Worrying Nuclear Reports Out of Iran
Happy Thursday! Nebraska police accused two men this week of killing an American Bald Eagle, which they allegedly planned to cook and eat. Did no one tell these guys the taste of freedom is supposed to be … metaphorical?
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Drugmaker Eli Lilly announced Wednesday it will cut prices 70 percent for top-selling insulin products and cap out-of-pocket costs for most patients at $35 a month. The company faced backlash and a stock price drop in November after an imposter falsely tweeted the company would make insulin free, and drugmakers have faced political pressure over climbing prices. About 8.4 million people with diabetes in the United States rely on insulin, and a RAND Corporation report found a vial of insulin cost nearly $100 on average in the U.S. in 2018—about five times more than the second-highest price of about $21 in Chile.
- A review by the CIA and other intelligence agencies of about 1,000 cases of “Havana syndrome”—baffling headaches and other symptoms experienced by diplomats and other officials at embassies—concluded they were “very likely” not caused by a foreign adversary. The report found no pattern linking the individual cases or evidence of directed energy attacks, attributing the symptoms to environmental factors or other illnesses. Previous reviews from an intelligence community panel had concluded directed energy attacks could be responsible for the symptoms.
- Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, signed into law Tuesday a ban on gender reassignment procedures for minors, making Mississippi the seventh state to limit such treatments. Tennessee’s legislature recently passed a similar bill which GOP Gov. Bill Lee has promised to sign into law, and more than 20 states this year have considered restrictions on puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and gender reassignment surgery for minors.
- Israeli police on Wednesday arrested 39 people and used stun grenades and water cannons on protesters—11 of whom were hospitalized—blocking roads to oppose increased legislative control of Israel’s powerful judiciary. Police also retrieved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife from a salon surrounded by demonstrators. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who oversees the police, said there must be “zero tolerance toward anarchists” amid the clashes.
- More than 300 students, mostly girls, were reportedly hospitalized in Iran Wednesday in the latest round of suspected poisoning attacks. Some 30 schools in various cities have been affected since November, prompting speculation that attackers are trying to close girls’ schools on the heels of protests sparked by the September death in custody of Mahsa Amini, detained for allegedly violating the country’s religious dress code.
- The Treasury Department on Wednesday sanctioned two North Koreans and three companies it said had raised money for North Korea’s government, violating sanctions intended to block funding for Pyongyang’s weapons development programs. The Treasury Department said North Korea used Chilsong Trading Corp. to “earn foreign currency, collect intelligence, and provide cover status for intelligence operatives” and Paekho Trading Corp. to raise money by “conducting art and construction projects on behalf of regimes throughout the Middle East and Africa.”
Iranian Uranium on the Cranium
Earlier this week, details of a quarterly report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—a United Nations-backed organization that monitors nuclear regimes around the world—emerged, indicating something was amiss at Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility in late January. IAEA inspectors were there in accordance with the “safeguard agreements” to which Iran has been a party since 2003, and they uncovered cascades of advanced centrifuges—used to purify uranium, an element critical to both nuclear power and bombs—reconfigured in a “substantially different” way from Iran’s previous declarations. Samples taken January 22 revealed enrichment of uranium “particles”—not a stockpile—to 83.7 percent purity, well above the 60 percent figure that’d been reported at the facility in November.
Why does any of this matter? The roughly 84 percent purity discovered last month is the highest level of enrichment ever detected in the country, and just shy of the 90 percent threshold considered weapons grade. Though Iranian officials claimed the abnormally high levels were due to “unintended fluctuations” in enrichment rather than intentional moves towards higher purity, Tehran has misled Western officials and journalists repeatedly in the past. For what it’s worth, Massimo Aparo, a high-ranking IAEA official, visited the site last week and, according to Iranian officials, “checked the alleged enrichment rate.” Because the latest IAEA report doesn’t include evidence from Aparo’s visit, Iranian officials have insisted there was no cause for concern.
The head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, also plans to visit Iran Friday for high-level meetings with Iranian officials ahead of the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna on March 6. But it’s not clear what the next steps will be in what has become a pattern of increased enrichment since Iran’s nuclear ambitions were revealed to the world 20 years ago.