France tells Iran to stop ballistic missile work designed for nuclear weapons

FILE PHOTO: A boy holding a placard with pictures of (L-R) President Hassan Rouhani, the late founder of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, poses for camera in front of a model of Simorgh satellite-carrier rocket during a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – France on Friday called on Iran to immediately stop all activities linked to ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons after Tehran said it could put two satellites into orbit in the coming weeks.

“France recalls that the Iranian missile program (does) not conform with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231,” Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing.

“It calls on Iran to immediately cease all ballistic missile-related activities designed to carry nuclear weapons, including tests using ballistic missile technology.”

Von der Muhll was responding to comments by President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday, who said two satellites would be sent into space using Iran-made missiles.

Tehran responded by telling France to avoid repeating “irresponsible and incorrect” claims about Tehran’s missile work that were made by countries that were against a 2015 deal reached between Iran and six major powers, Iranian state TV reported on Friday.

“Iran’s home-grown defensive missile program is the Iranian nation’s natural right,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by TV.

“Iran’s missile program is not in violation of U.N. resolution of 2231.”

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and John Irish in Paris editing by William Maclean)

Senate to vote on Iran sanctions renewal this week

A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate will vote this week on a bill that would renew sanctions on Iran for 10 years, Senator Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s Republican leader, said on Tuesday in remarks as he opened the daily session.

If the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) is passed as expected, it would be sent to the White House, where President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law.

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last month for the extension of the ISA, first passed in 1996 to punish investments in Iran’s energy industry and deter the country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The act will expire at the end of 2016 if not renewed.

The Obama administration and other world powers reached an agreement last year in which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

But members of Congress said they wanted the ISA to stay in effect to send a strong message that the United States will respond to provocations by Iran and give any U.S. president the ability to quickly reinstate sanctions if Tehran violated the nuclear agreement.

White House officials have said they did not think the reinstatement was needed, now that the nuclear agreement has been in effect for almost a year. But they also have not raised concerns that a renewal would violate the deal.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by David Gregorio)

In Iran, opportunities of nuclear deal are slow to appear

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan

By Samia Nakhoul and Richard Mably

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Hopes that Iran would quickly reintegrate with world markets after its nuclear deal, bringing investment and opportunities to a young population, are turning to frustration. An opaque business environment in Iran and political uncertainty in the United States are to blame.

Tehran’s hotels are buzzing with businessmen keen for a slice of a big new emerging market, more industrially developed than most oil and gas-rich nations but isolated since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that turned Iran into a pariah state for most of the West and many of its Middle Eastern neighbors.

Yet potential foreign investors have found that the removal of international sanctions in exchange for monitored curbs on Iran’s nuclear program is only part of the story.

Barriers to entry include resistance from hardliners within Iran who worry an opening to the world will undermine their entrenched interests, and fear among foreign investors of falling foul of residual U.S. sanctions.

Under the nuclear deal, the U.S. and Europe lifted sanctions in January. But other U.S. restrictions remain. These include a ban on Iran-linked transactions in dollars being processed through the U.S. financial system and sanctions on individuals and entities identified as supporting “state-sponsored terrorism”.

The chief target of the anti-terrorism sanctions is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the theocratic establishment’s enforcer at home and strike-force abroad. The IRGC is also behind a business empire, encompassing construction to banking, and is expert at hiding its involvement.

Investors and top-tier foreign banks fear U.S. action could shut them out of the international banking system if they deal, even by mistake, with sanctioned bodies.

Adding to the uncertainty, Iranian analysts and foreign executives say, is the rise of Donald Trump, the U.S. tycoon set to clinch the Republican nomination in this year’s presidential election, who has threatened to tear up the Iran deal.

Yet even without this uncertainty, prospective dealmakers are finding themselves blocked.



Foreign executives scouting for business in Iran say when they examine the tangle of ownership behind companies they approach, they often detect IRGC ties.

Claude Begle, executive chairman of SymbioSwiss, a logistics and infrastructure company, says he found that one exploratory project turned up such links.

“We did a lot of due diligence and we found that the names of institutions appearing on the OFAC (the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control) sanction list are sometimes not far away,” he said in apparent reference to the Revolutionary Guard.

“When you look at the shareholders structure at the second or third level, then you see that such names may appear. They are sitting there.”

“Very often when you look at Iran’s successful companies, you can see that. And unless those companies are willing to modify accordingly their board structures, it will be very hard to raise international financing to work with such entities.”

The central problem for potential foreign investors is that even unwitting contact with an Iranian counterparty under sanctions could result in heavy U.S. Treasury penalties, effectively cutting them off from America’s financial markets – a powerful disincentive for any globalized business.

Alexander Gorjinia, part of the second German business delegation to visit Iran since August 2015, says “the biggest problem is the banks”.

While businesses and banks may have German go-ahead to operate in Iran, OFAC “puts the responsibility of establishing whether the (Iranian) company is clean on the foreign company.”

“The foreign company has to investigate the Iranian company, whether it is linked to or is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” Gorjinia told Reuters.

“It has to investigate their dealings, how they operate behind the scenes. We have to work with companies that have money in their pocket and most of them are part of the Revolutionary Guard. This is what our information tells us.”

European companies feel all these rules are part of a U.S. administration plan to block business between Europe and Iran, he complains.

Part of the problem is that units of the Revolutionary Guard are intervening in several of the wars across the Middle East.

In Iraq, Iran is aligned with the U.S. in the fight against the jihadis of Islamic State. But in Syria it is on the opposite side along with Russia, propping up the government of President Bashar al-Assad, while in Yemen Tehran has backed the Shi’ite Houthi insurgency that last year prompted U.S. ally Saudi Arabia to launch an air war across its southern border.

Few expect the U.S. to loosen sanctions on the IRGC and its business empire against this backdrop.



While Western businessmen commonly assume that their Chinese or Russian counterparts would be less inhibited by US sanctions, one Chinese executive in Tehran, who asked not to be named, also highlights the issue that international banks, fearful of being locked out of US capital markets, are so far spurning Iran.

Representing an oil and gas machinery company, he has visited Iran several times after the nuclear accord, but has yet to sign a single deal. Most Iranian companies, he says, even when there is clear demand for his drilling equipment, “don’t have money to pay”.

“They ask the sellers to provide financing,” he says “but that is impossible because throughout the world no foreign bank dares to do business with Iranian banks because they are scared…until the big (international) banks start doing business, but European banks are still scared of U.S. banks.”

Iranian leaders are complaining they have been short-changed on the sanctions relief part of the nuclear deal.

“On paper the United States allows foreign banks to deal with Iran, but in practice they create Iranophobia so no one does business with Iran,” Ayatollah Khamenei said last month.

Begle, the Swiss executive, says President Hassan Rouhani earlier this year asked the visiting Swiss president to press leading Swiss banks to start financing foreign operations in Iran.

“But of course the Swiss government cannot tell a private company to do this,” Begle says. “It can indicate that it would see it favorably, it can even consider some guarantees, but after all, it is a decision for the bank itself.”


There are other obstacles. The IRGC and other vested interests built up by hardliners grouped around Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, are hostile to foreign entry into Iran’s economy.

Khamenei, whose power far outweighs that of Iran’s elected officials in parliament or the presidency, gave decisive support to the nuclear deal which greatly strengthened the position of Rouhani, the reform-minded centrist president.

Rouhani, in coalition with reformists and independent conservatives, wrested back control of parliament from hardliners in February’s elections. This, some of his allies believe, should make it easier for the government to introduce business-friendly laws.

Yet four years ago, parliament passed a law intended to reduce the state’s role in the economy, put in place credible regulators and investor guarantees, and eventually get entities like those controlled by the IRGC to pay taxes. It has not been implemented.

Rouhani embodies popular expectations that IRGC-linked vested interests seem determined to thwart, some Iranian analysts believe, because sanctions have enabled them to win and keep control of the economy.

Hossein Raghfar, professor of economics at Tehran’s Alzahra University, says “there are many interest groups that have become very rich because of the economic crisis. They don’t want sanctions to be lifted.”

Saeed Laylaz, an economist close to Rouhani, says Iran’s economy was brought to its knees more by mismanagement than by sanctions. Jailed after hardliners cracked down on protests at the allegedly rigged presidential vote that gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term in 2009, he does not underestimate the hostility of vested interests towards a more open economy.

“I strongly believe some clear part of the regime has and had the project of creating sanctions against Iran to hide their mismanagement and their organized looting of economic wealth.”

To change the general atmosphere for business in the country, the Supreme Leader, the Revolutionary Guard and the judicial system must all be on board, Laylaz says.

“These are very important elements to attract foreign investment, just having the support of parliament doesn’t work at all. Because of this I am not too optimistic about it.”

(Created by Samia Nakhoul, editing by Janet McBride)

Russia to aid Iran’s nuclear program

Russia will be able to export nuclear equipment and technology to Iran now that president Vladimir Putin has eased an export ban, multiple news agencies reported on Monday.

The announcement came as Putin was visiting Tehran, the Iranian capital, for an energy summit. He was to hold talks with President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei later in the day, the state-owned Russian television network RT reported.

Under the decree, Russia will be able to help Iran modify and modernize two of its nuclear facilities. That will help the Middle Eastern nation produce and export enriched uranium, and the RT report indicated that Russia will be importing some low-enriched material from Iran.

Iran agreed in July to a landmark deal with Russia and five other world powers — China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. The comprehensive agreement was designed to restrict Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which the nation insists is used solely for civilian purposes but some Western nations feared was developing an atomic bomb.

Under the July deal, the United Nations agreed to lift sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy — costing it more than $160 billion in oil revenue in the past three years, the BBC reported at the time. But the sanctions won’t be lifted until it’s clear Iran complies with its end of the bargain, and they can be reinstated and extended if the nation doesn’t hold up to the terms.

The July agreement also requires Iran to dispose of 98 percent of its enriched uranium, and the country cannot possess more than 300 kilograms of the material for 15 years.

The BBC reported that low-enriched uranium has a 3 to 4 percent of the radioactive isotope U-235, which can be used in the process of fueling nuclear power plants. It can, however, be further enriched to the 90-percent level needed to make nuclear weapons, the BBC also reported.

Iran Publishes Plan To Eliminate Israel

The Supreme Leader of Iran has published a document that outlines a 9-step plan to eliminate Israel.

The 9 steps were also posted to the Twitter account of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The only means of bringing Israeli crimes to an end is the elimination of this regime,” Khamenei wrote. “And of course the elimination of Israel does not mean the massacre of the Jewish people in the region. The Islamic Republic has proposed a practical and logical mechanism for this to international communities.”

The statements come as Iran is negotiating with western countries regarding their nuclear program.

“Up until the day when this homicidal and infanticidal [sic] regime is eliminated through a referendum, powerful confrontation and resolute and armed resistance is the cure of this ruinous regime,” the supreme leader writes. “The only means of confronting a regime which commits crimes beyond one’s thought and imagination is a resolute and armed confrontation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called on the western countries negotiating with Iran to step back and realize this is the goal of Iran and that under no circumstances can that nation be allowed to continue on any path that would allow them to create an atomic bomb.

Iranian Nuclear Plant Explosion Kills 2

An Iranian “nuclear expert” is among two people killed after a major explosion at a nuclear plant.

Iran’s official news agency confirmed the blast, saying that it took place around 10 a.m.  in an “explosive materials production unit.”   Witnesses reported hearing the explosion several miles from the blast site.

The location is one that Iranian officials have refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit since 2005.  It is thought to be one of the locations where Iran is continuing to work on development of a nuclear bomb.

Israeli Internal Security Minister Yuval Steinitz told journalists last month that Israel had obtained reliable information the plant was carrying out secret tests on technology that could only be used for the detonation of a nuclear weapon.

Iran has been stalling in nuclear talks with western powers over its illegal nuclear program.  The deadline for a permanent deal is set to be November 24.

Iranian Leader: West “Stupid” To Think I’ll Curb Nuclear Missile Program

The highest-ranking member of the Iranian government says that western leaders are “stupid” if they think that Iran will do anything to curb their nuclear missile weapons program.

“They expect us to limit our missile program while they constantly threaten Iran with military action,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iran’s state-owned news agency.  “This is a stupid, idiotic expectation.  The revolutionary guards should definitely carry out their program and not be satisfied with the current level.  They should mass produce.”

Khamenei also said that western countries were working to bring the Iranian people to their knees with a list of sanctions but that they would never be able to stop Iran.

The “Supreme Leader” also said that he wants political leaders to find ways to end sanctions against Iran without giving up any of the country’s nuclear program.

No western nations are currently threatening military action against Iran.

Iran Ready To Produce Nuclear Weapons

A major intelligence leader has told Congress that Iran has all the items it needs to build a nuclear weapon.

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, sent a report to the Senate Intelligence Committee that states Iran has made enough significant advances in its nuclear program that if they chose to turn their back on world agreements and produce a nuclear weapon they could obtain it.

However, Clapper says that it would be very unlikely they would able to finish production of the weapon without other world powers discovering their work.

“We assess that Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded material and produce enough WGU (short for Weapons Grade Uranium) for a weapon before such activity would be discovered,” Clapper wrote. “The…central issue is its political will to do so.”

Clapper noted that Iran already has the largest stockpile of ballistic missiles in the Middle East and they are “inherently capable of delivering WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction).”

Iranian Official Admits Country Sought Nuclear Weapons

In the first official confirmation of what’s always been assumed, an Iranian official has admitted his country was attempting to get their hands on nuclear weapons.

General Mohsen Rafiqdoost, a founder of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, told an Iranian news outlet on Saturday that they had pursued ways to gain nuclear arms.  He said that when he approached Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini about the project, he said the Imam told him “do not pursue atoms” and he stopped the plan.

However, a letter that was shown from the 1980s showed that Khomeini had later approved of seeking the weapons.

Gen. Rafiqdoost was the first minister of the Revolutionary Guard and was tasked with obtaining weapons for the country on the black market.

Iran is refusing to dismantle centrifuges that could produce material for nuclear weapons claiming it is not part of the recently implemented temporary deal with western world powers.

Iran Says They Dismantled No Centrifuges

Iranian officials continue to speak out against the impressions given to media and the public by American officials regarding the recently implemented nuclear deal.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that their country has not dismantled a single piece of nuclear equipment.  He admitted that they have stopped enriching uranium beyond 5% but said that they could increase that percentage at any time.

“The White House tries to portray it as basically a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. That is the word they use time and again,” Zarif told CNN. “If you find a single, a single word, that even closely resembles dismantling or could be defined as dismantling in the entire text, then I would take back my comment.”

International observers have stated that if Iran chose to cancel the deal and return to enrichment, they have enough centrifuges to create weapons grade nuclear material for a nuclear bomb within weeks.