Senior minister threatens Iran with attack if it continues nuclear development

Israel Katz says Islamic Republic had better accede to Trump’s demands or face ‘direct threat from the US and its allies’

Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)
Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

If Iran chooses to continue pursuing a nuclear program it will face a “military” response, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz warned Wednesday.

Katz was responding to the Iranian nuclear chief’s statement that the Islamic Republic’s program stands ready to build advanced centrifuges and further enrich uranium.

Ali Akbar Salehi told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Iran wouldn’t be deterred by US President Donald Trump’s sanctions and withdrawal from the global nuclear deal.

But Katz said that if Iran presses forward it will face a “direct threat from the United States and its allies.”

The US withdrawal from the deal in May has already badly shaken Iran’s economy, crashing its currency, the rial. Katz said Iran could either cave to Trump’s demands or watch its economy collapse.

Salehi had said he hoped the atomic deal would survive, but warned the program would be in a stronger position than ever if not.

In a veiled threat to Israel, Salehi said the consequences would be “harsh” if there were any new attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear scientists. A string of bombings, blamed on Israel, targeted a number of scientists beginning in 2010, at the height of Western concerns over Iran’s program.

Israel never claimed responsibility for the attacks on the scientists, though Israeli officials have boasted in the past about the reach of the country’s intelligence services. “I hope that they will not commit a similar mistake again because the consequences would be, I think, harsh,” Salehi warned.

Head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi talks at a conference on international cooperation for enhancing nuclear safety, security, safeguards and non-profileration, at the Lincei Academy, in Rome, October 10, 2017. (AP/Gregorio Borgia)

Israel earlier this year removed tens of thousands of documents and other materials from Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program archive, stealing them from under the regime’s nose in a Mossad operation in Tehran. The material proved that Iran lied when claiming it was not seeking to build a nuclear weapons arsenal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, and showed that it intends to resume its nuclear weapons program if it can.

Salehi also said that Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the 2015 accord “puts him on the loser’s side” of history. He added, “That deal could have paved the way for building the trust and the confidence that we had lost.”

The 2015 accord, struck under then-president Barack Obama’s administration, saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini (L); Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif (C) and political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran Abbas Araghchi take part in a Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ministerial meeting on the Iran nuclear deal on July 6, 2018 in Vienna, Austria. (AFP/APA/Hans Punz)

Salehi also spoke about Iran’s efforts to build a new facility at Natanz’s uranium enrichment center that will produce more advanced centrifuges. Those devices enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.

For now, the nuclear accord limits Iran to using a limited number of an older model, called IR-1s.

The new facility will allow Iran to build versions called the IR-2M, IR-4 and IR-6. The IR-2M and the IR-4 can enrich uranium five times faster than an IR-1, while the IR-6 can do it 10 times faster, Salehi said. Western experts have suggested these centrifuges produce three to five times more enriched uranium in a year than the IR-1s.

While building the facility doesn’t violate the nuclear deal, mass production of advanced centrifuges would. Salehi, however, said that wasn’t immediately a plan.

“This does not mean that we are going to produce these centrifuges now. This is just a preparation,” he said. “In case Iran decides to start producing in mass production such centrifuges, (we) would be ready for that.”

In this frame grab from Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, three versions of domestically-built centrifuges are shown in a live TV program from Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, in Iran, June 6, 2018. (IRIB via AP)

Salehi suggested that if the nuclear deal fell apart, Iran would react in stages. He suggested one step may be uranium enrichment going to “20 percent because this is our need.” He also suggested Iran could increase its stockpile of enriched uranium. Any withdrawal ultimately would be approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

While the UN repeatedly has verified Iran’s compliance with the deal, Trump campaigned on a promise to tear it up. In May, he withdrew the US in part because he said the deal wasn’t permanent and didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program and its influence across the wider Middle East. But Trump meanwhile has tweeted he’d accept talks without preconditions with Tehran.

Asked what he personally would tell Trump if he had the chance, Salehi chuckled and said: “I certainly would tell him he has made the wrong move on Iran.”

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