Nov 7, 2019

Pompeo warns of possible Iranian nuclear "breakout" as tensions escalate

Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the possibility that Iran is preparing for "a rapid nuclear breakout" in a Thursday statement, highlighting the escalating crisis between Iran and the rest of the international community.

Why it matters: Since President Trump decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal last year and engage in a pressure campaign against the country, the Iranian government took steps to reduce their commitment to the 2015 deal.

  • Those steps were paired with Iranian attacks against U.S allies in the region — namely, the missile attack on the Saudi oil facilities in September — alongside Iran's rejection of proposals by European leaders to renew talks with the U.S. for a new deal.
  • Pompeo's statement stressed that the U.S. will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, adding, "It is now time for all nations to take serious steps to increase pressure."

The state of play: Yesterday, Iran renewed uranium enrichment with more than 1,000 centrifuges at its underground fortified nuclear facility in Fordow.

  • This was a breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, which banned Iran from enriching uranium at the facility and compelled the Iranians to turn it into a physics research center.    

What's happening: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held an emergency board meeting in Vienna today to discuss the ongoing investigation around a suspicious nuclear facility at Turkuz-Abad, near Tehran.

  • The facility was exposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a speech at the UN in September 2018. Netanyahu called it "The Nuclear Warehouse," while Iran claimed it was a rug cleaning factory. I reported in July that UN inspectors found traces of nuclear material at the site.
  • During the IAEA meeting, member states were briefed that the Iranians were still evading UN inspectors' questions on the issue and are not cooperating.
  • The IAEA's acting director general Cornel Feruta told board members that Iran should provide "full and timely cooperation and promptly respond to the Agency’s questions in order to resolve the matter."

The latest: Netanyahu said in a statement today that world powers need to “snap back” UN security council sanctions on Iran.

“Iran continues to lie. The IAEA has confirmed that Iran is has been violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran continues to hide its secret nuclear weapons program."
— Netanyahu

Go deeper: Netanyahu exposes what he claims to be a nuclear weapons site in Iran

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Secret cables expose Iran's influence-building in Iraq at U.S. expense

A protester in Baghdad rejects U.S. and Iranian influence. Photo: Ameer Al Mohammedaw/picture alliance via Getty Images

Hundreds of secret Iranian intelligence cables obtained by the Intercept and shared with the New York Times "show how Iran, at nearly every turn, has outmaneuvered the United States in the contest for influence" in Iraq, per the Times.

Why it matters: Widespread protests in Iraq against corruption and poor government services have in some cases been spurred on by another grievance: Iranian influence over Iraqi politics. These documents, which date to 2014-2015, offer glimpses of how that influence was built and exercised — often at the expense of, and due to failures by, the U.S.

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106 killed in Iran protests, human rights group says

Iranians gather around a charred police station while they protest the increase in oil prices in Isfahan, Iran. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

At least 106 people have been killed in Iran since protests over increased oil prices began last week, according to human rights group Amnesty International, which says the true death toll could be far higher.

The big picture: Iran was much quicker to use violent measures this time than during previous protests. The Iranian government also shut down the internet to prevent social media from further mobilizing protesters, per CNN.

Go deeperArrowNov 19, 2019

In mass arrests, Iran detains eight accused of CIA ties

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Hossein Salami at a pro-government demonstration on Nov. 25, 2019 in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Iran says it has arrested over 500 people in the aftermath of protests over gas prices, AFP reports, and the regime claimed on late Wednesday that eight of those detained are linked to the CIA.

The big picture: Iran cut Internet access for the vast majority of the country earlier this month after protests erupted on Nov. 15. Human rights group Freedom House told Axios' Joe Uchill that the blackout prevented global reporting on Iranian police abuses and stifled coordination between protestors.

Go deeperArrowNov 28, 2019