IRNA: Iranian nuclear facilities will remain operational under nuclear deal


Iran's state news agency IRNA said on Tuesday the country's nuclear facilities would remain operational under a deal reached between Tehran and six major powers.

“All of Iran's nuclear facilities will continue working. None will be stopped or eliminated … Iran will continue enrichment … Research and development on key centrifuges (IR6, IR-5, IR4, IR 8) will continue,” IRNA said in what it said was a summary of the deal, without citing a source.

Iran: Netanyahu speech to U.S. Congress on Tehran’s nuclear work ‘boring and repetitive’


Iran on Tuesday rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the U.S. Congress on Tehran's nuclear programme as “boring and repetitive, the state news agency IRNA said.

In his address, Netanyahu warned U.S. President Barack Obama against negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran that would be a “countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare” by a country that “will always be an enemy of America”.

“The speech today by the Zionist regime's prime minister was boring and repetitive … and part of the hardliners' election campaign in Tel Aviv,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said, IRNA reported. Iran says its nuclear energy programme is solely for civilian purposes, not bombs, and it is in talks with six world powers with an end-June deadline.

Iran says Israel crossed ‘red lines,’ vows to respond


Iran has told the United States that an Israeli air strike which killed an Iranian general in Syria last week had crossed “red lines” and the Islamic Republic will respond, a senior official was quoted as saying by IRNA news agency on Tuesday.

“We told the Americans that the leaders of the Zionist regime should await the consequences of their act,” deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Allahdadi was killed with a Hezbollah commander and the son of the group's late military leader, Imad Moughniyeh, in a Jan. 18 attack on a Hezbollah convoy near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

A senior Israeli security source said Israeli forces believed they were attacking only low-ranking guerrillas. Officially, Israel has not commented on the attack.

“In this message to the Americans we said that the Zionist regime had crossed our red lines,” Abdollahian said.

Abdollahian said Iran delivered the message to U.S. officials via diplomatic channels. The two countries have not had direct diplomatic relations since Iran's 1979 revolution, but the United States has taken part in international talks with Tehran on its nuclear programme and its interests are represented by Switzerland's Tehran mission.

Abdollahian's warning echoed those of Iran's Basij force commanders at a ceremony on Tuesday honouring Allahdadi.

“The Zionists should know that they are approaching their destruction. They should be fully prepared because they will not have peace any more,” Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi said according to ISNA news agency.

Israel has struck inside Syria several times since the start of the Syrian civil war, mostly destroying weaponry such as missiles that Israeli officials said were destined for Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Israel's longtime foe in neighbouring Lebanon.

Hezbollah has been fighting alongside President Bashaw Ass ad's forces in the four-year-old Syrian conflict.

Fire at Iranian defense industry plant kills two people: IRNA


An Iranian defense industry body said two workers were killed in a fire at an explosives factory in an eastern district of Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported on Monday.

An Iranian opposition website, Saham, described the incident as a strong explosion and said it took place near Iran's sprawling Parchin military facility, which is located around 30 km southeast of the capital. It did not give a source for its report, which could not be independently verified.

Iran's Defense Industries Organisation said the fire broke out on Sunday evening, IRNA said, giving no further detail.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency suspects Iran around a decade ago may have carried out explosives tests at Parchin that could be relevant for any attempt to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The IAEA wants to visit a specific location at the site, but Iran has so far not granted access.

Iran says Parchin is a conventional military facility and that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful. It has often accused its enemies of seeking to sabotage its atomic activities.

Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to resolve a decade-old dispute over Tehran's nuclear program. Israel is widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power.

Three years ago, Iran said a massive explosion at a military base 45 km (28 miles) west of Tehran killed 17 Revolutionary Guards, including the head of the elite force's missile program. It said the blast was caused by an accident while weapons were being moved.

Iran launches monkey into space, showing missile progress


Iran said on Monday it had launched a live monkey into space, seeking to show off missile systems that have alarmed the West because the technology could potentially be used to deliver a nuclear warhead.

The Defense Ministry announced the launch as world powers sought to agree a date and venue with Iran for resuming talks to resolve a standoff with the West over Tehran's contested nuclear program before it degenerates into a new Middle East war.

Efforts to nail down a new meeting have failed repeatedly and the powers fear Iran is exploiting the diplomatic vacuum to hone the means to produce nuclear weapons.

The Islamic Republic denies seeking weapons capability and says it seeks only electricity from its uranium enrichment so it can export more of its considerable oil wealth.

The powers have proposed new talks in February, a spokesman for the European Union's foreign policy chief said on Monday, hours after Russia urged all concerned to “stop behaving like children” and commit to a meeting.

Iran earlier in the day denied media reports of a major explosion at one of its most sensitive, underground enrichment plants, describing them as Western propaganda designed to influence the nuclear talks.

The Defense Ministry said the space launch of the monkey coincided “with the days of” the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, which was last week, but gave no date, according to a statement carried by the official news agency IRNA.

The launch was “another giant step” in space technology and biological research “which is the monopoly of a few countries”, the statement said.

The small grey monkey was pictured strapped into a padded seat and being loaded into the Kavoshgar rocket dubbed “Pishgam” (Pioneer) which state media said reached a height of more than 120 km (75 miles).

“This shipment returned safely to Earth with the anticipated speed along with the live organism,” Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi told the semi-official Fars news agency. “The launch of Kavoshgar and its retrieval is the first step towards sending humans into space in the next phase.”

There was no independent confirmation of the launch.

SIGNIFICANT FEAT

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters she could not confirm whether Iran had successfully sent a monkey into space or conducted any launch at all, saying that if it had done so “it's a serious concern.”

Nuland said such a launch would violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, whose text bars Iran from “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.”

The West worries that long-range ballistic technology used to propel Iranian satellites into orbit could be put to use dispatching nuclear warheads to a target.

Bruno Gruselle of France's Foundation for Strategic Research said that if the monkey launch report were true it would suggest a “quite significant” engineering feat by Iran.

“If you can show that you are able to protect a vehicle of this sort from re-entry, then you can probably protect a military warhead and make it survive the high temperatures and high pressures of re-entering,” Gruselle said.

The monkey launch would be similar to sending up a satellite weighing some 2,000 kg (4,400 pounds), he said. Success would suggest a capacity to deploy a surface-to-surface missile with a range of a few thousand kilometers (miles).

Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank, said Iran had demonstrated “no new military or strategic capability” with the launch.

“Nonetheless, Iran has an ambitious space exploration program that includes the goal of placing a human in space in the next five or so years and a human-inhabited orbital capsule by the end of the decade,” Elleman said. “Today's achievement is one step toward the goal, albeit a small one.”

The Islamic Republic announced plans in 2011 to send a monkey into space, but that attempt was reported to have failed.

Nuclear-weapons capability requires three components – enough fissile material such as highly enriched uranium, a reliable weapons device miniaturized to fit into a missile cone, and an effective delivery system, such as a ballistic missile that can grow out of a space launch program.

Iran's efforts to develop and test ballistic missiles and build a space launch capability have contributed to Israeli calls for pre-emptive strikes on Iranian nuclear sites and billions of dollars of U.S. ballistic missile defense spending.

MANOEUVRING OVER NEXT TALKS

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the powers had offered a February meeting to Iran, after a proposal to meet at the end of January was refused.

“Iran did not accept our offer to go to Istanbul on January 28 and 29 and so we have offered new dates in February. We have continued to offer dates since December. We are disappointed the Iranians have not yet agreed,” Michael Mann reporters.

He said Iranian negotiators had imposed new conditions for resuming talks and that EU powers were concerned this might be a stalling tactic. The last in a sporadic series of fruitless talks was held last June.

Iranian officials deny blame for the delays and say Western countries squandered opportunities for meetings by waiting until after the U.S. presidential election in November.

“We have always said that we are ready to negotiate until a result is reached and we have never broken off discussions,” IRNA quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying.

Salehi has suggested holding the next round in Cairo but said the powers wanted another venue. He also said that Sweden, Kazakhstan and Switzerland had offered to host the talks.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference: “We are ready to meet at any location as soon as possible. We believe the essence of our talks is far more important (than the site), and we hope that common sense will prevail and we will stop behaving like little children.”

Ashton is overseeing diplomatic contacts on behalf of the powers hoping to persuade Tehran to stop higher-grade uranium enrichment and accept stricter U.N. inspections in return for civilian nuclear cooperation and relief from U.N. sanctions.

IRAN DENIES FORDOW BLAST

Reuters has been unable to verify reports since Friday of an explosion early last week at the underground Fordow bunker that some Israeli and Western media said wrought heavy damage.

“The false news of an explosion at Fordow is Western propaganda ahead of nuclear negotiations to influence their process and outcome,” IRNA quoted deputy Iranian nuclear energy agency chief Saeed Shamseddin Bar Broudi as saying.

In late 2011 the plant at Fordow began producing uranium enriched to 20 percent fissile purity, well above the 3.5 percent level normally needed for nuclear power stations.

While such higher-grade enrichment remains nominally far below the 90 percent level required for an atomic bomb, nuclear proliferation experts say the 20 percent threshold represents the bulk of the time and effort involved in yielding weapons-grade material – if that were Iran's goal.

Tehran says its enhanced enrichment is to make fuel for a research reactor that produces isotopes for medical care.

Diplomats in Vienna, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency is based, said on Monday they had no knowledge of any incident at Fordow but were looking into the reports.

“I have heard and seen various reports but am unable to authenticate them,” a senior diplomat in Vienna told Reuters.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which regularly inspects declared Iranian nuclear sites including Fordow, had no immediate comment on the issue.

Iran has accused Israel and the United States of trying to sabotage its nuclear program with cyber attacks and assassinations of its nuclear scientists. Washington has denied any role in the killings while Israel has declined to comment.

Additional reporting by William Maclean and Marcus George in Dubai, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Jon Hemming and Cynthia Osterman

Iranian warships dock in Sudan, report says


Two Iranian warships docked in Sudan on Monday, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported, less than a week after Khartoum accused Israel of attacking an arms factory in the Sudanese capital.

Two people were killed after fire broke out late on Tuesday at the Yarmouk arms factory in the south of Khartoum. Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman said four military planes attacked the Yarmouk plant and Israel was behind it.

Asked by Israel's Channel Two News about Sudan's accusations, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said: “There is nothing I can say about this subject.”

IRNA said the helicopter carrier Khark and the destroyer Shahid Naqdi were carrying: “the message of peace and friendship to neighbouring countries and were ensuring security for shipping lanes against marine terrorism and piracy”.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said that the vessels docked in Port Sudan on the Red Sea and the fleet's commanders were scheduled to meet Sudanese navy commanders.

Sudan, with close ties to Iran and Sunni jihadis, has long been seen by Israel as a conduit for weapons smuggled to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, via the Egyptian Sinai desert.

In May, Sudan's government said one person had been killed after a car exploded in the eastern city of Port Sudan. It said that explosion resembled a blast last year it had blamed on an Israeli missile strike.

Israel declined to comment on the May incident or the 2011 blast, which killed two people. It also neither admitted nor denied involvement in a similar incident in eastern Sudan in 2009.

Iran said in June it had plans to build more warships and increase its presence in international waters, particularly to protect its cargo ships around the world.

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden in January hijacked an Iranian ship carrying 30,000 tonnes of petrochemical products to a North African country.

Ahmadinejad wants to attend summer Olympics


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad now wants to attend the 2012 London Olympics, despite last year saying that the summer games’ jagged multi-colored lingo resembled the word Zion and was therefore “racist.”

Despite his desire, Ahmadinejad said on Thursday that British authorities had “problems” with hosting him, according to IRNA, his country’s official news agency.

“I would like to be among Iranian athletes in the 2012 London Olympics to support them but they [the host country] have problems with that,” IRNA quoted him as saying.

About 50 Iranian athletes have qualified to take part in the games, according to IRNA.

Iran says sanctions to fail, repeats Hormuz threat


Iranian politicians said on Tuesday they expected the European Union to backtrack on its oil embargo and repeated a threat to close the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping lane if the West succeeds in preventing Tehran from exporting crude.

A day after the EU slapped a ban on Iranian oil, Iran’s tone appeared defiant, even skeptical, with Tehran insisting that, with the EU faced with its own economic crisis, it needs Iran’s oil more than Iran needs its business.

The ban is expected to take full effect within six months.

“The West’s ineffective sanctions against the Islamic state are not a threat to us. They are opportunities and have already brought lots of benefits to the country,” Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi told the official IRNA news agency.

Speaking in London, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain Prince Mohammad Bin Nawaf said the region was witnessing “a very difficult and a very tense situation”.

“We are seeing every day an escalation in the rhetoric and this definitely does not help in stabilizing the area,” he told a briefing.

“I think the next couple of weeks will be very critical for the whole region. Hopefully, Iran will adhere to the proposals presented to them.”

He said Iran’s threats to block the strait of Hormuz would have grave consequences on the Islamic Republic and the region.

“It will be very difficult to maintain such a blockade against the export of oil but the ramifications of such a decision would be very grave and definitely would escalate the whole situation and God knows where it would lead.

“Definitely the Iranians will pay a very heavy price if they gamble and take such a decision,” the Saudi envoy said.

The EU wants to press Iran into curbing its contested nuclear program and engage in talks with six world powers.

“The global economic situation is not one in which a country can be destroyed by imposing sanctions,” Moslehi said.

A spokesman for the oil ministry said Iran had had plenty of time to prepare for the sanctions and would find alternative customers for the 18 percent of its exports that up to now have gone to the 27-nation European bloc.

“The first phase of this (sanctions action) is propaganda, only then it will enter the implementation phase. That is why they put in this six months period, to study the market,” Alireza Nikzad Rahbar said, predicting the embargo could be rescinded before it takes force completely.

“This market will harm them because oil is getting more expensive and when oil gets more expensive it will harm the people of Europe,” state TV quoted him as saying. “We hope that in these six months they will choose the right path.”

EMBARGO PLANS

The embargo will not kick in completely until July 1 because the bloc’s foreign ministers who agreed the ban at a meeting in Brussels were anxious not to penalize the ailing economies of Greece, Italy and others to whom Iran is a major oil supplier.

The strategy will be reviewed in May to see if it should proceed.

Iran, which denies international suspicions that it is trying to design atomic bombs behind the facade of a declared civilian atomic energy program, has scoffed at efforts to bar its oil exports as Asia lines up to buy what Europe rejects.

Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the Danish ambassador on Tuesday to complain about the EU’s “illogical decision”, accusing Europe of doing the bidding of the United States.

Emad Hosseini, spokesman for parliament’s energy committee, said that if Iran encountered any problem selling its oil, it would store it, adding Tehran retained its threat to shut the Gulf to shipping.

The United States, which sailed an aircraft carrier through the strait into the Gulf accompanied by British and French warships on Sunday, has said it would not tolerate the closure of the world’s most important oil shipping gateway.

Fitch Ratings issued an assessment of the embargo’s market impact saying it would likely cause an oil price increase.

“However, prices may not necessarily increase markedly from current levels as some of the risks related to the EU ban on Iranian oil appear factored in already,” it said.

The embargo decision had no discernible impact on oil prices as it was a move that had been flagged well in advance and the threat to close Hormuz seemed remote. Brent crude down slightly at $110 per barrel on Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday that the EU sanctions underlined the strength of the international community’s commitment to “addressing the serious threat” presented by Iran’s nuclear program.

“The United States will continue to impose new sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran,” he said in a statement.

Washington applied its own sanctions to Iran’s oil trade and central bank on December 31 and on Monday extended them to the third largest Iranian bank, state-owned Bank Tejarat, and a Belarus-based affiliate for allegedly helping Tehran’s nuclear advance.

The EU sanctions were also welcomed by Israel, which has warned it might attack Iran if sanctions do not deflect Tehran from a course that some analysts say could potentially give Iran the means to build a nuclear bomb next year.

Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul in London

Iran threatens to cut off Mideast oil


Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz if its oil exports are subjected to foreign sanctions, the Islamic Republic’s official news agency reported.

“If they impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Straits of Hormuz,” IRNA quoted Mohammad Reza Rahimi, Iran’s first vice-president, as saying, referring to Western countries.

Oil from Persian Gulf countries travels through the Straits of Hormuz on its way to oil-importing countries around the world. The strait is the Persian Gulf’s only outlet and is bordered by Iran, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.