Middle East

Pompeo Urges the World to Counter Iran’s ‘Nuclear Extortion’

Iran is moving toward being able to develop a nuclear weapon in a short time frame, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday, calling Tehran’s actions to expand its nuclear program “extortion” that should inspire “all nations” to increase pressure.

Iran said this week that it had increased its supply of advanced centrifuges and reactivated a much larger number of old centrifuges that had been idle, accelerating its ability to produce enough nuclear material to make a bomb. The addition of centrifuges is among several steps Iran has taken in recent months to ratchet up pressure on the West in response to President Trump’s decision to exit the 2015 nuclear agreement and reimpose sanctions.

Mr. Pompeo said on Thursday in a statement released by the State Department that Iran’s actions amounted to “nuclear extortion” and were designed to intimidate the world into accepting its sponsorship of violent insurgencies and terrorism. Mr. Pompeo was in Germany for meetings with government officials.

The moves raise “concerns that Iran is positioning itself to have the option of a rapid nuclear breakout,” Mr. Pompeo said, meaning a rush to develop a nuclear bomb. He added: “The United States will never allow this to happen.”

There was no immediate response from the government of Iran, which has denied having any ambition to be a nuclear power. Experts say that Iran has not yet come near the level of uranium enrichment needed for a weapon, but some Western analysts say that if it attempted a “breakout,” Iran could develop a bomb in less than a year.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which works to stop nuclear proliferation, held a closed-door meeting in Vienna on Thursday to discuss Iran. Tehran recently prevented an inspector from the agency from entering its main nuclear facility at Natanz and briefly detained her.

After the meeting, an agency spokesman, Fredrik Dahl, said that top officials had discussed “questions related to the completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations,” the commitments that nations make to the agency to ensure that nuclear material intended for peaceful uses is not diverted to weapons.

The agency did not announce any actions.

Under a nuclear agreement signed in 2015, Iran agreed to limit the size and scope of its uranium enrichment, in return for relief from damaging economic sanctions imposed by the United States.

President Trump withdrew the United States from that pact last year and reimposed sanctions. Administration officials say the measures are intended to pressure Tehran to agree to stricter limits and cut off its support for militia groups around the Middle East.

Iran has responded with its own pressure campaign, deliberately going beyond the limits imposed by the 2015 deal as it pushes for relief from the sanctions.

Mr. Pompeo landed in Germany on Wednesday for a two-day trip commemorating 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and, with it, the Iron Curtain that once divided Europe into the communist east and democratic west.

As a United States soldier, Mr. Pompeo was posted in 1986 to a base in Bindlach, Bavaria, where he was focused on securing the borders with what was then East Germany and Czechoslovakia. That base closed in the 1990s when the United States drew down its troop strength after German reunification.

He met on Thursday with German and American veterans who served at the same time. He also toured a village known as Little Berlin, which once straddled the border.

Later Thursday, he traveled to Leipzig to meet with Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, and tour the St. Nicholas church, where East Germans held mass demonstrations calling for democratic reforms in 1989.

American-German relations have been strained under Mr. Trump, who has frequently criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel and her policies on immigration, climate change and Iran. On Friday, Mr. Pompeo is to meet in Berlin with Ms. Merkel and her ministers of defense and finance.

Melissa Eddy and Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.

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