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Iranian press review: Khamenei advisor urges move to enrich uranium up to 60 percent

Meanwhile, Iran-backed armed factions in Iraq threaten more attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad, and in northern Iran, thousands of migratory birds die due to environmental crisis
A handout picture released by Iran's Atomic Energy Organization on 6 November 2019 shows the interior of the Fordow Uranium Conversion Facility in Qom (AFP)

IRGC ex-chief urges an increase in uranium enrichment

Mohsen Rezaei, a former chief of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has suggested that Tehran's only way to get rid of Washington's sanctions is to increase uranium enrichment by 60 percent, Iran's official news agency IRNA reported.

"We have to improve our diplomacy and [also] increase the uranium enrichment to 60 percent because that's the only way to help us to remove all US sanctions," said Rezaei, the secretary of Iran's Expediency Council and an advisor to Iran's supreme leader.

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His comments mark the second time that a high-ranking Iranian official has urged that Iran should increase uranium enrichment since President Joe Biden said the US would not remove sanctions on Iran before Tehran’s complete return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

On 23 February, following an agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to continue collaborations, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran would increase uranium enrichment if the US and European powers did not return to the deal.

In January, marking over two years since the 2018 unilateral withdrawal of the US from the deal, Tehran informed the IAEA that it would resume uranium enrichment to 20 percent purity. 

The move came after five years of Iran's full compliance to the nuclear deal, under which Tehran kept its uranium enrichment below four percent. However, following the US's breach of the nuclear agreement and intensifying sanctions against Iran, Tehran has rolled back its compliances to the deal. 

Meanwhile, the Javan daily, affiliated with the IRGC, claimed that Iran's flexibility in negotiating with the IAEA has made the UN watchdog body and western powers more demanding. The daily suggested that Tehran must take stricter measures in talks over its nuclear programme. 

"The IAEA has recently increased its demands, asking for more access to Iran's nuclear sites," the daily wrote. "The IAEA's new policy of demanding more would pave the path for the Western powers' avarice [in nuclear talks]." 

US embassy a target, says Iraqi militia leader

In an exclusive interview with Iran's conservative Fars news agency, the spokesman of the Iraqi militia group Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba said that after the assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the US, Washington's embassy in Iraq has become a legitimate target.

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"The assassination [of Soleimani and al-Mohandes] has provoked anger and the desire for revenge among millions of Iraqis," Nasr al-Shammari told Fars.

"Considering the simplicity of providing arms in Iraq, it is not unlikely that the youths would carry out retaliation against US interests. 

“The US embassy could be one of those targets, especially because everyone knows this embassy is a devil’s nest for espionage, sabotage, military and intelligence operations.”

Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba is a Shia armed faction backed by Iran and designated as a terrorist group by the US.

Amidst rising tensions between Tehran and Washington, the US embassy in Iraq was targeted several times by rockets. However, no armed group has claimed responsibility for those attacks, but Iranian-backed militias are suspected to be behind them.

Second year of mass death of migratory birds

Over 20,000 migratory birds have died in Iran's internationally known Miankaleh reserve, an alarming sign of the country's worsening environmental crisis due to water pollution and the authorities' negligence, the Ettelaat daily reported.

According to the numbers reported by officials, between 27 January and 1 March, environmental activists and wildlife officers had collected over 20,000 carcasses of pelicans, wild ducks and coots in Miankaleh.

Iran's veterinary organisation said in a statement that laboratory tests have shown avian botulism - an often fatal disease caused by the ingestion of toxins - was the cause of deaths among migratory birds.

Wildlife experts believe industrial sewage and agricultural pesticides that have entered wetland waters had produced the toxin causing botulism.

dead birds
Environmental activists and wildlife officers had collected over 20,000 carcasses of pelicans, wild ducks and coots in Miankaleh (Twitter)

The head of the wildlife office at Mazandaran Environmental Protection Organisation, Kouros Rabiei, said that the reserve's water level has sharply decreased in recent years due to illegal wells, building dams on rivers ending in the wetlands, and unauthorised water harvesting.

"The expansion of human habitat [in protected areas], the enormous stream of sewage going into the wetland, the growth of agricultural activities, the increasing number of fish farms and industrial factories are the parameters that resulted in a 25 percent shrinking of Miankaleh wetlands," the Ettelaat quoted Rabiei as saying.

This is the second consecutive year that migratory birds have faced mass mortality in Miankaleh. Last year over 40,000 birds died in this wetland due to the same reason.

Miankaleh, located in the northern province of Mazandaran, is one of the country's most important wildlife sanctuaries. In 1979, Unesco declared Miankaleh as a biosphere reserve. 

* Iranian press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

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