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Preventing an accidental nuclear crisis in Iran and beyond

Preventing an accidental nuclear crisis in Iran and beyond, Bulletin, By Samuel M. Hickey | October 11, 2021 There has been no sign as to when nuclear talks with Iran may recommence. But after weeks of consultations, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have reached a deal on “the way and the timing” for UN nuclear inspectors to service cameras installed at Iran’s nuclear facilities. This patchwork agreement has kept alive the possibility of recovering a complete picture of Iran’s nuclear program and of reviving the Iran nuclear deal since Iran cut inspector access in February. It is also the first real sign of cooperative engagement by Iran since President Ebrahim Raisi came to power in August.

The Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the latest experiment in how much UN nuclear inspector access states will tolerate. However, it is under exceptional stress from those who believe military coercion is more effective than systems of denial in stemming proliferation. Days after the least competitive presidential election in the Islamic Republic’s history, a drone attack at a centrifuge production facility on June 23 damaged the IAEA’s monitoring and surveillance equipment. While the Israeli government did not comment on the attack, the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, located in the city of Karaj, was reportedly “on a list of targets that Israel presented to the Trump administration early last year.” Now, Iran has allowed the IAEA to service cameras in every location but the Karaj site.

Acts of sabotage are diametrically opposed to the global nuclear verification regime because states need to believe that punishment will cease if they comply with the agreed-to framework. Further, failure to revive the nuclear deal could remove the possibility of applying the verification tools gained to other proliferation challenges like North Korea or the next nuclear threshold state. The loss of these techniques would undermine efforts to improve the global nonproliferation regime. As the United States’ experiences in leaving Afghanistan make clear, accurate intelligence is critical to making informed decisions and avoiding a crisis. The wrong assumptions can have dire consequences.

Verification evolution: Iraq and the old gold standard. The current nuclear verification protocols are the strongest in history and prioritize the non-diversion of nuclear materials over sovereign jurisdiction; however, many of these legal instruments were born out of crisis and remain voluntary, not mandatory……………………..

Specifically, the Iran nuclear deal caps the quantity and level of enrichment of uranium as well as the number and sophistication of the centrifuges that are operating and limits heavy water production. It also provides continuous monitoring of centrifuges and centrifuge rotor tubes, continuous access to Natanz, the monitoring of the production or acquisition of any uranium ore concentrate and enhanced managed access, meaning the IAEA can inspect a suspected violation.

The deal also instilled two key principles that should be universalized. First, a civilian nuclear program should be commensurate to its energy or related needs. Second, the IAEA has the right to monitor a ban on “weaponization” activities, which are activities related to developing or procuring equipment for developing nuclear weapons. …………

These measures, at least until the deal expires, will provide a high degree of confidence that weapons-related activity is not occurring. They could also be promoted as a model for other countries wanting to give confidence in the peaceful nature of their own nuclear facilities………

If the politics of the Iranian nuclear program are too challenging, then the new verification tools will not be useful to solve a real crisis if one crops up in Iran or elsewhere. The great arms control theorist and developer of game theory Thomas Schelling opened his book Arms and Influence with the reflection: “One of the lamentable principles of human productivity is that it is easier to destroy than to create.” Let’s hope the groundbreaking verification and monitoring tools of the Iran nuclear deal are not a casualty of human initiative. https://thebulletin.org/2021/10/preventing-an-accidental-nuclear-crisis-in-iran-and-beyond/

October 12, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

US calls for ‘imminent’ return to nuclear talks with Iran


US calls for ‘imminent’ return to nuclear talks with Iran, Aljazeera, 9 Oct 21,
State Department spokesperson says US is ‘willing and able’ to resume negotiations as soon as Iran agrees.
Indirect US-Iran talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal have been on ice since June [Handout via Reuters]7 Oct 2021

The Biden administration has called for an “imminent” return to talks in Vienna to revive the Iran nuclear deal, but said a resumption of the negotiations is “hinging on the Iranians”.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Thursday that Washington is willing to continue the talks as soon as Tehran agrees to re-engage in the negotiations, stressing that the path to diplomacy is still open.

Pakistan and Iran discuss border security, AfghanistanIran ‘concerned’ by Israeli ‘presence’ in the CaucasusIranian foreign minister meets top Lebanese officials

Negotiations have been on ice since June, shortly after the election of Iran’s conservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

“We have made very clear that we are prepared, willing and able to return to Vienna as soon as we have a partner to negotiate with,” Price said.

The 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting international sanctions against its economy………….  https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/7/us-calls-for-imminent-return-to-nuclear-talks-with-iran

October 9, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

Iran calls on US to unfreeze $10 billion before returning to nuclear talks

Iran calls on US to unfreeze $10 billion before returning to nuclear talks
If the U.S. is serious about rejoining the 2015 nuclear accord, “then a serious indication is needed,” says Iran’s foreign minister.

BY DEAN SHMUEL ELMAS AND JNS STAFF   (OCTOBER 3, 2021 / ISRAEL HAYOM) Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahain said on Saturday that the Islamic Republic had requested that the United States unfreeze “at least” $10 billion in frozen Iranian funds to prove it was serious about rejoining the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action……. https://www.jns.org/iran-calls-on-us-to-unfreeze-10-billion-before-returning-to-nuclear-talks/

October 4, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | 1 Comment

Iran clearly wants to return to nuclear talks


‘Very clear intent’ by Iran to return to nuclear talks, Ireland says
, By Michelle Nichols   UNITED NATIONS, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister expressed a “very clear intent” to return to nuclear talks in Vienna, Ireland’s foreign minister said on Wednesday after meeting with his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“That may not happen for a number of weeks, as the new Iranian government finalizes their approach towards those negotiations. But certainly, he expressed a very clear intent to return to those negotiations,” Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, told reporters.

Ireland is currently a member of the U.N. Security Council and coordinates the 15-member body’s work on a 2015 Iran nuclear deal between Tehran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia………

In a video statement, Raisi told the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday that Tehran wants to resume nuclear talks with world powers that would lead to removal of U.S. sanctions. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/iran-minister-expressed-very-clear-intent-return-nuclear-talks-ireland-2021-09-22/

September 23, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

Iran appoints harsh critic of the nuclear deal to the Foreign Ministry

Crucial changes at Iran’s foreign ministry ahead of nuclear talks

Iran has appointed a staunch critic of the nuclear deal to a position that will have a significant impact on its future.    Aljazeera,  By Maziar Motamedi, 15 Sep 21,

Tehran, Iran – Shortly before talks resume in Vienna around restoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, its foreign ministry has made some changes that may well prove critical.

Hardline diplomat Ali Bagheri Kani has been appointed as the new deputy for political affairs, replacing veteran diplomat Abbas Araghchi, who led six rounds of nuclear talks in Vienna up to late July – when talks stopped to allow Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi to form his administration.

Araghchi, a career diplomat and senior member of the team that negotiated the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) during the tenure of President Hassan Rouhani, is now an adviser to Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, which may mean he has not been fully sidelined

If the nuclear file stays with the foreign ministry – as opposed to the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) – Bagheri Kani, for years a staunch opponent of the nuclear deal, could become the new chief nuclear negotiator.

But even if he does not lead the negotiations, he is expected to play a significant role in pushing for a stricter stance on the lifting of unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States after it left the deal in 2018.

Bagheri Kani’s appointment was reportedly pushed for by Saeed Jalili, another opponent of the JCPOA and an ultraconservative senior member of the SNSC who ran for president in the June elections………….

The path ahead

The appointments come as Iran and the US, China, Russia, and European powers are expected to return to the Austrian capital at a critical stage for the JCPOA.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman on Monday said the Vienna talks would happen “in the near future”.

Another crisis looming over the resumption of the talks was avoided on Sunday when Iran and the global nuclear watchdog reached an agreement struck in Tehran…………… https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/15/crucial-changes-at-irans-foreign-ministry-ahead-of-nuclear-talks

September 16, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics, politics international | Leave a comment

Iranian Guards Physically Harassed Female U.N. Nuclear Inspectors, Diplomats Say .

Allegations come amid rising tensions between Tehran and the U.N. atomic energy agency  While Iran says it isn’t trying to build nuclear weapons, a look at its key facilities suggests it could develop the technology to make them. WSJ breaks down Tehran’s capabilities as it hits new milestones in uranium enrichment and limits access to inspectors.   WSJ, By Laurence Norman, Sept. 14, 2021

Iranian security guards have physically harassed several female United Nations atomic agency inspectors at a nuclear facility over the past few months, diplomats say, and the U.S. has demanded that Iran stop the behavior immediately.

The previously unreported incidents at Iran’s main nuclear facility, Natanz, allegedly included inappropriate touching of female inspectors by male security guards and orders to remove some clothing, the diplomats said….. (subscribers only) https://www.wsj.com/articles/iranian-guards-physically-harassed-female-u-n-nuclear-inspectors-diplomats-say-11631626649

September 16, 2021 Posted by | civil liberties, Iran | Leave a comment

Iran blocking UN atomic agency access to nuclear-related sites, IAEA says

Iran blocking UN atomic agency access to nuclear-related sites, IAEA says, Mint.  LAURENCE NORMAN, The Wall Street Journal, 8 Sep 21,

  • U.S., European powers must now decide whether to seek formal censure of Tehran, U.N. atomic agency says. Iran is refusing to allow inspectors access to nuclear-related sites and hindering a probe by the United Nations atomic agency while continuing to expand its nuclear activities, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in two confidential reports Tuesday, casting doubt on efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

The reports leave the Biden administration and its European allies facing a choice between pushing for a formal rebuke of Iran—which Tehran’s new hard-line government has warned could scuttle the resumption of nuclear talks—or refraining from action, potentially undercutting the authority of the IAEA and its leadership.

The future of the nuclear deal is already in the balance. New Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, pressed by European and U.S. officials to quickly resume the talks on restoring the deal, has said his government is prepared to return to the Vienna negotiations but refused to fix a date. The last talks took place in June…… (subscribers only)  https://www.livemint.com/economy/iran-blocking-un-atomic-agency-access-to-nuclear-related-sites-iaea-says-11631033739871.html

September 9, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Analysts In Iran Pessimistic Over Nuclear Talks, Oppose Further Delays

Analysts In Iran Pessimistic Over Nuclear Talks, Oppose Further Delays, Iran International, 6 Sept 21

Reza Nasri, a senior international relations expert in Iran has warned the Iranian government that delaying the resumption of nuclear talks with world powers would give an opportunity to the deal’s opponents in the West to erect new hurdles to a new agreement.

Nasri told ISNA news website in Iran that some American opponents of the 2015 nuclear agreement known as JCPOA may try to use this opportunity to form alliances against the revival of the deal among members of the US Congress………………….   https://iranintl.com/en/world/analysts-iran-pessimistic-over-nuclear-talks-oppose-further-delays

September 6, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

What’s next for the Iran nuclear deal?

Iran nuclear deal: What’s next for the JCPOA?

With a conservative government in Iran and Biden touting ‘other options’, restoring JCPOA will be difficult, analysts say, Aljazeera, By Ali Harb, 3 Sep 2021 Washington, DC – Tehran says it is seeking sanction relief; Washington says containing the Iranian nuclear programme is a national security priority.

And so, both countries maintained that they have an interest in reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. But six rounds of talks in Vienna earlier this year have failed to produce a path to restore the multilateral agreement.

The election of conservative President Ebrahim Raisi in Iran has further complicated the situation. Negotiations have been on ice since June with the Iranian government in transition. Last week, the Iranian parliament approved Raisi’s cabinet, but the parties are yet to set solid plans for resuming the negotiations.

With hardliners consolidating power in Iran and US President Joe Biden tackling multiple crises at home, analysts have said reviving the nuclear pact will be difficult.

Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and analyst, said she is pessimistic about the prospects of reinstating the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

A Raisi government run by ideologues and more interested in relations with China and Russia will not be rushing to negotiate with the US, she said.

“I’m prepared for the possibility that the return would not happen,” Mortazavi told Al Jazeera.

“And this is not only on the Iranian side, but it’s also the Biden administration. Joe Biden himself – even though he did promise a return to the JCPOA – it doesn’t seem like he’s willing to spend the political capital that is required for this return

Iran says all sanctions must go

As a candidate, Biden pledged to restore the deal that saw Iran curb its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions against its economy.

The administration says it seeks to make the deal “longer and stronger” and use it as a platform to address broader issues with Tehran, including Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional activities.

On Thursday, Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Iran agrees “in principle” to resuming the Vienna talks.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry said Amirabdollahian told his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, that negotiations must “result in removing all sanctions on the country and fulfilling the rights of the Iranian people”…………………

Since 2015, Trump imposed more than 1,000 sanctions on Iran, and Biden added a few of his own.

The Biden administration has expressed willingness to remove some sanctions not officially labelled as nuclear. But Iran said it wants all sanctions revoked. And so, the two countries have to agree on the scope of sanction relief. Even then, sanctions cannot be undone with the stroke of a pen. Removing them can be a lengthy process that involves several government agencies…………………https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/3/iran-nuclear-deal-whats-next-for-the-jcpoa

September 4, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

Iran’s new foreign minister Warns Tehran May Not Return to Nuclear Talks Until November

New Iranian FM Warns Tehran May Not Return to Nuclear Talks Until November . by Sharon Wrobel, 1 Sept 21,

Iran’s new foreign minister hinted that a resumption of talks on the revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal could take up to two to three months.

“The other side understands that it will take two or three months for the new government to be established in Iran and plan for any sort of decision on this topic,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told state TV in an interview on Monday night.

Last week, Iran’s parliament approved most of the hardline nominees put forward by newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi…………   https://www.algemeiner.com/2021/08/31/new-iranian-fm-warns-tehran-may-not-return-to-nuclear-talks-until-november/

September 2, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

Iran Foreign Ministry defends latest nuclear measures


Foreign Ministry Defends Latest Nuclear Measures, Financial Tribune, 21 Aug 21,

Iran reiterated that its nuclear program is peaceful and said it had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency about its latest nuclear enrichment activities. 

It added that its moves away from the 2015 nuclear deal would be reversed if the United States returned to the accord and lifted sanctions.

“If the other parties return to their obligations under the nuclear accord and Washington fully and verifiably lifts its unilateral and illegal sanctions … all of Iran’s mitigation and countermeasures will be reversible,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, ISNA reported.

The remarks by the senior diplomat came after the UN atomic watchdog said in a report on Tuesday that Iran has accelerated its enrichment of uranium to the 60% purity level……………………….

The talks have been at a standstill since the inauguration of Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raeisi, although he says he supports efforts to lift US sanctions.  https://financialtribune.com/articles/national/109860/foreign-ministry-defends-latest-nuclear-measures

August 23, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

Russia, Germany, hope efforts to save Iran nuclear deal will be continued — Putin

Russia, Germany hope efforts to save Iran nuclear deal will be continued — Putin,  Tass, 20 Aug 21, The Russian leader also said he had informed Merkel about his telephone conversation with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on August 18   MOSCOW, August 20. /TASS/. Russia and Germany hope that efforts towards saving the Iran nuclear deal will be continued after a new government is formed in Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin said after talks with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“When discussing the situation around the Iran nuclear deal, we with Mrs Chancellor expressed the hope that after a new government is formed in Iran, strenuous efforts will be continued to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” he said.

Putin also said he had informed Merkel about his telephone conversation with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on August 18.

The JCPOA Joint Commission has had several offline meetings in Vienna since April to discuss prospects for the United States’ possible return to the deal and steps needed to ensure full and efficient compliance with the deal’s terms by all its signatories. The commission members continue to discuss ways of restoring the nuclear deal at informal meetings in various formats, including at an expert level. JCPOA participants also hold separate consultations with the US delegation without Iran’s participation. It was originally planned to finish consultations in late May and then – in early June………… https://tass.com/politics/1328453

August 21, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

Biden’s Iran envoy calls nuclear deal’s fate ‘one big question mark


Biden’s Iran envoy calls nuclear deal’s fate ‘one big question mark’, Politico, By ALEXANDER WARD and QUINT FORGEY  08/19/2021
   ROBERT MALLEY, the man President JOE BIDEN has tasked with putting the United States back into the Iran nuclear deal, isn’t supremely confident he’ll succeed in his mission.

“It’s just one big question mark,” he told NatSec Daily during an exclusive interview in his State Department office. Rejoining the multinational accord “is not something that we can fully control,” he said, citing a lack of engagement from the Iranians.

Negotiations between the United States, Iran and five world powers have proceeded fruitlessly since April. Tehran’s side won’t even speak directly with Washington’s and instead prefers working through intermediaries while in Vienna. That dance was complicated by the arrival of new Iranian President EBRAHIM RAISI, a hardliner who experts suspect is more skeptical of the diplomatic effort than his pact-signing predecessor. No open bargaining has taken place since Raisi came to power in mid-July.

………….. Should the United States and Iran fail to agree on terms in the coming months, the envoy says his team is preparing some contingencies. One is that Washington and Tehran sign a wholly separate deal, complete with different parameters than the current accord. Another is a suite of punitive responses in coordination with European allies, though Malley didn’t specifically detail what those would be…………   https://www.politico.com/newsletters/national-security-daily/2021/08/19/exclusive-bidens-iran-envoy-calls-nuclear-deals-fate-one-big-question-mark-494049

August 21, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

Hopes rise that Iran hardliner will rejuvenate nuclear deal

Hopes rise that Iran hardliner will rejuvenate nuclear deal.   New foreign minister likely to wield more influence in Tehran than his predecessor,  Ft.com 13 Aug 21, ”……………………………………..Amirabdollahian, a hardliner close to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, is set to become the main interlocutor with the west after he was nominated this week as the Islamic Republic’s foreign minister. He takes over from Mohammad Javad Zarif, a veteran US-educated diplomat who used a mix of charm and skills honed over a decade as the face of Iranian diplomacy in his dealings with western powers. Zarif was one of the main supporters of the nuclear deal, which he helped seal and then battled to keep alive as tensions with the west soared after Donald Trump, the then US president, abandoned the accord three years ago.  

But Iranian analysts are optimistic that Amirabdollahian — a 57-year-old graduate of Iran’s universities who comes from a humble background — may be able to revive the deal and achieve more lasting diplomatic results. They say his connections to the powerful hardline factions at the heart of the regime will give him greater domestic influence than Zarif, who by his own admission was often undermined by the Revolutionary Guards. “Under Amirabdollahian, we will not see more radicalism, rather more co-ordination between the diplomatic and military fields,” said a regime insider.  ……………..

Amirabdollahian is no stranger to nuclear talks. In 2013 he was involved in secret discussions with Omani officials. These led to confidential meetings with Americans and Europeans that were the forebear to the 2015 accord.  ……
Mohammad Mohajeri, a conservative analyst, said choosing Amirabdollahian over more radical figures who opposed the nuclear deal signalled that Raisi wanted to avoid escalating tensions with its foes…….. https://www.ft.com/content/03c031f7-9194-4cb4-b3c7-91c176d4b770

August 14, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment

Iran’s research reactors prove the nuclear deal is still working

How Iran’s research reactors prove the nuclear deal is still working, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists By Samuel M. Hickey | August 11, 2021  An underexamined success story from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal negotiations is the effective blocking of Tehran’s ability to collect plutonium for a nuclear bomb. Not only has the nuclear deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), been effective in constraining Iran’s program, but it could, suitably adapted, provide a standard of guidance for research reactor construction that would lower proliferation risks worldwide.

There are two pathways to get the fissile material to fuel a nuclear bomb. The first is to enrich uranium, and the second is to recover plutonium from the spent fuel of a reactor. The JCPOA blocked both pathways. Now, Iran’s advancing enrichment program is the key obstacle for diplomats trying to revive the deal, and those talks have dragged on for months as the program marches forward.

Many nuclear weapons, including that used on Hiroshima, are uranium-based. However, every country that has a nuclear weapon has produced and separated plutonium for weapons. Iran has not reopened this path despite efforts by its conservative-dominated parliament to pressure the United States to lift sanctions in return for nuclear deal compliance. In December 2020, Iran passed a nuclear law requiring a return to a threatening research reactor design. So far, Iran has not adhered to that law because the modifications made to the original design under the JCPOA made the reactor even more efficient. This suggests that even in its weakened state, the JCPOA continues to provide permanent solutions to potential proliferation concerns. Its revival can further cement these gains as a “longer and stronger” deal is sought.

The inherent problem with nuclear reactors. Here’s the conundrum for nuclear negotiators both with Iran now and potentially with other countries in the future: Given enough time, all civilian research reactors will produce enough plutonium for a nuclear weapon that could be reprocessed—or separated from irradiated uranium—in their spent fuel. Some, like Iran’s Arak heavy water research reactor, as originally designed, are particularly well suited for plutonium production but also have civilian purposes such as medical radioisotope production and the testing of nuclear fuel and materials. Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Sweden, and Taiwan have considered acquiring reprocessing plants but eventually demurred, given international reaction to the potential for proliferation. There is no public evidence that Iran has a reprocessing facility.

Since the Trump administration pulled out of the JCPOA, Iran has introduced advanced centrifuges and stockpiled uranium. This means that the amount of time for Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon via the enriched uranium path has been significantly decreased. However, the spent fuel pathway has not been reactivated as Iran has not done any work to reconstruct the Arak heavy water research reactor to its original design nor has it engaged in any reprocessing activities. Iran’s hedging strategy, ostensibly to accumulate leverage in negotiations to revive the JCPOA, suggests that nuclear brinksmanship with uranium enrichment grants a certain flexibility that plutonium does not……………………….. https://thebulletin.org/2021/08/how-irans-research-reactors-prove-the-nuclear-deal-is-still-working/

August 12, 2021 Posted by | Iran, politics international | Leave a comment