PM Benjamin Netanyahu says Iran is out to ‘destroy Israel’ as it confirms increased uranium enrichment capacity

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Ali Akbar Salehi says the Islamic republic hopes to announce the opening of a centre for production of new centrifuges

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2018, 7:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2018, 10:35pm

Iran has notified the International Atomic Energy Agency that it has launched a plan to increase its uranium enrichment capacity, nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said on Tuesday.

“If conditions allow, maybe tomorrow night at Natanz, we can announce the opening of the centre for production of new centrifuges” for uranium enrichment, said Salehi, a vice-president and head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, according to conservative news agency Fars.

“What we are doing does not violate the [2015 nuclear] agreement,” he said, adding that a letter was submitted to the IAEA “yesterday regarding the start of certain activities”.

He specified that this was just the start of the production process and “does not mean that we will start assembling the centrifuges”.

Under the 2015 agreement, Iran can build parts for the centrifuges as long as it does not put them into operation within the first decade.

Salehi also emphasised that these moves “do not mean the negotiations [with Europe] have failed.”

European governments have been trying to salvage the agreement ever since the United States announced its withdrawal last month and said it would reimpose sanctions on foreign companies working in the Islamic republic by November.

The other parties – Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia – have vowed to stay in the accord but many of their companies have already started to wind down Iranian operations.

On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the Europeans that “Iran will never tolerate both suffering from sanctions and nuclear restrictions” and called for preparations to speed up uranium enrichment.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for civilian uses only, but opponents in the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia accuse it of seeking to build an atomic bomb.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that the Iranian plan to increase its nuclear enrichment capacity was aimed at producing nuclear weapons to be used against Israel.

“Two days ago Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, stated his intention to destroy the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

“Yesterday he explained how he would do it – by unlimited enrichment of uranium to create an arsenal of nuclear bombs.”

US sanctions Iranian groups, citing ‘human rights abuses, censorship and other despicable acts’

He said he was not surprised by Iran’s plan and that he would try to prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday warned European leaders to drop their “dream” of Tehran continuing to curb its nuclear programme despite renewed economic sanctions.

He also called Israel a “malignant cancerous tumour” that should be removed.

Iran denies the pursuit of an atomic programme for military purposes.

In his Monday meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Netanyahu had warned that Iran was “seeking nuclear weapons to carry out its genocidal designs”.

“It’s important to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. We commit, and I commit again, that we will not let that happen,” he said.

Netanyahu will meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Israel’s intelligence minister on Tuesday called for a military coalition against Iran if the Islamic Republic were to defy world powers by enriching military-grade uranium.

Yisrael Katz’s remarks came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began visiting European leaders to discuss Iran’s regional involvement and nuclear programme, both seen by the Jewish state as grave threats.

Katz was speaking ahead of Tehran’s announcement to increase its uranium enrichment capacity.

“If the Iranians don’t surrender now, and try to return” to unsupervised uranium enrichment, “there should be a clear statement by the President of the United States and all of the Western coalition,” he said.

“The Arabs and Israel surely would be there too.”

The message should be that “if the Iranians return” to enriching uranium that could enable them to build a nuclear bomb, “a military coalition will be formed against them”, Katz told Israeli public radio station Kan.

Israel argues the lifting of sanctions under the nuclear deal allowed Iran to expand its presence in the Middle East, both through its own forces and with proxy groups.

It also says the time limits on the accord do not guarantee Iran will not eventually obtain nuclear weapons, while it also wants to see restrictions on Iranian missile development.