Wednesday 26 June 2019

Iran hits back over Trump threat with nuke warning

Geared up: US forces conduct operations in the Arabian Sea. Photo: US Navy/Handout via Reuters
Geared up: US forces conduct operations in the Arabian Sea. Photo: US Navy/Handout via Reuters

Mark Heinrich

TEHRAN responded to Donald Trump's threat to "end Iran" by announcing the quadrupling of production of low-grade uranium.

Iran also asked the US president to address the country with "respect" after Mr Trump stoked the conflict at the weekend.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet. Photo: U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters
An F/A-18E Super Hornet. Photo: U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have been flaring for weeks.

On Sunday, Mr Trump tweeted: "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!"

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif replied on his Twitter account "NeverThreatenAnIranian. Try respect - it works!"

Mr Trump "hopes to achieve what Alexander [the Great], Genghis [Khan] & other aggressors failed to do. Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone. #EconomicTerrorism & genocidal taunts won't 'end Iran'," he added.

Mr Zarif, who was educated in the US, actually praised Mr Trump for earlier remarks seen as cautioning hawks in his administration who were encouraging conflict.

Mr Trump "rightly deplores 'military-industrial complex' pushing US #ForeverWars," Mr Zarif wrote on Twitter.

But he said Mr Trump had allowed a "B-team" of aides led by National Security Adviser John Bolton to "trash diplomacy". He accused them of "milking despotic butchers via massive arms sales", an apparent reference to Iran's main regional foe, Saudi Arabia, Washington's biggest arms buyer.

Mr Trump has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, and his administration says it has built up the US military presence in the region. It accuses Iran of posing threats to US troops and interests. Tehran has denied this, describing US moves as "psychological warfare" and a "political game".

Meanwhile, an official at the Natanz enrichment plant told the semi-official Tasnim news agency that Iran was accelerating the rate of production at which it refines uranium to 3.67pc fissile purity, suitable for civilian nuclear power generation.

The move came two weeks after Iran, acting after Mr Trump reimposed sanctions aimed at blocking all Iranian oil exports to cripple its economy, declared it would scale back some commitments on nuclear experiments under an accord it signed with six world powers.

Under the 2015 deal, the Islamic Republic was allowed to stockpile a maximum of 300kg of low-enriched uranium, and ship any excess out of the country.

Iran said this month that cap no longer applied in response to the unilateral US withdrawal from the deal.

Mr Trump has condemned the accord, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, as flawed for not being permanent and for not covering Iran's ballistic missile programme and role in conflicts around the Middle East.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, told Tasnim that the UN atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, had been notified about the move to step up the production rate of low-enriched uranium fourfold.

Under the deal, Iran may enrich uranium to 3.67pc purity - far below the 90pc of weapons grade, and also below the 20pc level to which Iran refined uranium before the deal.

Meanwhile, a rocket landed inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone which houses the sprawling US embassy, Iraqi security officials said, in an apparent warning to the US.

The rocket landed 1km from the US embassy near Iraq's parliament building and caused no injuries or serious damage.

But the timing of the launch has increased worries in Iraq that it will be drawn into a conflict between two of its closest allies, the US and Iran.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion among Western diplomats fell on one of the Shi'ite militias supported by Iran.

Last week, the US State Department took the extraordinary step of ordering all non-essential staffers to leave the embassy and consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, citing an alleged threat from Iranian proxies in the country.

Shi'ite militias with deep ties to Tehran have gained unprecedented political and military power over the past three years and have repeatedly used rocket launches toward American diplomatic missions to express their displeasure with US policies.

Irish Independent

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