TPM World News

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Nations on Wednesday began signing the first treaty to ban nuclear weapons, a pact backed by over 100 countries but spurned by those with nuclear arms.

The U.N. treaty office said 51 countries are expected to attach their names on the opening day for signatures. Brazilian President Michel Temer was first to sign.

The treaty requires all countries that eventually ratify it not to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons “under any circumstances.

Wednesday, the opening day for signatures. Brazilian President Michel Temer was first to sign.

The treaty requires all countries that eventually ratify it not to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons “under any circumstances.

“This treaty is an important milestone towards the universally held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons” at a time of increasing concern about their risk, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said as he opened the signing ceremony.

It came alongside the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting of world leaders. Many were set to address the assembly later in the day, while the Security Council had scheduled a high-level meeting on its far-flung peacekeeping operations.

More than 120 countries approved the nuclear ban in early July over strong opposition from nuclear-armed countries and their allies, who boycotted the negotiations.

Supporters of the pact say it’s time to push harder toward eliminating atomic weapons than nations have done through the nearly 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“For decades, nuclear weapons have remained the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited, despite their immense destructive power and threat to humanity,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. She said that with tensions growing between the U.S. and North Korea over the North’s nuclear program, the need for the treaty is even greater.

North Korea’s race to develop nuclear weapons that could hit the United States dominated Tuesday’s opening ministerial session of the assembly.

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy” the Asian nation if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies against aggression. Guterres warned that the threat of a nuclear attack is at its highest level since the end of the Cold War and “fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings.”

But nuclear powers say a ban on the weapons won’t work.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that France refused to take part in negotiations on the treaty because it can only weaken the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. He called the nuclear ban treaty “wishful thinking” that is “close to irresponsible.”

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis said supporters of the treaty regretted the nuclear-armed nations’ position.

“We call upon them to join this date with history,” he said.

Later Wednesday, Guterres was expected to brief the Security Council meeting on reforming U.N. peacekeeping — a key item on the Trump administration’s agenda, which will be represented by Vice President Mike Pence.

Ethiopia’s U.N. Mission, which holds the council presidency, said nine presidents, three vice presidents, six prime ministers, three deputy prime ministers and more than 30 foreign ministers are scheduled to attend the daylong session. Some 71 countries have signed up to speak.

Members are expected to vote on a resolution that would recognize “the primacy of politics” including mediation, monitoring cease-fires and assisting the implementation of peace accords in the U.N.’s approach to resolving conflicts. The draft resolution also underscores the need to enhance the overall effectiveness of peacekeeping operations and “the critical importance of improving accountability, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness.”

In the General Assembly, leaders from several dozen countries will address the 193-member world body, including the presidents of Iran and Ukraine, the prime ministers of Japan and the United Kingdom, and the Palestinian leader.

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — A powerful earthquake jolted central Mexico on Tuesday, cracking building facades and scattering rubble on streets in the capital on the anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake.

The quake caused buildings to sway sickeningly in Mexico City and sent panicked office workers streaming into the streets, but the full extent of the damage was not yet clear.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 7.1 and was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, about 76 miles (123 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City.

Puebla Gov. Tony Galil tweeted that there had been damaged buildings in the city of Cholula including collapsed church steeples.

In Mexico City, thousands of people fled office buildings and hugged to calm each other along the central Reforma Avenue as alarms blared, and traffic stopped around the Angel of Independence monument.

In the Roma neighborhood, which was struck hard by the 1985 quake, piles of stucco and brick fallen from building facades littered the streets. Two men calmed a woman seated on a stool in the street, blood trickling form a small wound on her knee.

At a nearby market, a worker in a hardhat walked around the outside warning people not to smoke as a smell of gas filled the air.

Market stall vendor Edith Lopez, 25, said she was in a taxi a few blocks away when the quake struck. She said she saw glass bursting out of the windows of some buildings. She was anxiously trying to locate her children, whom she had left in the care of her disabled mother.

Pictures fell from office building walls, objects were shaken off of flat surfaces and computer monitors toppled over. Some people dove for cover under desks. Local media broadcast video of whitecap waves churning the city’s normally placid canals of Xochimilco as boats bobbed up and down.

Earlier in the day workplaces across the city held preparation drills on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, a magnitude 8.1 shake, which killed thousands of people and devastated large parts of Mexico City.

Much of Mexico City is built on former lakebed, and the soil is known to amplify the effects of earthquakes even hundreds of miles away.

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PARIS (AP) — The four American college students attacked with acid at a Marseille train station have forgiven their assailant, who reportedly suffers from a mental illness, a university spokesman said Monday.

The four women, on a study-abroad year, have all said they intend to remain in Europe to continue their studies, the spokesman for Boston College, the private Jesuit school they attend, told The Associated Press.

The women “have stated their intention to remain in Europe for their studies and have offered forgiveness to the woman who attacked them, an individual who police say suffers from mental illness,” said Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn.

The four were attacked Sunday morning at the Saint Charles train station in the southern French city. A 41-year-old woman has been taken into custody by police in the case.

Two of the students had asked for prayers for their assailant in Facebook posts late Sunday.

One of the women, Michelle Krug, said she was one of two who got hit in the eye with “a weak solution of hydrochloric acid.” She asked friends to “please consider thinking about/praying for our attacker” so she can receive help.

“Mental illness is not a choice and should not be villainized,” Krug wrote, adding she planned to continue her “incredible opportunity” to study in France.

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis says that when he was 42 he had sessions weekly with a psychoanalyst who was female and Jewish to “clarify some things.”

It wasn’t specified what the future pontiff wanted to explore. The revelation came in a dozen conversations Francis had with French sociologist Dominique Wolton, writing a soon-to-be-published book.

La Stampa, an Italian daily, quoting from some of the conversations on Friday, said Francis went to the analyst’s home. Francis was quoted as saying: “one day, when she was about to die, she called me. Not to receive the sacraments, since she was Jewish, but for a spiritual dialogue.”

“She was a good person. For six months she helped me a lot,” Francis said.

Francis then was a Jesuit official in his native Argentina ruled by military dictatorship.

In the conversations with the French author, Francis speaks highly of the positive influence women have had on his life.

“Those whom I known helped me a lot when I needed to consult with them,” Francis is quoted his saying.

The 80-year-old pope also speaks of his state of mind now. “I feel free. Sure, I’m in a cage here at the Vatican, but not spiritually. Nothing makes me afraid.”

What bothers him, he ventured, are people with straitjacket point-of-views.

He singled out “rigid priests, who are afraid to communicate. It’s a form of fundamentalism. Whenever I run into a rigid person, especially if young, I tell myself that he’s sick.”

But Francis concludes that “in reality, they are persons looking for security.”

In past remarks, the pope has indicated he struggled with how to use authority in his first roles of leadership as a Jesuit.

The Catholic Church used to project a sense of mistrust regarding psychoanalysis.

But over time, the diffidence seems diminished.

Updated Vatican guidelines for use on seminaries in training future priests describe psychologists as valuable in assessing the psychological health of candidates.

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — In a first, North Korea on Tuesday fired a midrange ballistic missile designed to carry a nuclear payload that flew over Japan and splashed into the northern Pacific Ocean, officials said. The aggressive missile launch — likely the longest ever from North Korea — over the territory of a close U.S. ally sends a clear message of defiance as Washington and Seoul conduct war games nearby.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile traveled around 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) and reached a maximum height of 550 kilometers (341 miles) as it traveled over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The distance and type of missile tested seemed designed to show that North Korea can back up a threat to target the U.S. territory of Guam, if it chooses to do so, while also establishing a potentially dangerous precedent that could see future missiles flying over Japan.

Any new test worries Washington and its allies because it presumably puts North Korea a step closer to its goal of an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can reliably target the United States. Tuesday’s test, however, looks especially aggressive to Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.

North Korea has conducted launches at an unusually fast pace this year — 13 times, Seoul says — and some analysts believe it could have viable long-range nuclear missiles before the end of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first term in early 2021.

Seoul says that while North Korea has twice before fired rockets it said were carrying satellites over Japan — in 1998 and 2009 — it has never before used a ballistic missile, which is unambiguously designed for military strikes. North Korea also chose not to fire its most recent missile at a lofted angle, as it did in previous launches to avoid other countries, and Seoul’s spy service said the North launched from an unusual spot: the international airport in its capital, Pyongyang. The South Korean military was analyzing whether North Korea had launched a Hwasong-12, a new intermediate-range missile that it recently threatened to fire into waters near Guam, which hosts a major U.S. military base that the North considers a threat.

The launch is also another rebuke to Trump, who suggested last week that his tough approach to North Korea, which included threats to unleash “fire and fury,” meant leader Kim Jong Un “is starting to respect us.”

Tuesday’s missile landed nowhere near Guam, but firing a Hwasong-12 (Hwasong is Korean for Mars, or Fire Star) so soon after the Guam threat may be a way for North Korea to show it could follow through if it chose to do so. Guam is 3,400 kilometers (2,110 miles) away from North Korea, but South Korea’s military said the North may have fired the most recent missile at a shorter range.

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that North Korea fired the missile from an airfield at Pyongyang’s international airport. Some outside observers said launching a road-mobile missile from an airport runway could demonstrate the North’s ability to fire its missiles from anywhere in the country. It was not immediately clear what the launch meant for the few civilian flights that use the airport.

The National Intelligence Service also told lawmakers it was unclear whether the missile’s warhead survived atmospheric re-entry, according to the office of Kim Byung-kee, a lawmaker in attendance.

Separately, the spy agency said North Korean leader Kim’s third child was born in February, but provided no other details.

North Korea will no doubt be watching the world’s reaction to see if it can use Tuesday’s flight over Japan as a precedent for future launches.

Trump issued a statement saying that North Korea had signaled its “contempt for its neighbors” and that “all options are on the table” in terms of a U.S. response.

Japanese officials made their usual strongly worded condemnations of the launch.

“We will do our utmost to protect people’s lives,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “This reckless act of launching a missile that flies over our country is an unprecedented, serious and important threat.”

Tokyo said there was no reported damage from the missile, which Japan’s NHK TV said separated into three parts. Residents on Hokkaido were warned of a North Korean missile launch by an alert on their cellphones, with loud alarms and an email that told people to stay indoors. Speakers broadcast an alert saying “missile is passing, missile is passing.”

A U.S. congressman visiting Seoul said Washington is now pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions by shutting down the impoverished country’s access to hard currency, the lifeblood of its expensive weapons program.

The goal is to offer international banks that do business with North Korea a choice between bankruptcy and freezing North Korean accounts, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview after meeting with South Korean leaders.

Tuesday’s launch comes days after North Korea fired what was assessed as three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, and a month after its second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which analysts say could reach deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.

In an unusual move, the military in Seoul released videos of three South Korean missile tests conducted last week. They showed two types of new missiles with ranges of 800 kilometers (500 miles) and 500 kilometers (310 miles) being fired from truck-mounted launchers.

South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development said the launches represented the last flight test for the longer-range missile before it is operationally deployed. Such missiles, which would be the latest additions to South Korea’s Hyumoo family of missiles, are considered key components of the so-called “kill chain” pre-emptive strike capability that South Korea is pursuing to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat.

South Korea also said its air force conducted a live-fire drill involving four F-15 fighter jets dropping eight MK-84 bombs that accurately hit targets at a military field near the country’s eastern coast. Yoon Young-chan, chief press secretary of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said the exercise was conducted after Moon directed the military to “display a strong capability to punish” North Korea if need be.

The North’s launch over Japan shouldn’t be a total surprise. Earlier this month, when threatening to lob four Hwasong-12s into the waters near Guam, North Korea specifically said they would fly over Japanese territory. North Korea in June also angrily reacted to the launch of a Japanese satellite it said was aimed at spying on the North and said Tokyo was no longer entitled to fault North Korea “no matter what it launches or whether that crosses the sky above Japan.”

North Korea typically reacts with anger to U.S.-South Korean military drills, which are happening now, often testing weapons and threatening Seoul and Washington in its state-controlled media. But animosity is higher than usual following threats traded between Trump and the North.

North Korea regularly says U.S.-South Korean military drills are a rehearsal for invasion, and North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Ja Song Nam, wrote recently that the exercises are “provocative and aggressive” at a time when the Korean Peninsula is “like a time bomb.”

Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said early flight information suggests the North Korean missile was likely a Hwasong-12. Other possibilities, he said, include a midrange Musudan, a missile with a potential 3,500-kilometer (2,180-mile) range that puts much of the Asia-Pacific region within reach, or a Pukguksong-2, a solid-fuel missile that can be fired faster and more secretly than weapons using liquid fuel.

North Korea first fired over Japanese territory in August of 1998 when a multistage rocket that outside experts called “Taepodong-1” flew about 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) before landing in the Pacific Ocean. The North later said it had launched a satellite; after initially saying North Korea had launched a ballistic missile, South Korea years later said it was a space launch attempt.

North Korea flew another rocket over Japan again in April 2009 and said that, too, was carrying a satellite. The North claimed success, but the U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command said no satellite reached orbit. Some parts of a space launch vehicle reportedly flew over Okinawa last year after separating from the rocket.

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired an unidentified projectile from its capital Pyongyang that flew over Japan, officials said, an especially aggressive test-flight that will rattle an already anxious region.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday said the South Korean and U.S. militaries were analyzing the launch and didn’t immediately confirm how far the projectile traveled. Japanese officials said the missile flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and landed in the Pacific Ocean. There was no damage to ships or anything else reported. Japan’s NHK TV said the missile separated into three parts.

The launch comes days after the North fired what was assessed as three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea and a month after its second flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which analysts say could reach deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.

North Korea typically reacts with anger to U.S.-South Korean military drills, which are happening now, often staging weapons tests and releasing threats to Seoul and Washington in its state-controlled media. But animosity is higher than usual following threats by U.S. President Donald Trump to unleash “fire and fury” on the North, and Pyongyang’s stated plan to consider firing some of its missiles toward Guam.

Pyongyang regularly argues that the U.S.-South Korean military exercises are an invasion rehearsal. The allies say they are defensive and meant to counter North Korean aggression.

North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Ja Song Nam, wrote recently that the exercises are “provocative and aggressive” when the Korean peninsula is “like a time bomb.”

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean court sentenced the billionaire chief of Samsung to five years in prison for crimes that helped topple the country’s president, a stunning downfall that could freeze up decision making at a global electronics powerhouse long run like a monarchy.

The Seoul Central District Court said Friday that Lee Jae-yong, 49, was guilty of offering bribes to Park Geun-hye when she was South Korea’s president, and to Park’s close friend, to get government support for efforts to cement his control over the Samsung empire. The revelations that led to Lee’s arrest in February fed public outrage which contributed to Park’s removal.

A panel of three judges also found Lee guilty of embezzling Samsung funds, hiding assets overseas, concealing profit from criminal acts and perjury. Prosecutors had sought a 12-year prison term.

The court said Lee and Samsung executives who advised him caused “a big negative effect” to South Korean society and its economy.

“The essence of the case is unethical collusion between political power and capital,” the court said in a statement. It led the public to fundamentally question the public nature of the president’s work and to have “mistrust in the morality of the Samsung group,” it said.

The families who control South Korea’s big conglomerates, known as chaebol, were lionized a generation ago for helping to turn South Korea into a manufacturing powerhouse put public tolerance for double standards that put them above the law has been rapidly diminishing.

Analysts said the verdict will not immediately have an impact on Samsung’s business operations, which are overseen by three chief executives. The company has successfully weathered past crises that include two recalls of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones prone to catch fire and Lee’s arrest. It is set to report its highest-ever earnings this year.

But long-term business decisions, such as finding future growth areas and identifying companies for acquisitions, may have to be put on hold.

“South Korea’s chaebol system is similar to monarchy,” said Park Sang-in, a professor at Seoul National University. “In the monarchy system, you need a king.”

There is also potential for a destabilizing family feud over inheritance when the elder Lee dies.

“Samsung was in the middle of change and that has stopped,” said Park Ju-gun, chief executive at CEO Score, a private corporate watchdog. “That is a big risk.”

Business lobby groups, while refraining from openly criticizing the verdict, expressed concerns that Lee’s absence from the helm of Samsung would take a toll on the South Korean economy. Samsung accounts for about one fifth of the nation’s exports.

“Samsung Electronics represents South Korea as a global company so we are deeply worried about the fallout from his long absence,” said a Korea Employers Federation spokesman. “It will be a disaster not just to an individual company but to the nation’s economy.”

The verdict, however, could be good news for shareholders at South Korean companies who have complained about weak corporate governance that let founding families wield outsized influence and enjoy emperor-like authority even with minority ownership.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office, in a rare commentary on a court ruling, welcomed the ruling as a step toward rooting out corruption.

“We hope that it would pave the way to end persistent government-business collusion, which has hampered society from moving forward,” its spokesman Yoon Young Chan said.

Lee was accused of offering $38 million in bribes to four entities controlled by Choi Soon-sil, a long-time friend of Park, in exchange for government help with a merger that strengthened Lee’s control over Samsung after his father suffered a heart attack in 2014.

Samsung has not denied transferring corporate funds. But Lee, vice chairman at Samsung Electronics and the Samsung founder’s grandson, claimed innocence during the court hearing. He said he was unaware of the foundations or the donations, which were overseen by other executives.

The closely-watched verdict is the latest convulsion in a political scandal that prompted millions of South Koreans to protest last fall, culminating in the ouster and arrest of Park as well as the arrests of Choi and Lee. Park, who was embroiled in a tumultuous series of scandals, was removed from office in March. She and Choi are both currently on trial.

Judges pointed to an unusual arrangement in which Samsung bankrolled equestrian training for Choi’s daughter as proof of Lee’s knowledge of what was transpiring.

They said Lee was aware that Park wanted Samsung to sponsor the equestrian training.

Samsung secretively provided a huge amount of money to Choi’s Germany-based company that paid for the training and the exorbitantly priced foreign horses worth 3.6 billion won ($3.2 million) were part of the bribes, the verdict said. The attempts to hide Samsung’s involvement also constituted crimes, it said.

In total, Samsung paid $7.9 million in bribes to the German company and a winter sports center, the judges said.

The verdict also dealt a blow to Samsung’s publicly stated position that recent business dealings or restructuring efforts have nothing to do with the succession of corporate leadership to Lee from his father. Instead, Samsung has insisted that a merger of two Samsung companies at the center of the scandal was about creating business benefits. Judges rejected Samsung’s argument.

“He was set to benefit most from the succession work, which was part of the favors sought from the president,” Kim Jin-dong, the head judge, said.

Other former Samsung executives charged with Lee were also found guilty.

Choi Gee-sung, a mentor of Lee, and Chang Choong-ki were sentenced to four years in prison. Two other former executives received suspended prison terms.

The ruling in Lee’s case can be appealed twice. Samsung will appeal the ruling immediately, Song Woo-cheol, a Samsung attorney, told reporters.

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MOSCOW (AP) — A senior Russian diplomat is warning against expanding sanctions against North Korea, saying it’s necessary to focus on a political settlement.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that “the scope of sanctions already endorsed by the U.N. Security Council is such that any possibilities of expanding such measures have been exhausted.”

In remarks to the Japanese and Chinese media released by the ministry on Wednesday, he bemoaned Washington’s “absolute and boundless” emphasis on developing new sanctions against Pyongyang.

Ryabkov said the U.N. Security Council must now focus on a political settlement.

China and Russia have called on the U.S. to suspend annual military exercises with South Korea in exchange for Pyongyang halting its missile and nuclear tests as a first step toward direct talks.

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TOKYO (AP) — North Korea’s state media released photos Wednesday that appear to show the designs of one or possibly two new missiles.

Concept diagrams of the missiles were seen hanging on a wall behind leader Kim Jong Un while he visited a plant that makes solid-fuel engines for the country’s ballistic-missile program.

One of the photos clearly showed a diagram for a missile called “Pukguksong-3,” which appears to be the latest in its Pukguksong, or Polaris, series. The other was harder to discern, though it carried a “Hwasong,” or Mars, designation name.

The photos were carried in the morning edition of the Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party’s newspaper, and released by the Korean Central News Agency just two days after the United States and South Korea began annual military exercises that the North claims are a rehearsal for war.

Tensions on the peninsula generally ratchet up during the maneuvers and a series of larger exercises held each spring.

The KCNA report on the visit said Kim called on workers at the plant to produce more solid-fuel rocket engines and rocket warhead tips.

Michael Duitsman, a research associate at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, said the first missile has not been seen before.

“The Pukguksong-3 is definitely new,” he said in an email to the AP.

The missile might be designed to fly farther and to be launched from protective canisters, which allow missiles to be transported more easily and makes them more difficult to locate and destroy in advance. Solid-fuel engines add to that difficulty because they allow for quicker launches than liquid-fuel missiles. It could possibly also boost the North’s submarine-launched missile capabilities.

North Korea successfully tested the submarine-launched Pukguksong-1 in August last year. It then followed up with a successful test of the land-based Pukguksong-2 in February this year. Both are believed to have intermediate ranges that could target Japan and the U.S. bases there but not the mainland United States.

The submarine and land-based technologies overlap, and developments in either can benefit both.

“It’s pretty smart to use the same missile design for both an SLBM and a land-based variant, the key being the canister,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who focuses on nuclear proliferation. “On land it’s easier to move and store, and fire. And you need a canister-based system for ejection at sea.”

Duitsman said the quality of the pictures made it hard to immediately distinguish what the other missile was — though he said it was likely either a Hwasong-13 or Hwasong-11.

Hwasong is what North Korea calls most of its missiles, including its only ICBM — the Hwasong-14, which it tested last month. That missile is believed capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, though it probably needs another year or more of fine-tuning before it could be a serious threat.

“If it is the Hwasong-13, then there has been an enormous change to the design,” he said. “The Hwasong-13 was originally paraded in 2012 as a liquid-fueled missile.”

He cautioned that more analysis is needed.

“Changing an entire missile from liquid to solid fuel, or vice versa, is generally something you don’t do,” he said. “The design principles are very different.”

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s atomic chief said Tuesday the Islamic Republic needs only five days to ramp up its uranium enrichment to 20 percent, a level at which the material could quickly be further enriched for use in a nuclear weapon.

The comments by Ali Akbar Salehi to Iranian state television come as U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly has threatened to renegotiate or walk away from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Salehi’s warning, along with recent comments by President Hassan Rouhani, show Iran is willing to push back against Trump while still acknowledging it wants to keep the deal, which lifted crippling economic sanctions.

“If there is a plan for a reaction and a challenge, we will definitely surprise them,” said Salehi, who also serves as one of Rouhani’s vice presidents. “If we make the determination, we are able to resume 20 percent enrichment in at most five days.”

He added: “Definitely, we are not interested in such a thing happening. We have not achieved the deal easily to let it go easily. We are committed to the deal and we are loyal to it.”

Iran gave up the majority of its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium as part of the nuclear deal it struck with world powers, including Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama. The accord currently caps Iran’s uranium enrichment at under 5 percent.

While Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, uranium enriched to 20 percent can be further enriched in a matter of weeks to the point where it can be used in nuclear weapons. Fears about that so-called “breakout time” were what led the U.S. and other countries to push for the agreement.

Iran processed its stockpile of near 20-percent uranium into a lower enrichment, turned some into fuel plates to power a research reactor and shipped the rest to Russia as part of the deal.

The Obama administration and most independent experts said at the time of the deal that Iran would need at least a year after abandoning the deal to have enough nuclear material to build a bomb. Before the deal was struck, they said the time-frame for Iran to “break out” toward a bomb was a couple of months.

While the economic benefits of the deal have yet to reach the average Iranian, airlines in the country have signed deals for billions of dollars of aircraft from Airbus and Boeing. Car manufacturers and others have swept into the Iranian market and the country has boosted its oil sales. Abandoning the deal would put those economic gains in jeopardy.

Rouhani, a moderate within Iran’s clerically-overseen government, warned last week that it could ramp up its nuclear program and quickly achieve a more advanced level if the U.S. continues “threats and sanctions” against his country.

Rouhani’s comments were sparked by Trump signing a sanctions bill imposing mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The U.S. legislation also applies terrorism sanctions to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and enforces an existing arms embargo.

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