News Briefs

February 9, 2021
Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi threatened that Iran would consider pursuing a nuclear weapon if U.S. sanctions continued to "push Iran in that direction." This statement is counter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's 2003 fatwa forbidding the pursuit of nuclear weapons. At the same time, an Israeli Defense Forces intelligence assessment estimates that Iran would need at least two years to develop a nuclear weapon, due in part to a lack of components and scientific and technical expertise. However, unnamed Israeli intelligence officials also said that Iran had accumulated enough uranium for almost three nuclear weapons if the material were enriched to weapons grade. Such enrichment is theoretically possible in about five months, according to the Israel officials.
-- The New York Times
February 8, 2021
A report by a United Nations expert panel determined that Iran and North Korea cooperated on long range missile projects in 2020. Citing information from a member state, the U.N. report noted that the cooperation included "the transfer of critical parts," with the most recent shipment taking place in 2020. According to the report, Shahid Haj Ali Movahed Research Center received "support and assistance" on a space launch vehicle from North Korean missile experts. Iran denied the allegations in the report.
-- Bloomberg
February 6, 2021
Iran opened a factory for the production of shoulder-fired missiles and a plant for the production of hybrid solid fuel for missiles. According to Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami, the second plant will produce solid fuel for anti-tank, surface-to-air, and surface-to-surface missiles.
-- Kayhan
February 5, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) determined that samples taken from two locations in Iran last fall contain traces of radioactive material, suggesting evidence of undeclared nuclear activities in Iran. Iran had denied IAEA inspectors access to the two sites for seven months last year. In a report last June, the IAEA listed other areas of concern for nuclear weapons work, including a suspicion that Iran had drilled a uranium metal disk, the presence of nuclear material at a site where Iran also tested high explosives, and an undeclared location where Iran might have converted and processed uranium illicitly.
-- The Wall Street Journal
February 4, 2021
A Belgian court convicted the Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi of attempting to bomb a rally in France organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an Iranian dissident group linked to the Mujahedeen Khalq, or M.E.K. The court convicted Assadi on charges of attempted terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. The court also convicted three Belgian-Iranian dual nationals associated with Assadi: Amir Saadouni, Mehrdad Arefani, and Nassimeh Naami, whom Belgian authorities have linked to the Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry. According to Belgian officials, Assadi brought the explosive triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, and a detonator, from Iran to his diplomatic post in Vienna and drove the items to Luxembourg where he provided them to his co-conspirators. German authorities arrested Assadi as he was returning to Vienna. Belgian officials have described Assadi as an operative for the Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry and linked him to Department 312, a subdivision of the ministry listed by the European Union as a terrorist organization.
-- The New York Times
February 2, 2021
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran finished installing one of three new cascades of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at the underground portion of the Natanz nuclear complex and that the installation of the other two cascades is in progress. The IAEA also confirmed that Iran began enriching uranium in the newly installed cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges. A first cascade of IR-2m centrifuges began uranium enrichment at the underground facility last year. The 2015 nuclear accord restricts Iran to using only IR-1 centrifuges at this facility. Iran also said that it began installing advanced IR-6 centrifuges at the Fordow nuclear facility.
-- Reuters
February 1, 2021
The Iranian Defense Ministry's Space Department announced that Iran had tested a new rocket, the Zuljanah. The solid-fuel motor of the rocket's first stage is the largest such motor used by Iran and has applications in long-range ballistic missile development. The motor is approximately 5 feet in diameter and has a thrust of 75 kilotons. Iran says that it will use the Zuljanah to send civilian satellites into orbit.
-- The Wall Street Journal
January 17, 2021
France, Germany, and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement urging Iran to halt plans to develop uranium metal, for which "Iran has no credible civilian use" and which has "potentially grave military implications." Iran claims that it is developing uranium metal because it is an "intermediate product" necessary for the manufacture of silicide-based fuel, "an improved type of fuel." Iran further claims that it informed the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) of its plans to produce the material two years ago.
-- Associated Press
January 15, 2021
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tested "suicide drones" during a military exercise. The drones resemble so-called "Delta" unmanned vehicles used in a 2019 attack on two locations in Saudi Arabia, Abqaiq and Khurais. While the Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for this attack, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the United Nations have linked the drones to Iran. The IRGC also tested solid-fuel Dezful and Zolfaghar ballistic missiles during the military exercise.
-- Associated Press
January 13, 2021
Iran has begun manufacturing equipment that will be used to produce uranium metal in the coming months, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The material will be used to make fuel for a research reactor in Tehran, according to Iran's ambassador to the IAEA. Because of its nuclear weapon applications, Iran agreed not to pursue uranium and plutonium metallurgy for 15 years under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The agreement allowed Iran to work on advanced fuel for research reactors after ten years. The uranium metal production line is expected to be located at a site in Isfahan, near the Uranium Conversion Facility. According to Western officials, the work is being done by Sureh, a subsidiary of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) that is currently under U.S. sanction and was previously sanctioned by the European Union. In December, the Iranian Parliament called on the government to start producing uranium metal within five months if the United States does not lift economic sanctions.
-- The Wall Street Journal