Iran nuclear chief says atomic program strong
By JON GAMBRELL and NASSER KARIMI
Tuesday, September 11
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s nuclear chief told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he hopes the atomic deal between Tehran and world powers survives, but warns the program will be in a stronger position than ever if not.
The remarks by Ali Akbar Salehi, who also serves as a vice president to Iran’s elected leader Hassan Rouhani, come as Iran tries to salvage an accord now challenged by President Donald Trump.
The American withdrawal from the deal and the return of U.S. sanctions already has badly shaken Iran’s anemic economy, crashing its rial currency. Further sanctions coming in November threaten Iran’s oil industry, a major source of government funding, and will further pressure the relatively moderate Rouhani.
For his part, Salehi sought to contrast Iran’s behavior, which includes abiding by the atomic accord, against “emotional moves and sensational moves.”
“I think (Trump) is on the loser’s side because he is pursuing the logic of power,” Salehi told the AP in an exclusive interview in Tehran. “He thinks that he can, you know, continue for some time but certainly I do not think he will benefit from this withdrawal, certainly not.”
Salehi heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, whose Tehran campus encompasses a nuclear research reactor donated to the country by the U.S. in 1967 under the rule of the shah. But in the time since, Iran was convulsed by its 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent takeover and hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
For decades since, Western nations have been concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, accusing Tehran of seeking atomic weapons. Iran long has said its program is for peaceful purposes, but it faced years of crippling sanctions.
The 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with world powers, including the U.S. under President Barack Obama, was aimed at relieving those fears. Under it, Iran agreed to store its excess centrifuges at its underground Natanz enrichment facility under constant surveillance by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran can use 5,060 older-model IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz, but only to enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent.
That low-level enrichment means the uranium can be used to fuel a civilian reactor but is far below the 90 percent needed to produce a weapon. Iran also can possess no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of that uranium. That’s compared to the 100,000 kilograms (220,460 pounds) of higher-enriched uranium it once had.
Salehi spoke about Iran’s efforts to build a new facility at Natanz that will produce more-advanced centrifuges, which 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 it to build advanced 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.
“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.”
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.
In the wake of Trump’s decision, Western companies from airplane manufacturers to oil firms have pulled out of Iran. Iran’s rial currency, which traded before the decision at 62,000 to $1, now stands at 142,000 to $1.
Despite that, Salehi said Iran could withstand the economic pressure, as well as restart uranium enrichment with far-more sophisticated equipment.
“If we have to go back and withdraw from the nuclear deal, we certainly do not go back to where we were before,” Salehi said. “We will be standing on a much, much higher position.”
Still, danger could loom for the program. 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, 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.
How building design changed after 9/11
September 9, 2016
Associate Professor of Structural Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Texas Arlington
Shih-Ho Chao receives funding from National Science Foundation.
When buildings collapse killing hundreds – or thousands – of people, it’s a tragedy. It’s also an important engineering problem. The 1995 collapse of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center towers in 2001 spawned many vows to never let anything like those events happen again. For structural engineers like me, that meant figuring out what happened, and doing extensive research on how to improve buildings’ ability to withstand a terrorist attack.
The attack on the Murrah building taught us that a building could experience what is called “progressive collapse,” even if only a few columns are damaged. The building was nine stories tall, made of reinforced concrete. The explosion in a cargo truck in front of the building on April 19, 1995, weakened key parts of the building but did not level the whole structure.
Only a few columns failed because of the explosion, but as they collapsed, the undamaged columns were left trying to hold up the building on their own. Not all of them were able to handle the additional load; about half of the building collapsed. Though a large portion of the building remained standing, 268 people died in the areas directly affected by the bomb, and in those nearby areas that could no longer support themselves. (A month after the attack, the rest of the building was intentionally demolished; the site is now a memorial to the victims.)
A similar phenomenon was behind the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people. When exposed to the high temperatures created by burning airplane fuel, steel columns in both towers lost strength, putting too much load on other structural supports.
Until those attacks, most buildings had been built with defenses against total collapse, but progressive collapse was poorly understood, and rarely seen. Since 2001, we now understand progressive collapse is a key threat. And we’ve identified two major ways to reduce its likelihood of happening and its severity if it does: improving structural design to better resist explosions and strengthening construction materials themselves.
Borrowing from earthquake protection
Research has found ways to keep columns and beams strong even when they are stressed and bent. This property is called ductility, and higher ductility could reduce the chance of progressive collapse. It’s a common concern when building in earthquake-prone areas.
In fact, for years building codes from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Institute of Steel Construction and the American Concrete Institute have required structural supports to be designed with high enough ductility to withstand a major earthquake so rare its probability of happening is once every 2,000 years. These requirements should prevent collapse when a massive earthquake happens. But it’s not enough to just adopt those codes and expect they will also reduce or prevent damage from terrorist attacks: Underground earthquakes affect buildings very differently from how nearby explosions do.
Another key element structural engineers must consider is redundancy: how to design and build multiple reinforcements for key beams and columns so the loss of, say, an exterior column due to an explosion won’t lead to total collapse of the entire structure. Few standards exist for redundancy to improve blast resistance, but the National Institute for Building Sciences does have some design guidelines.
Making concrete stronger
The materials that buildings are made of also matter. The steel columns in the World Trade Center towers lost strength rapidly when the fire reached 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Concrete heated to that temperature, though, doesn’t undergo significant physical or chemical changes; it maintains most of its mechanical properties. In other words, concrete is virtually fireproof.
The new One World Trade Center building takes advantage of this. At its core are massive three-foot-thick reinforced concrete walls that run the full height of the building. In addition to containing large amounts of specially designed reinforcing bars, these walls are made of high-strength concrete.
An explosion generates very high pressure – how much depends on how big the blast itself is, and how close it is to the structure. That leads to intense stress in the concrete, which can be crushed if it is not strong enough.
Regular concrete can withstand 3,000 to 6,000 pounds of compression pressure per square inch (psi); the concrete used for One World Trade Center has a compressive strength of 12,000 psi. Using materials science to more densely pack particles, concrete’s strength has been increased up to 30,000 psi.
While traditional reinforced concrete involves embedding a framework of steel bars inside a concrete structural element, recent years have brought further advancement. To enhance concrete’s toughness and blast resistance, high-strength needle-like steel microfibers are mixed into the concrete. Millions of these bond with the concrete and prevent the spreading of any cracks that occur because of an explosion or other extreme force.
This mix of steel and concrete is super-strong and very ductile. Research has shown that this material, called ultra-high-performance fiber-reinforced concrete, is extremely resistant to blast damage. As a result, we can expect future designers and builders to use this material to further harden their buildings against attack. It’s just one way we are contributing to the efforts to prevent these sorts of tragedies from happening in the future.
Explainer: the role of foreign military forces in Niger
September 9, 2018
Lecturer in Political Science (Mil), Stellenbosch University
Craig Bailie does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Stellenbosch University provides funding as a partner of The Conversation AFRICA.
Niger is one of the most militarised countries in Africa. In November 2017, this came to wider notice when four American Special Forces soldiers and at least four of their Nigerien counterparts died in an ambush. Since then, the military presence has only intensified. Why are these forces there, whose interests are they serving and are they having the impact that was intended?
The US is not the only nation with a military presence in Niger. France, Germany, Canada and Italy also have troops in the West African country.
In April this year, Niger hosted Exercise Flintlock, a military exercise that brought together 1900 troops from more than 20 partner countries. Sponsored by the US, it purported to develop capacity and collaboration among African security forces to protect civilians against violent religious extremism.
Three main reasons are given for this military presence: countering terrorism, preventing migration of Africans to Europe, and protecting foreign investments.
Terrorism in the region
North Africa’s Sahel region, which includes Niger, hosts a number of Islamic extremist groups. The Sahel has been described as the ‘new frontier’ in global counter-terrorism operations. The US has a military presence in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Chad as well as Niger. As far as we know, only Sudan and Eritrea do not host US troops. The Sahel has also hosted “a range of second-tier external actors” including armed forces from the European Union, Israel, Colombia, and Japan.
America’s involvement in the Sahel has its roots in the post 9/11 war on terror. In 2003 it set up the Pan-Sahel Initiative, which brought together Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to train military units. In 2004, the initiative was replaced by the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. The expanded partnership includes Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. Its aim is to address terrorist threats and prevent the spread of violent extremism.
In 2014, the heads of State of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad signed a convention establishing the G5 Sahel, aimed at ensuring “development and security to improve the population’s quality of life.”
In 2017 the same heads of state established the Joint Force of the G5 Sahel – a decision sanctioned by both the African Union and the United Nations.
The purpose of the Joint Force, which is now chaired by Nigerien president Mahamadou Issoufou, is more comprehensive in nature when compared to other joint security operations in the region. In addition to improving security along shared borders, its scope encompasses “soft security” issues.
The US has provided each member state with military support and pledged $60 million in bilateral support to the initiative.
Niger occupies a central geographical position in the Sahel region. Unfortunately for its citizens, the country is surrounded and affected by instability.
And then there’s the fact that Niger has historically served as a gateway for migrants between sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa. And recently, it has become a popular transit point for people seeking better opportunities in Europe. Countries like Italy are now deploying troops to Niger to prevent illegal migration.
Foreign armed forces in Niger train African troops, fly drones, build bases, engage in cross-border raids and collect intelligence.
The scope of these activities points primarily to countering terrorism and controlling migration. However, Africa’s growing potential for consumption, which explains the expanding economic and trade relations with the continent, offers a further reason for the increasingly diverse foreign military presence in Niger and in the region more broadly.
A willing host
What of Niger’s own interests? Its government has welcomed the presence of foreign troops. President Mahamadou Issoufou is happy to support Washington’s interests in the region as long as the US is willing to mentor and train his armed forces.
US involvement in Issoufou’s military affairs will help him fulfil his election promise to “crush Islamist militants.”
Niger’s cosy relationship with the US is of particular significance given the recently strained relations between America and Niger’s neighbour, Chad. In late 2017, US President Donald Trump added Chad to his travel ban – a move that baffled foreign policy experts and clearly upset the Chadian government. The travel ban has since been lifted.
The cost of foreign military presence
Has the presence of foreign forces in Niger achieved the aims of combating terrorism and stemming migration? And at what cost? Have there been unintended and potentially dangerous consequences?
There is certainly a view that their presence has had a negative impact on domestic politics in Niger.
A report published in the months following the deaths of US troops suggests an increasingly oppressive and undemocratic political culture in Niger.
Civil society and opposition political leaders who offer their testimony in the report argue that the building of foreign military bases in Niger is unconstitutional. They view the foreign military presence in the country and the concurrent securitisation of Niger’s political and civil society arenas as a means to strengthen a government lacking in domestic support.
Niger’s 2016 elections, which gave Issoufou a second term, were reportedly “plagued by serious irregularities”.
Niger’s military build-up is also cause for concern in a country where the Forces Armées Nigeriennes is “an intensely politicised organisation” with “a distinct distaste for civilian oversight”. Such a force may prove valuable to a president who wishes to entrench his power beyond democratic means.
This year, citizens took to the streets chanting “French, American and German armies, go away!”. Issoufou responded by cracking down on further protests in March. He defended the move by saying it was important to have a “democratic but strong” state.
What the future holds is unclear, particularly given a recent report that Washington is considering withdrawing most of its troops. For those opposing foreign military presence in Niger, this couldn’t happen soon enough.
17 Years after 9/11, ‘It’s Sharia-supremacism’
Frank Gaffney, President and CEO of Center for Security Policy, shared the following statement today:
“Seventeen years ago, America suffered a horrific attack that plunged our nation into a war that today has no end in sight. In part, that’s due to the fact that we haven’t been clear about who we are fighting and why.
“Candidate Donald Trump recognized this reality and promised to respond, starting by replacing euphemisms like ‘terrorism’ and ‘violent extremism’ with a policy that established the actual source of the threat: ‘radical Islam’ and its jihad-commanding doctrine, Sharia.
“Yet, America’s strategy remains unmoored from that direction and we are no closer to victory than on 9/12. To the contrary, Sharia-supremacists are on the march worldwide, including here at home – albeit more stealthily, for the time being.
“President Trump famously called on Muslim nations to ‘drive them out.’ For seventeen years, we’ve tried settling for less, and must do so no longer.”
Brazil creates institute to fight corruption in Latin America
Monitoring public tenders and avoiding loopholes for corruption is the focus of the organization presented in the US
Washington, September 11, 2018 – Entrepreneurial leaders and representatives from important agencies dedicated to fighting corruption are meeting in Washington D.C. and New York this week to discuss the creation of an independent, non-profit making institution dedicated to improving the transparency, efficiency and competitiveness of the infrastructure sector in Brazil and Latin America. The first meeting took place today at the Wilson Center.
The delegation, led by Ethos Institute CEO, Ricardo Young and Caio Rodriguez, partner of the law firm responsible for giving advice to the largest Brazilian construction company on its leniency agreement with the country’s Public Prosecution Service (MPF). It also includes Felipe Moreno, partner of the JusBrasil platform and executives from the construction company, Odebrecht. Besides receiving conceptual suggestions on how the organization should operate, holding events on American soil aims to attract potential sponsors committed to the causes of integrity and transparency that foster its emergence.
The Observ Institute’s first mission is to give visibility to thousands of public infrastructure tenders which are held annually by more than 5,500 Brazilian municipalities, 27 states, the Federal District and the Federal Government.
The project hopes to contribute towards the transformation of the public contract environment in Brazil and other Latin American countries in the future. “The aim is to monitor public tender processes through a platform which organizes information from all the public infrastructure notices in the country, enabling society to follow the execution of public contracts at the three government levels”, confirms Felipe Moreno from JusBrasil, the company which has been guaranteeing the transparency of public data from the judiciary in the country since 2008.
The Observ Institute will also publicly evaluate failures identified in public infrastructure purchasing processes, in order to avoid the repetition of illegal acts, such as those identified in Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash).
According to Paulo Sotero, director of the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute, “fighting corruption and promoting transparency in public contract tenders are priorities for those who want to see the establishment of a fairer and more mature society, under the rule of law in Brazil; this is the path which will lead the country to the level it deserves in the world economic setting.” The Wilson Center, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is an official, non-partisan organization dedicated to improving public policies. “We are opening our doors to this important initiative in the hopes that the discussions and exchanges of ideas lead to rational and applicable proposals,” added Sotero.