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Iran produces uranium metal, UN watchdog says

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(Last Updated On: February 11, 2021)

Iran has carried out its plan to produce uranium metal, a UN atomic watchdog confirmed on Wednesday, Reuters reported. 

This comes despite Western powers having warned Iran that production of the metal would breach their 2015 nuclear deal as uranium metal can be used to make the core of an atom bomb.

Iran began breaching its nuclear deal with major powers step by step in 2019 in response to US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal the previous year and Washington’s reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.

According to Reuters, Iran has in recent months accelerated those breaches of the deal’s restrictions on its atomic activities, potentially complicating efforts to bring the United States back into the deal under President Joe Biden.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in December that Iran planned to produce uranium metal fuel for a research reactor.

“Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi today informed IAEA Member States about recent developments regarding Iran’s R&D activities on uranium metal production as part of its stated aim to produce fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor,” the IAEA said in a statement.

Wednesday’s report, seen by Reuters, and a previous one said that Iran planned to carry out research on uranium metal using natural uranium before moving on to uranium metal enriched to 20 percent the level it is enriching uranium to now, short of the 90 percent that is weapons grade.

“The Agency on 8 February verified 3.6 gram of uranium metal at Iran’s Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant (FPFP) in Esfahan,” the IAEA statement added.

France, Britain and Germany, all parties to the deal, last month said they were “deeply concerned” and that Iran’s uranium metal production had no civilian credibility but potentially serious military implications.

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Iran rejects EU offer to host direct nuclear talks with US

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(Last Updated On: March 1, 2021)

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Sunday evening that “given the recent stances and measures taken by the US and three European countries, Iran does not consider the time appropriate for an informal meeting proposed by the European Coordinator of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action),” Iran’s state media outlet IRNA reported.

Khatibzadeh said no changes are visible in the US stance and behavior and that US President Joe Biden’s administration is still following the same “failed maximum pressure policy of the former president Donald Trump”.

The implementation of the commitments of all parties to the JCPOA is not a matter of negotiations and all negotiations were conducted five years ago, IRNA quoted him as saying.

According to IRNA, he said: “Iran will respond with action and react to hostile actions and behavior in the same way as it returns to its JCPOA obligations in accordance with the lifting of sanctions.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington had said it would attend the talks, which the EU had hoped to host in the coming days.

However, the Biden administration had refused to provide sanctions relief before face-to-face negotiations with Iran had taken place, the report read.

Diplomats reportedly told The Wall Street Journal that Iran’s rejection didn’t kill off all hopes of direct negotiations in coming months and that Tehran’s move might be an attempt to gain leverage in future talks.

The US patience with Iran on returning to discussions over the 2015 nuclear deal is “not unlimited,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday.

“Our patience is not unlimited, but we do believe, and the president has been clear on this … that the most effective way to ensure Iran could never acquire a nuclear weapon was through diplomacy,” Price said.

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Arrival of ‘sticky bombs’ in Indian Kashmir sets off alarm bells

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(Last Updated On: February 28, 2021)

Security forces battling a decades-long insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir have raised concerns about the recent arrival in the disputed region of small, magnetic bombs that have wreaked havoc in Afghanistan.

“Sticky bombs”, which can be attached to vehicles and detonated remotely, have been seized during raids in recent months in the federally administered region of Jammu and Kashmir, three senior security officials told Reuters.

“These are small IEDs and quite powerful,” said Kashmir Valley police chief Vijay Kumar, referring to improvised explosive devices (IEDs). 

“It will certainly impact the present security scenario as volume and frequency of vehicular movements of police and security forces are high in Kashmir Valley,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

The Indian government flooded Kashmir, already one of the world’s most militarised regions, with more troops in August 2019, when it split the country’s only Muslim-majority state into two federally administered territories.

According to Reuters, the arrival of the sticky bombs in India-controlled Kashmir – including 15 seized in a February raid – raises concerns that an unnerving tactic attributed to the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan could be spreading to the India-Pakistan conflict.

Afghanistan in recent months has seen a series of sticky-bomb attacks targeting security forces, judges, government officials, civil society activists and journalists. The attacks – some as victims sat in traffic – have sown fear, while avoiding substantial civilian casualties.

Reuters reported that none of the devices seized in Kashmir was produced there, a senior security official said, suggesting they were being smuggled from Pakistan. “All of them have come via drone drops and tunnels,” he said.

Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan, which each claim all of the Himalayan region but rule only parts of it.

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US officially rejoins Paris climate pact

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2021)

The United States officially rejoined the Paris climate agreement on Friday.

The US State Department said in a statement on Friday that President Joe Biden signed the instrument to bring the United States back into the Paris Agreement on January 20. 

Nearly 200 countries across the world have adopted the Paris pact, the landmark international accord to limit global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the US State Department, the Paris Agreement’s purpose is “both simple and expansive: to help us all avoid catastrophic planetary warming and to build resilience around the world to the impacts from climate change we already see.”

“Now, as momentous as our joining the Agreement was in 2016 — and as momentous as our rejoining is today — what we do in the coming weeks, months, and years is even more important,” the statement said.

“Climate change and science diplomacy can never again be “add-ons” in our foreign policy discussions. Addressing the real threats from climate change and listening to our scientists is at the center of our domestic and foreign policy priorities,” the statement read. 

“It is vital in our discussions of national security, migration, international health efforts, and in our economic diplomacy and trade talks.”

“We are reengaging the world on all fronts, including at the President’s April 22nd Leaders’ Climate Summit. And further out, we very much looking forward to working with the United Kingdom and other nations around the world to make COP26 a success,” the statement concluded.

Former US President Donald Trump in 2017 announced his intention to withdraw the US from the treaty and officially notified the United Nations in 2019.

The US officially left the agreement on November 4, 2020.

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