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Iran and the revival of JCPOA
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Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif (file photo)

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Iran and the revival of JCPOA

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How to handle the nuclear crisis between the United States and Iran? This has been the grave concern of the world powers and the United Nations. Though Iran has been discussing with major powers ways to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal - from which former US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 - the United States did not take part in them. Both the U S and Iran wanted to resume the talk. But, "Who will bell the cat ?" was the problem.

Anyway, now the discussions held in Vienna on 6th and 10th of April were very constructive according to Abbas Araghchi, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator. For the first time, after the arrival of Joe Biden at the White House, the United States was represented by a delegation headed by Rob Mali, the special envoy on Iranian affairs. But,there is no plan to hold any direct talks between the United States and Iran. Tehran affirms that it will not engage in any dialogue with Washington before the sanctions are lifted completely.

Donald Trump's gift

While Iranian radicals and moderates are united on the need to end sanctions, there are differences within the US administration about how to handle this crisis. Advocates of diplomacy led by Blinken favour reinstating the 2015 agreement in some form or other. But hawks in the administration seek a new and expanded agreement that covers Iran's missile programmes. They want to reformulate Iran's regional role and cut off its paramilitary allies in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Gaza. But, it will not abandon its advanced missile programmes. It might be prepared to negotiate on the range of those missiles, not producing long-range inter-continental versions like North Korea's that could reach the US.

The 'conservative' camp in Iran led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seems to have had enough and decided to revert to the pre-2015 approach of not trusting promises or agreements made by the US. The moderate camp is sidelined and the conservatives have taken direct control of the nuclear file and other key policy areas. Trump did these hardliners a historic service and gave them the best gift they could want when he ditched the JCPOA under pressure from Netanyahu conveyed through Jared Kushner. This hugely weakened the moderate camp in Iran that worked so long and hard to achieve the deal. That camp now seems set to lose the forthcoming presidential elections, to be held in June, to a conservative candidate backed by Ali Khamenei.

Iran's nuclear program has been on the international agenda for more than two decades . While Iran says the programme is for peaceful purposes, the United States and European countries suspect that Iran is ambitious to develop nuclear weapons; even a nuclear bomb. This was why a deal was struck in 2015 in order to limit Iran's nuclear activities. The deal known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and six other countries- Five permanent members in the Security Council plus Germany - has exercised restraint on Iran. This restraint was observed in order to end the harsh sanctions that hurt Iran's economy. But, Iran is now thinking to restart the banned nuclear activities as former US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran.

Iran salvaged the situation

Even though President Joe Biden promised to rejoin the deal, both sides say the other must make the first move. This remained the hurdle in restarting the JCPOA. Iran had set 23rd February 2021 as the deadline to stop the intrusive checks of the nuclear sites by IAEA if the US did not lift the sanctions. Anyway, Iran finally offset its decision and access was given to the members of the nuclear watchdog. This "temporary technical" arrangement reached between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "salvaged the situation", for the time being as Rafael Grossi told reporters after a visit to Iran. As BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams said, this deal could buy some "precious time ".

For some countries, especially for Israel, JCPOA was a mistake. According to them it is dangerous to rescue it. The snap inspection allowed by Iran was a green signal to hope that it might bring the US to the negotiating table. More urgently, Iran wanted to put further pressure on the US and other parties to the JCPOA - France, Germany, the UK, Russia and China - to get Washington lift sanctions on Iran's oil, banking and financial sectors. Iran's stoppage of complying with its obligations under the 2015 deal is to draw the US towards the negotiating table. But, it has deepened concern among the remaining members.

They fear the resumption of banned activities could ease the path towards a bomb. Last month, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he believed it would currently take Iran "a few months" to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so. But he warned that it "could get down to it in a matter of weeks" if Iran continued to lift some more of the restraints imposed by the deal. This urges the United States to rejoin the deal at the earliest.

While Israel is seriously considering action against Tehran's nuclear ambitions, the fact remains that Israel has not signed the nuclear Non-Pproliferation Treaty. With French assistance, Israel began secretly building the nuclear site in the late 1950s in an empty desert near Dimona, a city some 90 kilometers south of Jerusalem. It hid the military purpose of the site for years from America, now Israel's chief ally, even referring to it as a textile factory. With plutonium from Dimona, Israel is widely believed to have become one of the nuclear-armed countries in the world. Given the secrecy surrounding its program, it remains unclear how many weapons it possesses. Analysts estimate Israel has material for at least 80 bombs. Those weapons likely could be delivered by land-based ballistic missiles, fighter jets or submarines.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said in an interview broadcast recently that Israel is still keeping open the option of taking action against Tehran's nuclear project if necessary. "The IDF and Israel's defense establishment are holding on to the option of taking action against Iran's nuclear project if that is what has to be done," he said, "I hope it doesn't come to that." A secretive Israeli nuclear facility at the centre of the nation's undeclared atomic weapons program is undergoing what appears to be its biggest construction projects in decades, according to the satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press. It has a dig about the size of a soccer field with multi-storeyed buildings just meters away from the aging reactor at the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center near the city of Dimona. The facility is already home to decades-old underground laboratories that reprocess the reactor's spent rods to obtain weapons-grade plutonium for Israel's nuclear bomb program. The Israeli government did not respond to detailed questions from AP about the work. Under its policy of nuclear ambiguity, Israel neither confirms nor denies having atomic weapons.

The director of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi confirmed that his country is ready for diplomatic negotiations, but not in the way the United States and the Europeans imagine, "but on our way'. And he warned that Iran would completely remove some surveillance cameras from Iran's nuclear facilities if US sanctions on Iran were not lifted within the next three months.

Negotiating nations fear that Iran's moves to become a nuclear weapons' state risked thrusting the region into a new crisis. The pre-emptive military strikes Israel against suspected nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria could do the same towards Iran, perhaps triggering reprisals by Lebanon-based Hezbollah or disruptions to the transport of oil in the Persian Gulf. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has since signaled a willingness to obtain a nuclear weapon if Iran successfully detonates one. Iran had previously agreed to forgo the development of nuclear weapons as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has been in force since 1970. However, after the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979, Iranian leaders, it is believed, secretly pursued this technology. In 2007, U.S. intelligence analysts concluded that Iran halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003 but continued to acquire nuclear technology and expertise. Iran took steps to ensure that its Fordow, Natanz, and Arak facilities pursued only civilian work, including medical and industrial research.

Original Sin Committed by Israel

Western policy makers and analysts ignore the fact that the original sin of introducing nuclear weapons into West Asia was committed by Israel with French help and US connivance. It is, therefore, foolhardy to assume that nuclear proliferation in West Asia can be stopped as long as Israel continues to possess nuclear weapons capability. Iranian efforts at developing nuclear weapons cannot be divorced from this reality. Realising this fact would be the beginning of wisdom for policy makers and analysts dealing with West Asia. "Iran does not necessarily want to acquire a nuclear weapon, which might call for opposition from the international community and harsh sanctions and a possible attack to dissuade it," said Jordan Stickler, a researcher at the New York-based United Against Iran Organization. The essence of Iran's foreign policy aims to push the United States out of the region in exchange for expanding its influence, because, the dominant power in the region is the US itself and Israel is allied with it. Also, Iran is surrounded by US military bases. Actually, these are the issues to be addressed by the world powers. According to diplomatic sources, the Vienna conference will continue and let us hope that an amicable agreement would be formed before Iran's June 18 presidential election.

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TAGS:Iran and JCPOA nuclear deal US insistence Iran sanctions lifting 
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