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Will Iran go nuclear over reimposed sanctions?

 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Ezra Friedman, August 7, 2018 

Yesterday US President Donald Trump issued an executive order restoring one set of economic sanctions on Iran that were lifted by the Obama-era nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The sanctions cover Iranian trade in items including metals such as gold and steel, automobiles, and aircraft.

In early November, Trump plans to reintroduce even more crippling sanctions on Iranian oil and banking. Collectively, these sanctions are likely to cause immense damage to the Iranian economy. Even carpets and foodstuffs are being sanctioned by the United States. The European Union and the three European countries that signed the nuclear deal (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) are attempting to assemble an economic package that will save the deal from complete collapse, but so far with little progress and growing frustration on all sides. A joint statement issued yesterday by European foreign ministers says they “deeply regret” the White House decision.

By reimposing sanctions, Trump aims to force the current regime in Iran to negotiate a more comprehensive nuclear deal, or to inflict enough economic pain to change the regime’s behavior—if not the regime itself. Iran now finds itself in the crosshairs of a president who has made it his personal mission to aggressively combat Tehran.

Trump’s strategy might not have the intended effect, but it is likely to cause Iran to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Does that mean Iran will go all Pyongyang and start developing nuclear weapons? Probably not. But unless a new nuclear deal can be made, Iran can be expected to resume its pre-JCPOA program of uranium enrichment, taking the country to the threshold of becoming a nuclear weapons state.

Why Iran will probably leave the JCPOA. When the JCPOA was signed three years ago, its supporters hailed it as a breakthrough against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and a chance to welcome Iran back into the fold of nations following a long exile that began in 1979. The nuclear deal’s detractors claimed that the agreement was not broad enough, because it allowed Iran to continue its ballistic missile program unabated and to support its proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen—thereby continuing to push an agenda of regional hegemony.

The May 8 withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA amplified the debate. The United States is pursuing an almost fanatical campaign, lobbying its allies and partners across the globe, and educating them about the latest sanctions package—as well as the penalties for noncompliance. Critics say the sanctions regime will be ineffective because China and other countries will take advantage of the situation. But others, including several major foreign companies, are taking the sanctions seriously, in some cases withdrawing altogether from Iran.

What is clear is that sanctions will make an already difficult domestic economic situation worse in Iran. Iranians are largely young, educated, and tired of the regime’s policies. Many are angry about the billions of dollars spent in support of foreign wars, and protests are escalating. Iran also finds itself overextended regionally with challenges to its grand strategy in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. While Tehran’s ally Bashar al-Assad will remain in power, Iran will now find itself in competition with Russia for dominance in Syria, both economically and politically, despite the high price Tehran has paid in both men and money to support Assad………..

Why it’s not in Iran’s interest to leave the NPT. Iran has several options once it leaves the JCPOA. Some statements by Iranian leaders suggest that Iran will race to acquire a nuclear device, ramping up its nuclear program so as to achieve this goal as quickly as possible, either overtly or covertly. Iran’s critics point to its past violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the early 2000s, confirmed by an Israeli intelligence operation earlier this year. (Iran has been a party to the treaty since 1970.)

While frightening, this scenario is unlikely, because it would place Iran in the same category as North Korea: a pariah in the eyes of the international community. On a strategic level, Tehran is keenly aware of this possibility and wants to avoid it at all costs. Even if Iran would like to have a militarized nuclear program, the cost would be massive if not unbearable for the regime.

………Rather than withdrawing from the NPT, it is more likely that Iran will return to something akin to a pre-JCPOA scenario, with a nuclear program that is enriching uranium to 20 percent or more without the full oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency—which will almost certainly lose its current ability to access Iran’s known non-military nuclear sites upon Iran’s exit from the JCPOA. In this scenario, Iran will have a short “breakout period”—the time needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build its first nuclear device—estimated at five weeks to a year.It is important to note that there is a strong likelihood that some trading partners considered important to Iran economically—such as China, India, Turkey, and the European Union—will at least partially flout US extraterritorial sanctions. Such a scenario would be the best of both worlds for Tehran, allowing the regime to achieve the prestige and tacit recognition of a nuclear program that is illicit in nature, all the while not being subject to UN Security Council resolutions and maintaining its standing in the international community……….https://thebulletin.org/2018/08/will-iran-go-nuclear-over-reimposed-sanctions/?utm_source=Bulletin%20Newsletter&utm_medium=iContact%20email&utm_campaign=August10

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August 11, 2018 - Posted by | Iran, politics international

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