Why a quick return to the Iran nuclear deal is needed to avoid a real nuclear crisis

The Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations, Wang Qun, speaks after the closed nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, where diplomats from the EU, China and Russia, with journalists in front of the Grand Hotel and Iran held their talks. The United States takes part in discussions in Vienna to try to save the international agreement on Iranian nuclear power. However, they do not meet at the same table as Tehran and it is the Europeans who act as mediators between the two parties. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP via Getty Images)

About 80 days after President Biden’s inauguration, Iran and the world powers held the first round of nuclear talks in Vienna to revive the Iranian nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The diplomats involved in the talks agreed on Friday that the first steps in two working groups to bring both the United States and Iran back into conformity with the JCPOA were positive and will continue next week.

Nevertheless, the Biden government must bypass several political obstacles in order to rejoin the nuclear deal in time. And if the United States does not re-join quickly, there is a real possibility that talks will collapse, Iran will resume its uranium enrichment program, and unnecessarily create a dangerous crisis.

The context of the current conversations. Iran and six world powers (USA, Russia, China, Great Britain, Germany and France) approved the JCPOA in July 2015 with great excitement. In May 2018, then-President Trump withdrew the United States of America from this agreement and reinstated US nuclear sanctions against Iran. As part of the JCPOA, the US had lifted these sanctions in return for Iran’s willingness to severely curtail its nuclear program and accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency that are far more intrusive than those required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

For a full year after Trump stepped down from the deal, Iran continued its full compliance with the restrictions it agreed in the JCPOA. Thereafter, Tehran gradually withdrew from these restrictions and tried to put pressure on the United States to revert to the agreement. In January, Biden’s candidate for Foreign Secretary Anthony Blinken said the “breakout time” during which Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb had increased from over a year (under the deal) to around three or four months. In September Biden himself wrote: “Trump ruthlessly threw away policies aimed at protecting America.”

Now, about three months after he took office, the Biden government has not rejoined the deal. There appear to be three main obstacles to a quick re-entry into the US:

First, the administration is split up. According to Foreign Policy magazine, Biden government negotiator with Iran, Robert Malley, and Deputy National Security Advisor Jonathan Finer are in favor of re-entry, but Secretary of State Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are in favor of a tougher line.

Second, the powerful pro-Israel lobby has jointly urged the Biden government not to rejoin the JCPOA.

Third, the Congress Democrats are divided. In two separate letters to Blinken, non-partisan groups of around 160 members of the House called for continued pressure on Iran. The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, is opposed to reviving the JCPOA in its current form. In a statement, Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe warned: “As a reminder, members of Congress rejected the JCPOA in 2015 in a non-partisan way. If you (Biden) repeat history next week by restoring this failed agreement, we’ll work on rejecting it again. “

For the United States to return to the JCPOA as it was, the Biden administration would have to do rigorous work lifting about 1,600 sanctions and penalties imposed on Iran by the Trump administration after then-President Trump left the deal in 2018 The Biden administration has already warned that it will not lift every single economic sanction that former President Donald Trump has imposed. So, while Washington and Tehran say they want a “Compliance for Compliance” treaty to revive the JCPOA, one big question remains: can Biden ensure full compliance with US regulations?

I’ve been involved in Iranian nuclear talks for about two decades. Based on my experience and understanding of the current political situation in Tehran and Washington, the deal will collapse completely without a swift decision by Biden to rejoin the JCPOA, and serious nuclear talks will not resume until Iran regains influence by expanding its deal nuclear program is getting back to pre-JCPOA level – or maybe even above.

A new confrontation and the possibility of a new crisis. Historically, US pressure tactics have backfired, bringing Iran closer and closer to acquiring nuclear weapons.

As described in my book “The Iranian Nuclear Crisis”, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran decided to abandon most of the Shah’s ambitious nuclear and military projects and only keep the Tehran Research Reactor, which the United States had at the disposal of the 1967 Shah and the Bushehr had provided a nuclear power plant, 90 percent of which had been completed by Germany. Iran has signed a uranium enrichment treaty with France to fuel the Bushehr reactor, eliminating the need for a national enrichment facility. Annoyed by the hostage crisis, the United States urged France and Germany to terminate their treaties with Iran, clearly in violation of the non-proliferation treaty that guarantees members access to peaceful nuclear technology. Germany and France gave in and withdrew.

After 15 years of failed nuclear talks with France and Germany, Iran decided in 1995 to produce its own nuclear fuel. In 2003, the world learned that Iran was building a uranium enrichment plant. The US responded by switching from a policy without nuclear technology to a policy without enrichment for Iran. France, Germany and the UK started nuclear talks with Iran in September 2003, but, as UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reported, the talks failed because the US insisted that under no circumstances should Iran have uranium enrichment facilities on its own soil. and the European countries gave in to the pressure. Between 2003 and 2013, the United States persuaded China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom – the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council – to support six resolutions imposing severe international sanctions on Iran.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry reported last year: “[i]In 2013, I sat down with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for the first meeting of the best diplomats in our country since the 1979 revolution and the hostage crisis. Iran at the time had enough fortified material to make eight to ten atomic bombs and was two to three months away from being able to build one. “Washington has been forced to switch its policy from no enrichment to no outbreak. This policy was in line with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the JCPOA was signed in July 2015.

Now we have a new confrontation. In retaliation for the Trump administration’s renewed sanctions, the Iranian parliament passed a law on December 2 that requires the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency to begin enriching uranium to 20 percent of the U-235 isotope, the internationally established limit , above which uranium becomes weapons-grade.

Parliament has also withdrawn Iran from the IAEA Additional Protocol that allows IAEA inspections at sites where Iran manufactures uranium enrichment gas centrifuges. If the United States continues to refuse to rejoin the JCPOA and lift its sanctions on Iran, the legislation urged Iran to begin operating advanced centrifuges to develop the ability to convert uranium into metal form, such as they are in one Nuclear weapon would be used. by this month and to significantly increase the number of Iranian centrifuges. The legislation also stipulates that Iran’s 40 megawatt heavy water reactor should be commissioned within a year.

So far, the Biden government’s response has been unfortunate. Secretary of State Blinken has stated that there will be no American concessions until Iran fully complies with the JCPOA again, and on March 11, 2021, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat expressed their joint resolve on Iran confront.

In the absence of a US return to the JCPOA, Iran will now be producing enough enriched uranium within the next three to six months to be able to break out and enrich a bomb with 90 percent enriched uranium quickly enough. The top Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly reiterated that the manufacture and stockpiling of nuclear weapons in Iran is absolutely forbidden under the rules of Islam. But he has also stated that Iran will never give in to US pressure for its nuclear activities and that uranium could be enriched by up to 60 percent. This final stage appears to be indicative of Iran’s previously expressed interest in developing a nuclear reactor similar to the US marine reactors that power ships.

If Iran continues on this path, the United States and Israel will likely respond by stepping up strategies that have been in place since 2005: sanctions, sabotage of Iran’s nuclear facilities, and perhaps even the murder of more Iranian nuclear scientists.

Based on the experience of the past four decades, Iran will be able to oppose this policy of confrontation and take a breakout position. In response, after the inauguration of the new and likely tenacious Iranian President in August 2021, U.S. policy must shift from a no-breakout policy to a no-atom bomb policy. At that point, new nuclear talks would be needed to resolve the crisis peacefully, and the US would have to make enough concessions to convince Iran not to pursue an atomic bomb.

It would be far better to avoid such a dangerous crisis by going back to President Biden’s original plan for the US to quickly rejoin the JCPOA and lift the sanctions President Trump imposed on Iran in exchange for re-establishing the deal to be fully complied with. Then the two countries could begin to negotiate on the other issues that separate them.

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