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Iran calls Natanz atomic site blackout ‘nuclear terrorism’

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While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, suspicion fell immediately on Israel, where its media nearly uniformly reported a devastating cyberattack orchestrated by the country caused the blackout.
If Israel was responsible, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met Sunday with U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the nuclear deal.

Details remained few about what happened early Sunday morning at the facility, which initially was described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid feeding its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the American-educated head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, who once served as the country’s foreign minister, offered what appeared to be the harshest comments of his long career, which included the assassination of nuclear scientists a decade ago. Iran blames Israel for those killings as well.

He pledged to “seriously improve” his nation’s nuclear technology while working to lift international sanctions.

Salehi’s comments to state TV did not explain what happened at the facility, but his words suggested a serious disruption.

“While condemning this desperate move, the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes the need for a confrontation by the international bodies and the (International Atomic Energy Agency) against this nuclear terrorism,” Salehi said.

The IAEA, the United Nations’ body that monitors Tehran’s atomic program, earlier said it was aware of media reports about the incident at Natanz and had spoken with Iranian officials about it. The agency did not elaborate.

However, Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past. The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges at Natanz amid an earlier period of Western fears about Tehran’s program.

Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain. Iran also blamed Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.

Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the attack. Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility.

While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a coincidence,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, said of Sunday’s blackout. “If it’s not a coincidence, and that’s a big if, someone is trying to send a message that ‘we can limit Iran’s advance and we have red lines.’”

It also sends a message that Iran’s most sensitive nuclear site is “penetrable,” he added.

Netanyahu later Sunday night toasted his security chiefs, with the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, at his side on the eve of his country’s Independence Day.

“It is very difficult to explain what we have accomplished,” Netanyahu said of Israel’s history, saying the country had been transformed from a position of weakness into a “world power.”

Israel typically doesn’t discuss operations carried out by its Mossad intelligence agency or specialized military units. In recent weeks, Netanyahu repeatedly has described Iran as the major threat to his country as he struggles to hold onto power after multiple elections and while facing corruption charges.

Speaking at the event Sunday night, Netanyahu urged his security chiefs to “continue in this direction, and to continue to keep the sword of David in your hands,” using an expression referring to Jewish strength.

Meeting with Austin on Sunday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Israel viewed America as an ally against all threats, including Iran.

“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Gantz said. “And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the state of Israel.”

The Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, also appeared to reference Iran.

The Israeli military’s “operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy,” Kochavi said. “They are watching us, seeing (our) abilities and weighing their steps with caution.”

On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran’s first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.

Since then-President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.

The nuclear deal had granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for ensuring its stockpile never swelled to the point of allowing Iran to obtain an atomic bomb if it chose.

On Tuesday, an Iranian cargo ship said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen was struck by an explosion, likely from a limpet mine. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast. That attack escalated a long-running shadow war in Mideast waterways targeting shipping in the region.

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Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Josef Federman and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Jon Gambrell, The Associated Press

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Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

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OTTAWA — The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their traditional names on passports and other government identification.

The announcement comes in response to a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that demanded governments allow survivors and their families to restore names changed by the residential school system.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says the announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of people who aim to reclaim their identity on official documents.

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino says all fees will be waived for the process, which pertains to passports, citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards.

The move comes six years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made the recommendation, and follows last month’s news that ground-penetrating radar detected what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Most of the commission’s 94 calls to action remain unfulfilled, though cabinet ministers pointed to a pair of bills that would incorporate Indigenous rights into the oath of citizenship and align Canada’s laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Underdogs once again, Canadiens face tough test against top-ranked Golden Knights

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LAS VEGAS — A difficult challenge awaits the Montreal Canadiens tonight as they enter their Stanley Cup semifinal as underdogs against the host Vegas Golden Knights.

The top-ranked Golden Knights won an NHL-best 40 games in the shortened 56-game regular season and tied Colorado for the highest point total in the league – 23 points more than Montreal in the standings.

But the Canadiens have been in this position twice already this post-season.

They were not expected to beat the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round, nor were they favoured to overcome the third-place Winnipeg Jets in the second round. The team silenced critics in both cases and are riding a seven-game win streak that includes a sweep of the Jets.

It’s not all familiar territory for the Habs, though.

The Montreal-Vegas series is the first cross-border matchup in the NHL this season, made possible by a federal exemption allowing teams to bypass 14-day quarantine requirements.

The Canadiens will also need to overcome the roar of roughly 18,000 fans inside Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena – a stark contrast from the empty Canadian arenas during the regular season and even the 2,500 fans permitted inside Montreal’s Bell Centre during the playoffs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.

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