Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Iran is recruiting staff relentlessly to work on its nuclear program, is making steady progress in its uranium enrichment, and has constructed several facilities for nuclear testing outside Tehran whose precise location is known only to high-ranking officials, according to an Iranian source who said he was hired recently as a researcher at one of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In a telephone interview with this reporter, who has made several reporting trips to Iran in recent years, the source — who spoke on condition of anonymity — said it had been “very hectic” of late at the facility where he is employed. “More and more young graduates and people are brought in every day,” he said. “We have been working non-stop.”
The information provided by the source could not be independently verified. The contact would not specify where he is employed.
The Iranian researcher said he was speaking because he wanted the outside world to know that, despite attacks on Iran’s top scientists and other pressures aimed at halting the nuclear program, “we are not afraid and we have continued to progress.”
Without detailing the quantities involved, the source said that Iran had already enriched uranium to 30 percent, and “by next year, we hope to reach up to 50 or even 60 percent. The experience and knowledge is there, but getting the right parts at times has been difficult.” He said some equipment being received was “not reliable and sometimes defective.”
An Iranian member of parliament spoke earlier this summer about a need for 50-60% enriched uranium, ostensibly for nuclear propulsion for ships.
Iran has received assistance for its nuclear program from various countries, including Russia, Pakistan and North Korea, Western diplomats say. Some centrifuges and centrifuge components wereobtained in the 1990s from a procurement network run by the Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, and some subsequent Iranian centrifuge design has reportedly been based on the Pakistani designs.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sets out his ‘red line’ for Iran on a cartoon bomb drawing during a September 27 speech to the General Assembly (photo credit: Avi Ohayun, GPO)
The Iranian researcher’s comments came soon after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted in TV interviews that Iran’s nuclear drive had to be halted “at the enrichment stage.” In a speech to the UN last Thursday, Netanyahu said Iran was “well into the second stage” — of “medium enrichment” of uranium for a bomb. “By next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”
The researcher said “many of our laboratories and testing facilities” have been constructed underground, and spoke of “other non-official test facilities outside of Tehran.” Only high-ranking officials had information on these, he said.
Professor Uzi Even at his Tel Aviv University office (Photo credit: Mitch Ginsburg/ Times of Israel)
Professor Uzi Even, one of the founders of Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona, told The Times of Israel a month ago that he believes the regime in Iran has already covertly created the 20-25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium necessary to conduct a successful underground test.
In response to the Iranian contact’s comments, Even elaborated on Iran’s progress. He said there was “no reason or need for Iran to enrich uranium” unless it was aiming to build a nuclear arsenal,” and then described how Iran has gone about doing so.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz enrichment facility in 2008 (photo credit: www.president.ir)
Even said the “amount of material flow required for the first enrichment stage — to 3% from natural abundance of 0.7% — is highest, and thus requires many thousands of centrifuges.” This had been going on at Iran’s Natanz facility for five years.
The second stage of enrichment — to 20% — “requires a much smaller effort,” he said, involving 2,000 centrifuges — a fifth of the centrifuges used in stage one. This has been carried out at Iran’s Fordo underground plant, near Qom, for the past two years, Even said, stressing that he was basing himself solely on publicly available information and had no access to classified material.
Finally, the third stage of enrichment — from 20% to 90%, or weapon-grade — “requires even fewer centrifuges, 500 units, and can be easily hidden in a small underground unit, not much bigger than 1,000 square meters, that is almost impossible to detect from a satellite and can be easily hidden anywhere in Iran.”
“At this concentration,” Even went on, “turning the gaseous compound used in enrichment into a solid core required for weapon is tricky, because it can become ‘critical’ and cause a radiation accident.” He stressed that such an accident would not be akin to a bomb exploding, but would “release enough radiation to kill the people handling the device.”
There have been various reports of mysterious explosions at Iranian nuclear facilities in recent years, including one at the uranium enrichment facility at Isfahan last November. The IAEA has also repeatedly sought access to the Parchin facility, where it suspects Iran has carried out tests relating to its nuclear program and has then sought to cover up evidence of such testing.
Even estimated that the Iranians have already accumulated enough weapons-grade fissile material to try to design a nuclear warhead. “They could test it underground tomorrow,” he said, “but it is still several years before such a design could be made to fit the missiles they have. For two or three years,” he concluded, “Iran cannot be considered a nuclear threat to anyone.”
Times of Israel
Europe faces a month that may decide the success of the European Central Bank’s bid to end the debt crisis, starting with the resumption of talks in Athens Monday between Greece’s international creditors and the government.
Leaders of the 17-nation euro area are confronting a tougher approach from the German-led pro-austerity bloc and unrest in Spain over budget cuts and a separatist movement in Catalonia. The first of three summits in the next three months, called “crucial” by European Union President Herman Van Rompuy, is set for Oct. 18-19, as investor sentiment toward the euro area that surged in September is on the wane.
Political discord has underscored the inadequacy so far of ECB President Mario Draghi’s offer of unlimited bond buying to to overcome that squabbling that has hamstrung crisis-fighting efforts
“People are beginning to look at this in a more sober way” after the ECB bond-buying plan and a German high-court decision releasing bailout financing spurred optimism over the past month, Clemens Fuest, an economist at Oxford University’s Said Business School, said in an interview Sunday.
Political discord has underscored the inadequacy so far of ECB President Mario Draghi’s offer of unlimited bond buying to to overcome that squabbling that has hamstrung crisis-fighting efforts. With a report Monday showing the euro area’s unemployment rate climbed to the highest on record at 11.4%, October marks three years since Greece’s newly elected Prime Minister George Papandreou revealed an unexpected hole in his budget, triggering the turmoil.
Spain’s 10-year bond yields fell 5 basis points to 5.89% as last week’s stress-test results showing a capital deficit of 59.3-billion euros (US$76-billion) bolstered confidence in Spain’s banking system. The euro rose 0.4% to US$1.2909 as of 11:54 a.m. in Frankfurt, recovering after losing 2% over the past two weeks.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, under pressure to trigger the ECB’s new financial weaponry by requesting assistance, pleaded over the weekend for national unity as he hit out at nationalists for hampering crisis-fighting efforts.
“The worst that can be done about the economic crisis that we are in at the moment is to break economic stability,” Rajoy told a Sept. 29 rally in Vitoria in Spain’s Basque region. Nationalists are trying to “cause more problems for people than we have at the moment as if there weren’t already enough.”
Rajoy suffered a setback last week when the president of the Catalan region, Artur Mas, called elections to seek greater self-determination for the regional government. Basque leader Inigo Urkullu, set to claim the regional presidency in an Oct. 21 vote, also said his party wants more autonomy.
Amid two days of protests in Madrid last week, Rajoy’s government unveiled a fifth austerity package in nine months. Spain’s Budget Ministry announced plans over the weekend to borrow 207.2-billion euros (US$267-billion) next year, widening the country’s debt to 90.5$ of gross domestic product.
“I don’t think we’re moving toward disaster, but it will become increasingly clear that regaining competitiveness will last a long time for these countries.” Fuest, who sits on an advisory panel for the German Finance Ministry, said by phone.
I don’t think we’re moving toward disaster, but it will become increasingly clear that regaining competitiveness will last a long time for these countries
Leaders need to put aside disagreements, particularly on how bailout funds can be deployed to recapitalize struggling banks, EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said. A statement last week by finance ministers from Germany, Finland and the Netherlands that such funds can’t be used to cover past capital gaps marked a retreat from a June agreement.
“It seems there have been different interpretations about the June decision,” Rehn said in an interview yesterday in Haemeenlinna, Finland. Rehn also warned Finland not to prolong the crisis with its “hard-line stance on many issues.”
The resistance by the three ministers to covering “legacy assets” with bailout funds would potentially upend the objective of most European governments to unburden states’ balance sheets of bank-rescue funding — severing the destructive link between bank and sovereign debt. It would also deal a blow to Ireland’s campaign to reduce its debt load.
The issue, along with the ECB bond-buying plan, will be discussed when European finance ministers meet on Oct. 8-9 in Luxembourg.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti waded into the fray as well last week, saying that the ECB shouldn’t impose additional conditions on nations seeking assistance. Concern about what extra conditions might entail has contributed to the reluctance of countries such as Italy and Spain to tap the bond buying that they themselves championed.
Oversight should be limited to establishing “checks so the countries continue to behave in that positive way,” Monti told Bloomberg Television in New York on Sept. 28. “If this is the conditionality that will be finally delivered, should a country be in a market situation suggesting its use, there would be nothing dishonorable.”
In Athens, officials from the so-called troika of international creditors — the ECB, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund — returned to continue their assessment of Greece’s creditworthiness. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras meets officials at 6 p.m. local time, while Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras meets at 2 p.m.
ECB Executive Board member Joerg Asmussen became the latest troika official to argue Greece may require more aid, saying on Sept. 28 that “there could be additional need for external financing” because of economic turmoil, even with a budget agreement by Samaras’ coalition government.
Samaras has struggled to broker an agreement with the troika and his coalition partners on a package that will include more than 7-billion euros of cuts to wages, pensions and benefits in a country battling a fifth year of recession and with nearly a quarter of the workforce unemployed.
With a general strike drawing as many as 35,000 people into downtown Athens last week, the government reached agreement on the bulk of a 13.5-billion-euro budget package. They must now win over the troika to access 31-billion euros of international support.
At the October summit, Germany will also introduce a plan to replace EU infrastructure subsidies with a common budget designed to assist indebted states in return for conditions, Die Welt reported, citing unnamed EU diplomats. The plan would be Germany’s answer to joint euro-area debt, or euro bonds, which Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has long opposed.
The common budget could be funded by European taxpayers, as well as possible funds from a planned financial-transaction tax, Welt reported on Sept. 29. Martin Kotthaus, German Finance Ministry spokesman, declined to comment on the report.
“Intensive discussions are going on,” Kotthaus said. “There are many ideas being discussed.”
Iran's beleaguered currency, the rial, has fallen to fresh record lows against the US dollar.
It fell a further 9% on Tuesday after Monday's 18% decline, reports say.
Iran's central bank has placed a $5,000 limit on the amount of foreign currency travellers can take in or out.
President Ahmadinejad has blamed "the enemies of his country" for the sharp falls. The rial has reportedly lost more than 80% of its value since 2011 because of US-led trade sanctions.
Mr Ahmadinejad said Western sanctions amounted to an economic war, but would not stop Iran's nuclear programme.
"We are not people to retreat on the nuclear issue," he told a news conference in Tehran. "If somebody thinks they can pressure Iran, they are certainly wrong and they must correct their behaviour," he said.
Recent moves by Tehran to ensure key importers can buy dollars at a cheaper rate is said to have worsened matters.'Security move'
The US-led sanctions are being imposed on Iran because of the country's disputed nuclear programme. The US accuses Iran of aiming to build nuclear weapons, while Iran counters that it simply wishes to develop nuclear power stations.
The sanctions, which are backed by the European Union, include a ban on the purchase of Iranian oil.
The US has also threatened to take action against foreign firms and institutions dealing with the Iranian central bank.
Iran's years of state intervention in the artificial appreciation of the rial, thanks to abundant petro-dollars, has turned the currency into a barrel of gunpowder now detonated by sanctions”Amir PaivarBBC Persian
While Iranians are said to be scrambling to convert their rials into hard currency, thereby adding to the downward pressure on the rial, the government has blamed speculation by money changers.
According to the Iranian Fars news agency, Iran's Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade, Mehdi Ghazanfari, said: "We have greater expectations that the security services will control the branches and sources of disruption in the exchange market.
"Brokers in the market are also pursuing the increase in price, because for them it will be profitable, and there is nobody to control them."
On Tuesday, the rial was said to be trading in Iran at about 37,500 to the dollar, down from around 34,200 late on Monday.
The rial is not traded on the global currency markets, so it is not possible to produce accurate figures for its value.
The weakness of the rial has harmed the wider Iranian economy, as it means the country cannot afford to import as many foreign goods and raw materials which are priced in hard currencies.'Inefficiency'
Amir Paivar, a business reporter at BBC Persian, said that as a result of the tightened trade sanctions, Iran's income from oil exports had fallen by 45% this year, causing the shortage in dollars and other hard currencies.
He added that Iranian authorities had for many years used the country's abundant oil earnings to keep the rial artificially high.
With oil revenues now sharply reduced, our reporter said that both the government and the central bank now seemed unsure how to react.
He added: "Iran's years of state intervention in the artificial appreciation of the rial, thanks to abundant petro-dollars, has turned the currency into a barrel of gunpowder now detonated by sanctions.
"At a time of crisis, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government is plagued by inefficiency, mismanagement and a domestic power struggle."
A top North Korean diplomat lays the blame for unceasing tensions between the Koreas solely on the US. The Korean peninsula is the world’s biggest hotspot, he acknowledged, mentioning thermonuclear conflict as a possibility.
Speaking at the final session of the UN 193-member General Assembly, North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Pak Kil-yon announced that, “Due to the continued US hostile policy towards the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], the vicious cycle of confrontation and aggravation of tension is an ongoing phenomenon on the Korean Peninsula, which has become the world's most dangerous hotspot where a spark of fire could set off a thermonuclear war."
North Korean diplomat focused on the relations between Pyongyang and Washington, for 60 years co-existing without a peace treaty since the war in 1950-1953 which ended with an armistice. The diplomat accused the US of nourishing an idea of total destruction of his country since the day it was founded, in order to “occupy the whole of the Korean Peninsula and to use it as a stepping-stone for realizing its strategy of dominating the whole of Asia.”
The State Department of the US has offered no comment on the speech so far.
North Korea’s statement in the UN is notable for at least two reasons. Pyongyang conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, but has so far never mentioned or hinted that it possesses military thermonuclear technology – a real step-up from uranium- and plutonium-based nuclear weapons. In July, though, North Korea warned its southern neighbor and the US that it is going to “re-examine its nuclear capabilities” after perceiving new threats. That warning came after Seoul, Washington and seven other countries conducted 80,000-person war games in South Korea in June.
The six-party nuclear talks with Pyongyang commenced in 2003, but were interrupted several times. For nearly a decade the US, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea have been negotiating with North Korea in order to stop its nuclear program. But Pyongyang took one step forward, two steps back, pulling out of the six-party talks on April 14, 2005, saying it would resume its nuclear enrichment program in order to boost its nuclear deterrent. The country also expelled all nuclear inspectors from its territory.
On October 9, 2006, Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test, which finally led to UN sanctions against the country and discontinuation of the six-party talks.
In August 2011, after a meeting with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said he is ready to resume the six-party talks on the settlement of the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula without preconditions. But the death of North Korea's longtime leaderon December 17, 2011, drew the proposal to a halt.
Since the death of Kim Jong-il, the DPRK’s representative in the UN has been silent – until the angry speech on Monday. It appears that the transfer of power to Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un is over, as the North Korean diplomat addressed to his country’s new leader as to “our dear respected marshal.”
The military title of the new North Korean leader might serve as evidence that the country’s policies are not subject to change and the role of the army in the country’s life has even grown up. The young leader Kim Jong-un is very fond of visiting army units throughout the country.
Deputy Foreign Minister Pak Kil-yon said Pyongyang is aware of US “plans” to implement finalized scenarios for a new Korean War and impose military rule over whole Korean Peninsula after an invasion.
However, Pak Kil-yon warned, “The DPRK's patience does not mean it is unlimited," with obvious reference to his country’s proven nuclear capabilities, which prevent the US military “from turning into an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula”.
North Korea has always stressed that it needs nuclear arms to deter the threat by the US, which maintains a number of military bases in South Korea and Japan, with dozens of thousands of troops and rumored nuclear arms stockpiled on those territories.
October 2, 2012 – JAPAN – The U.S. Geological Survey reports that early Tuesday morning local time, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit off of Japan’s eastern coast. Originating from a depth of 9.7 kilometers (6 miles), it was centered about 96 kilometers (60 miles) off the coast of Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, in the northeast region of the country that was struck by the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11th, 2011. There have been no reports of damages or signs of approaching tsunami. In comparison from Tokyo, the 6.2 magnitude quake was about 550 kilometers (342 miles) from the capital city.
Neither the Japan Meteorological Agency or the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued tsunami warnings or advisories on Tuesday as it wasn’t necessary. Geophysicist Gerard Fryer, with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, says the quake was too small to generate any kind of tsunami, but the residents of northeastern Japan would surely have felt it. The quake probably gave some frightful flashbacks to those of Japan’s Tohoku region who survived last year’s disaster. The tsunami disaster that took tens of thousands of lives and washed away entire coastal cities was caused by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake just over a year and a half ago, and led to the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years in Fukushima Prefecture.
Japan Daily Press