalled talks.

“North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised,” Trump tweeted. “NATO, China, Russia, Japan, and the entire world is unified on this issue!”

Writing that Kim had “signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement” at their June 2018 summit in Singapore,” Trump warned: “He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November.”

A spokesman for North Korea’s Academy of the National Defense Science said Saturday’s “very important test” would have an “important effect” on changing the “strategic position” of North Korea, in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The statement did not provide further details on the test.

A senior US administration official earlier said Washington had seen reports of a test and was “coordinating closely with allies and partners.”

Trump indicated that military action was still possible when he was asked about Pyongyang on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Britain this week.

North Korea fired back that if the United States used military force it would take “prompt corresponding actions at any level.”

UN diplomats fear that North Korea will resume long-range nuclear or ballistic tests if no progress is made soon in talks with the United States.

Sohae, on North Korea’s northwest coast, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit.

But Pyongyang has carried out several rocket launches there that were condemned by the US and others as disguised long-range ballistic missile tests.

Following the Singapore summit, Trump said Kim had agreed to destroy “a major missile engine testing site” without naming the facility.

Kim then agreed to shutter the Sohae site during a summit last year with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang as part of trust-building measures.

Nuclear: North Korea Warns Trump Of Retaliatory Attack

Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS

 

North Korea on Wednesday warned that if the United States used military force against Pyongyang it would take “prompt corresponding actions at any level”, in response to comments by US President Donald Trump. 

Denuclearisation negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been deadlocked since a summit in Hanoi broke up in February, and the renewed threats come as a deadline set by Pyongyang for fresh concessions approaches.

Trump on Tuesday indicated that military action was still possible when he was asked about North Korea on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Britain on Tuesday.

“He definitely likes sending rockets up, doesn’t he? That’s why I call him ‘Rocket Man’,” Trump said of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We have the most powerful military we’ve ever had, and we’re by far the most powerful country in the world. And, hopefully, we don’t have to use it, but if we do, we’ll use it. If we have to, we’ll do it,” Trump added.

Responding on Wednesday Pak Jong Chon, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said he was “greatly disappointed” by Trump’s comments, the official KCNA news agency said.

He added that “the use of armed forces is not the privilege of the US only”.

“If the US uses any armed forces against the DPRK, we will also take prompt corresponding actions at any level,” he added, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

North Korea has demanded the US offer it fresh concessions by the end of the year — ahead of Kim’s New Year speech on January 1, a key political set-piece in the isolated country.

Pyongyang has also issued a series of increasingly assertive comments in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, KCNA quoted Vice Foreign Minister Ri Thae Song as saying: “What gift the US receives for Christmas depends entirely on the US’ decision.”

AFP

Pope Slams Nuclear Deterrent, ‘Unspeakable Horror’ Of Nagasaki

Pope Francis attends a ceremony at the Peace Memorial Park during his visit to the Japanese city of Hiroshima on November 24, 2019. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

 

Pope Francis Sunday railed against atomic weapons, the nuclear deterrent, and the growing arms trade, as he paid tribute to the victims of the “unspeakable horror” of the Nagasaki bomb.

In a highly symbolic visit to the Japanese city devastated by the nuclear attack in August 1945, Francis said nuclear weapons were “not the answer” to a desire for security, peace, and stability.

“Indeed they seem always to thwart it,” he said.

At least 74,000 people died from the atomic bomb unleashed on the city in western Japan — just three days after the world’s first nuclear attack hit Hiroshima and killed at least 140,000.

“This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another,” said the sombre pontiff on the first full day of his Japan trip.

Hundreds of people in white waterproofs sat in torrential rain to hear the pope’s speech, next to the emblematic photo of a young boy carrying his dead baby brother on his back in the aftermath of the attack.

He laid a wreath of white flowers and prayed silently, unprotected from the lashing downpour.

‘Die like a human’

Francis took aim at what he called the “perverse dichotomy” of nuclear deterrence, saying that peace is incompatible with the “fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation.”

This marked a break with past pontiffs — in a 1982 UN speech, Pope John Paul II had described nuclear deterrence as a necessary evil.

The 82-year-old Francis also hit out at the “money that is squandered and the fortune made” in the arms trade, describing it as an “affront crying out to Heaven” in a world where “millions of children are living in inhumane conditions.”

Later Sunday, Francis will visit Hiroshima and meet survivors of the atomic attack, known in Japanese as hibakusha, at the world-famous Peace Memorial in the city synonymous with the horror of nuclear war.

Two survivors of Nagasaki, 89-year-old Shigemi Fukahori and 85-year-old Sakue Shimohira, handed the wreath to the pope.

Fukahori, a Catholic, has prayed every day for those killed and their bereaved families.

“My heart is just full of overflowing feelings,” he said. “Just meeting him is enough. I’m so glad and speechless.”

Shimohira, who was 10 at the time of the attack, conveyed the terror of the bomb.

“My mother and older sister were killed, charred. Even if you survived, you couldn’t live like a human or die like a human… It’s the horror of nuclear weapons,” she said.

At a Mass at a baseball stadium in Nagasaki with worshippers now shielding their eyes from the sun, Francis said the city “bears in its soul a wound difficult to heal” and warned that “a third World War is being waged piecemeal.”

‘Fondness and affection’

The Argentine pontiff is fulfilling a long-held ambition to preach in Japan — a country he wanted to visit as a young missionary.

“Ever since I was young I have felt a fondness and affection for these lands,” said Francis when he arrived in Japan.

Like in Thailand, the first leg of his Asian tour, Catholicism is a minority religion in Japan.

Most people follow a mix of Shinto and Buddhism, with only an estimated 440,000 Catholics in the country.

Christians in Japan suffered centuries of repression, being tortured to recant their faith, and Francis paid tribute to the martyrs who died for their religion.

Alongside its nuclear history, Nagasaki is also a key city in Christian history where so-called “Hidden Christians” were discovered after keeping the faith alive in secret for 200 years while Japan was closed to the world.

The pope said in Nagasaki that as a “young Jesuit from the ‘ends of the earth'” he had found “powerful inspiration in the story of the early missionaries and the Japanese martyrs.”

Francis returns to Tokyo on Sunday night where he will on Monday meet victims of Japan’s “triple disaster” — the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.

He is also scheduled to deliver a Mass at a Tokyo baseball stadium, meet Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito and hold talks with Japanese government officials and local Catholic leaders.

Iran Resumes Uranium Enrichment At Fordow Plant In New Stepback From Deal

 

Iran resumed uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow plant south of Tehran on Thursday in a new step back from its commitments under a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

Engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into the plant’s mothballed enrichment centrifuges in “the first minutes of Thursday”, the statement said.

The suspension of uranium enrichment at the long secret plant was one of the restrictions Iran had agreed to on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of UN sanctions.

Iran’s announcement on Wednesday that it would resume enrichment at the Fordow plant from midnight (2030 GMT) had drawn a chorus of concern from the remaining parties to the troubled agreement.

Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have been trying to salvage the hard-won deal since Washington abandoned it in May last year and reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions.

They say Iran’s phased suspension of its obligations under the deal since May makes that more difficult.

The resumption of enrichment at Fordow is Iran’s fourth move away from the deal.

Uranium enrichment is the sensitive process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but also, in highly extended form, the fissile core for a warhead.

Iran has always denied any military dimension to its nuclear programme.

It has been at pains to emphasise that all of the steps it has taken are transparent and swiftly reversible if the remaining parties to the agreement find a way to get round US sanctions.

“All these activities have been carried out under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” the Iranian nuclear organisation said.

A source close to the UN watchdog told AFP that it has inspectors on the ground in Fordow and would report “very rapidly” on the steps taken by Iran.

Iran’s latest move comes after the passing of a deadline it set for the remaining parties to the nuclear agreement to come up with a mechanism that would allow foreign firms to continue doing business with Iran without incurring US penalties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern about Tehran’s announcements but said European powers should do their part.

“They are demanding that Iran fulfil all (obligations) without exception but are not giving anything in return,” he told reporters in Moscow.

The Kremlin has previously called sanctions against Iran “unprecedented and illegal”.

European concern

French President Emmanuel Macron said Iran had made “grave” decisions and its resumption of uranium enrichment was a “profound change” from Tehran’s previous position.

“I will have discussions in the coming days, including with the Iranians, and we must collectively draw the consequences,” Macron said during a trip to Beijing.

The next few weeks will be dedicated to increasing pressure on Iran to return within the framework of the pact, the French president said, adding that this must be “accompanied by an easing of some sanctions”.

“A return to normal can only take place if the United States and Iran agree to reopen a sort of trust agenda” and dialogue, Macron said, adding that he would discuss the issue with Trump.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain remained committed to a negotiated way forward but demanded that Iran abide by its obligations.

“We want to find a way forward through constructive international dialogue but Iran needs to stand by the commitments it made and urgently return to full compliance,” he said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Iran must roll back its decision to resume uranium enrichment, calling Tehran’s action “unacceptable”.

“We call on Iran to reverse all steps taken since July and return to full compliance with its commitments,” Maas told reporters in Berlin.

“Our aim is to maintain the nuclear agreement,” he said. “We have always fully implemented our commitments and Iran must now urgently relent in order to ease tensions.”

North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Ahead Of Nuclear Talks

People watch a television news screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on October 2, 2019.  Jung Yeon-je / AFP

 

North Korea fired what appeared to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile, Seoul said Wednesday, just days before Washington and Pyongyang were set to resume long-stalled nuclear talks.

Pyongyang frequently couples diplomatic overtures with military moves, as a way of maintaining pressure on negotiating partners, analysts say, and may believe this weapons system gives it added leverage.

The United States voiced alarm, with a State Department spokesperson calling on North Korea “to refrain from provocations” and “remain engaged in substantive and sustained negotiations” aimed at bringing stability and denuclearisation.

A proven submarine-based missile capability would take the North’s arsenal to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and a second-strike capability in the event of an attack on its military bases.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected a ballistic missile early Wednesday fired in an easterly direction from the sea, northeast of the North Korean port of Wonsan.

The missile was “believed to be one of the Pukkuksong models”, the JCS said in a statement, referring to a line of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) under development by the North.

Launches like this “are not helpful to efforts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and we urge North Korea again to stop immediately,” it added.

The North carried out a successful test of the solid-fuel Pukkuksong-1, also known as KN-11, in August 2016 which flew around 500 kilometres.

In July, North Korean state media had published pictures of Kim Jong Un inspecting a new type of submarine, fuelling concerns that Pyongyang was pushing ahead with an SLBM programme.

Analysts say the missile is believed to have been fired at a lofted angle, adding it is likely an intermediate-range ballistic missile with an actual flight range of around 2,000 kilometres.

Vipin Narang, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, drew a line between a recent series of launches by Pyongyang and Wednesday’s test, calling it “an explicitly nuclear weapons system”.

A part of the missile landed in waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone — a 200-kilometre band around Japanese territory — Tokyo said.

“The launching of ballistic missiles violates UN Security Council resolutions and we strongly protest and strongly condemn it,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.

The North is banned from ballistic missile launches under UN Security Council resolutions.

 ‘Negotiating position’ 

The launch came a day after the North’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said Pyongyang had agreed to hold working-level talks with Washington later this week.

The two sides will have “preliminary contact” on Friday and hold negotiations the following day, Choe said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus later confirmed the talks, which she said would happen “within the next week”.

“It seems North Korea wants to make its negotiating position quite clear before talks even begin,” Harry Kazianis of the Center for the National Interest in Washington said after Wednesday’s launch.

“Pyongyang seems set to push Washington to back off from past demands of full denuclearisation for what are only promises of sanctions relief,” he added.

It is not the first time the North has followed up an offer of talks with a weapons test.

Pyongyang tested what it called a “super-large” rocket launcher last month just hours after Choe released a statement saying that the North was willing to resume working-level talks with Washington.

Negotiations between the two have been deadlocked since a second summit between the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in February ended without a deal.

The two agreed to restart dialogue during an impromptu meeting at the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas in June, but the North’s anger at a US refusal to cancel joint military drills with South Korea put the process on hold.

Pyongyang also carried out several weapons tests since the meeting that have been downplayed by Trump, who dismissed them as “small” and insisted his personal ties with Kim remained good.

Relations thawed last month after Trump fired his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, who Pyongyang had repeatedly denounced as a warmonger.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China, North Korea’s main ally, said that the United States needed to ease its pressure campaign on Pyongyang.

Speaking to reporters, Wang said that North Korea has “taken a series of positive measures” and that the United States should “meet halfway and make a positive response.”

Iran Uses Advanced Centrifuges In New Nuclear Deal Breach – IAEA

(FILES) A file photo taken on October 26, 2010 shows the inside of reactor at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, 1200 Kms south of Tehran.  HAMED MALEKPOUR / FARS NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

 

Iran has started using advanced models of centrifuges to enrich uranium, the UN’s nuclear watchdog said Thursday, in a new breach of the faltering 2015 deal with world powers.

Advanced centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz facility “were accumulating, or had been prepared to accumulate, enriched uranium”, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report seen by AFP.

Under the 2015 deal with world powers that puts curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, Tehran is only meant to enrich uranium using less efficient IR-1 centrifuges.

The landmark deal has been in jeopardy since May last year when President Donald Trump withdrew the US from it and reimposed sanctions.

The remaining parties to the deal with Iran — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have tried to salvage the accord, but Tehran has repeatedly accused Europe of not doing enough.

AFP