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Iran is not likely to restart its nuclear weapons programme any time soon

Despite sanctions, Iran unlikely to restart nuclear program—yet, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Kelsey Davenport, November 5, 2018 Iran’s commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal will face another test starting November 5, when US sanctions targeting the country’s oil sector come back into effect. When Tehran concluded the agreement with six world powers—the United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, and Germany—it agreed to stringently limit nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. The government of President Hassan Rouhani, and millions of ordinary Iranians, hoped this would bring major economic benefits by allowing foreign companies to do business with Iran. Despite the fact that Iran was complying with the terms of the deal—as documented by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the US State Department—the Trump administration decided on May 8 that it would reimpose the lifted sanctions, violating the agreement and dealing a harsh blow to Iran’s economy. That left Iran with a decision to make: Continue to comply with the agreement—known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—which still had the support of the five other parties and the European Union? Or resume and expand nuclear activities the deal had restricted?

Fortunately, Washington’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the deal, and even the cut in oil exports that will kick in November 5, are unlikely to trigger a drastic shift in Iran’s approach to the nuclear agreement. Most likely it will continue to adhere to JCPOA terms—at least in the short term. It has had time to adjust to the expected cut in exports. And, given the tightening in the oil market and Iran’s willingness to sell oil at a discounted rate, it is unlikely that the Trump administration will succeed in pushing Tehran’s oil exports to zero. India and China, Iran’s two largest oil customers, communicated to the United States that a complete cut is unrealistic at this time. Additionally, Iran’s past history with sanctions demonstrates a high tolerance for economic pain, and Tehran appears poised to wait out the Trump administration.

Iran’s decision, though, is not solely dependent on sanctions, and could shift down the road. Recognizing how important it is to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the European Union, Russia, and China are trying to find ways to preserve the economic benefits of the deal. Policymakers in the United States, meanwhile, still have a critical role to play. They can help keep the path open for a US return to the JCPOA, and prevent tensions from unnecessarily escalating over Iran’s nuclear rhetoric.

First, do no (more) harm. The Trump administration’s decision to reimpose sanctions—despite acknowledging Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA—dealt a serious blow to US credibility and significantly undermined the deal’s benefits to Iran. But US policymakers can still mitigate further negative impacts. This should start with reclaiming the narrative surrounding the deal and emphasizing its nonproliferation value.

The Trump administration has painted the deal as a failure because it did not “fix” Iran’s policies in areas beyond the nuclear program. But the JCPOA was only ever negotiated to block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons, and Tehran is clearly complying with the new restrictions and obligations. Trump’s blatant attempts to characterize the deal as a disaster must not go unchallenged, and policymakers supportive of its goals cannot wait for the next attack to defend it. The JCPOA put in place more intrusive, permanent, inspection provisions, and limits ensuring that for a decade, it would take Iran more than 12 months to produce enough fissile material for one bomb.

Furthermore, Iran may be more willing to continue adhering to the nuclear agreement—even without the full hoped-for economic benefit—if supporters of the deal in the United States continue to assert its security benefits, foreshadowing a return to US compliance under a different administration……..


November 6, 2018 - Posted by | Iran, politics, weapons and war

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