Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance as Islamic Republic votes

Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance as Islamic Republic votes
The deal represents the signature accomplishment of the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s eight years in office. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
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Updated 17 June 2021

Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance as Islamic Republic votes

Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance as Islamic Republic votes
  • Before the deal, Iran had been enriching up to 20 percent and had a stockpile of some 10,000 kilograms
  • The deal collapsed after former US President Donald Trump took office, leading to a series of attacks and confrontations across the wider Middle East

DUBAI: Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers hangs in the balance as the country prepares to vote on Friday for a new president and diplomats press on with efforts to get both the US and Tehran to reenter the accord.
The deal represents the signature accomplishment of the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s eight years in office: suspending crushing sanctions in exchange for the strict monitoring and limiting of Iran’s uranium stockpile.
The deal’s collapse with President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw America from the agreement in 2018 spiraled into a series of attacks and confrontations across the wider Middle East. It also prompted Tehran to enrich uranium to highest purity levels so far, just shy of weapons-grade levels.
With analysts and polling suggesting that a hard-line candidate already targeted by US sanctions will win Friday’s vote, a return to the deal may be possible but it likely won’t lead to a further detente between Iran and the West.
“It’s certainly not as complex as drafting a deal from scratch, which is what the sides did that resulted in the 2015 deal,” said Henry Rome, a senior analyst focusing on Iran at the Eurasia Group. “But there’s still a lot of details that need to be worked out.”
He added: “I think there’s a lot of domestic politics that go into this and an interest from hard-liners, including the supreme leader, to ensure that their favored candidate wins without any significant disruptions to that process.”
The 2015 deal, which saw Iranians flood into the streets in celebration, marked a major turn after years of tensions between Iran and the West over Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran has long insisted that its program is for peaceful purposes. However, US intelligence agencies and International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran pursued an organized nuclear weapons program up until 2003.
In order to ease the threat seen by the West, Iran agreed under the deal to limit its enrichment of uranium gas to just 3.67 percent purity, which can be used in nuclear power plants but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. It also put a hard cap on Iran’s uranium stockpile to just 300 kilograms (661 pounds). Tehran also committed to using only 5,060 of its first-generation centrifuges, the devices that spin the uranium gas to enrich it.
Before the deal, Iran had been enriching up to 20 percent and had a stockpile of some 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds). That amount at that enrichment level narrowed Iran’s so-called “breakout” time — how long it would take for Tehran to be able to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one atomic bomb.
Prior to the deal, experts estimated Iran needed two to three months to reach that point. Under the deal, officials put that period at around a year. The deal also subjected Iran to some of the most-stringent monitoring ever by the IAEA to monitor its program and ensure its compliance.
What the deal didn’t do, however, was involve Iran’s ballistic missile program or Tehran’s support of militant groups around the region — such as the Lebanese Hezbollah or the Palestinian Hamas — that the West and its allies have designated terrorist organizations. At the time, the Obama administration suggested further negotiations could spring from the deal. However, Trump entered the White House on a promise to “tear up” the accord in part over that, which he ultimately did in 2018.
In the time since, Iran has broken all the limits it agreed to under the deal. It now enriches small amounts of uranium up to 63 percent purity. It spins far-more advanced centrifuges. The IAEA hasn’t been able to access its surveillance cameras at Iranian nuclear sites since late February, nor data from its online enrichment monitors and electronic seals — hobbling the UN nuclear watchdog’s monitoring abilities. Iran also restarted enrichment at a hardened underground facility and is building more centrifuge halls underground, after two attacks suspected to have been carried out by Israel.
If Iran’s nuclear program remains unchecked, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned it could shrink Tehran’s “breakout” time down to “a matter of weeks.” That has worried nonproliferation experts.
“I think for the international community — and specifically for the United States — putting the nuclear program back into a box is critical,” said Sanam Vakil, the deputy head of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa program who studies Iran. “It’s important because beyond the nuclear agreement, the negotiators are ultimately hoping to lengthen and strengthen the deal. And so you can’t even get there until the current deal is stabilized.”
Since President Joe Biden took office, his diplomats have been working with other world powers to come up with a way to return both the US and Iran to the deal in negotiations in Vienna. There have been no direct US-Iran in those negotiations, though separate talks have been underway involving a possible prisoner swap.
In Friday’s presidential election in Iran, hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi appears to be the front-runner. He’s already said he wants to return Iran to the nuclear deal to take advantage of its economic benefits. But given his previous belligerent statements toward the US, further cooperation with the West at the moment appears unlikely.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear when a deal will be reached in Vienna. And while Iran has broken through all the accord’s limits, there’s still more it could do to increase pressure on the West. Those steps could include using more centrifuges, further increasing enrichment, restarting a facility that makes plutonium as a byproduct or abandoning a nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
“It’s a very fine tool,” Rome said. “The Iranian political leadership can decide quite specifically what type of signal it wants to send, whether that’s the type of machines it uses, the speed of the production, the quantity of the production in order to send a message to the West about the degree of pressure it wants to put on.”


Daesh attack kills seven Syrian troops: Monitor

Daesh attack kills seven Syrian troops: Monitor
Updated 30 min 53 sec ago

Daesh attack kills seven Syrian troops: Monitor

Daesh attack kills seven Syrian troops: Monitor

BERLIN: Daesh group militants killed at least seven soldiers and militiamen in eastern Syria on Wednesday, the latest in a series of deadly attacks, a Britain-based war monitor said.
Several government positions came under attack in a desert area of Deir Ezzor province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Several troops were also wounded, some of them critically, while five militants were also killed.
A Kurdish-led offensive overran the last patch of Daesh-held territory in Syria in March 2019 but sleeper cells continue to launch attacks in the vast desert that stretches from central Syria east to the Iraqi border.


Iran’s supreme leader criticizes US as nuclear talks stalled

Iran’s supreme leader criticizes US as nuclear talks stalled
Updated 28 July 2021

Iran’s supreme leader criticizes US as nuclear talks stalled

Iran’s supreme leader criticizes US as nuclear talks stalled
TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday called the US “stubborn” in stalled nuclear talks in Vienna for discussing Tehran’s missiles and regional influence.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s remarks come as his hard-line protege, President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, is posed to be sworn in next week as the head of the country’s civilian government and as talks on reviving the deal remain stalled in Vienna.
While Raisi has said he wants to return to the accord, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, Khamenei seemingly called for a more-adversarial approach in his remarks. They also appeared to describe outgoing President Hassan Rouhani’s eight-year government as naive for its approach in reaching the 2015 agreement as its officials sat before him.
“Others should use your experiences. This experience is a distrust of the West,” Khamenei said in remarks broadcast by state television. “In this government, it was shown up that trust in the West does not work.”
He added: “Westerners do not help us, they hit wherever they can.”

Israel to issue 16,000 more work permits for Palestinians

Israel to issue 16,000 more work permits for Palestinians
Updated 28 July 2021

Israel to issue 16,000 more work permits for Palestinians

Israel to issue 16,000 more work permits for Palestinians
  • The new permits will bring the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel to 106,000
  • The COVID-19 pandemic prompted Israel to suspend the 7,000 permits previously granted to workers

JERUSALEM: Israel announced Wednesday it is to issue 16,000 more permits for Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to work in its construction and hotel industries, taking the total to over 100,000.
“Israel intends to increase by 15,000 workers the quota of Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria (the southern and northern West Bank) working in the field of construction,” the Israeli military body responsible for civil affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, COGAT, said.
Another 1,000 permits will be issued to Palestinians working in Israeli hotels, it added.
The new permits will bring the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel to 106,000, with another 30,000 Palestinians authorized to work in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP.
The announcement followed discussions between Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. The Israeli government is expected to approve it next week, the security source said, adding: “We want to apply it as fast as possible. It’s in the interest of both sides.”
Jobs in Israel offer higher wages than those in Palestinian-administered areas of the West Bank but Palestinians complain they do not get paid as much as their Israeli counterparts or enjoy similar labor protections.
The head of COGAT, Major General Rassan Alian, said the additional work permits “will strengthen the Israeli and Palestinian economies, and will largely contribute to the security stability in the area of Judea and Samaria.”
No Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip are currently permitted to work in Israel, the security official said.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted Israel to suspend the 7,000 permits previously granted to workers from the impoverished territory of some two million people which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007.


A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy

A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy
Updated 28 July 2021

A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy

A birthday gift: Israeli woman donates kidney to Gaza boy
  • ‘You don’t know me, but soon we’ll be very close because my kidney will be in your body’

ESHHAR, Israel: Idit Harel Segal was turning 50, and she had chosen a gift: She was going to give one of her own kidneys to a stranger.
The kindergarten teacher from northern Israel, a proud Israeli, hoped her choice would set an example of generosity in a land of perpetual conflict. She was spurred by memories of her late grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, who told her to live meaningfully, and by Jewish tradition, which holds that there’s no higher duty than saving a life.
So Segal contacted a group that links donors and recipients, launching a nine-month process to transfer her kidney to someone who needed one.
That someone turned out to be a 3-year-old Palestinian boy from the Gaza Strip.
“You don’t know me, but soon we’ll be very close because my kidney will be in your body,” Segal wrote in Hebrew to the boy, whose family asked not to be named due to the sensitivities over cooperating with Israelis. A friend translated the letter into Arabic so the family might understand. “I hope with all my heart that this surgery will succeed and you will live a long and healthy and meaningful life.”
Just after an 11-day war, “I threw away the anger and frustration and see only one thing. I see hope for peace and love,” she wrote. “And if there will be more like us, there won’t be anything to fight over.”
What unfolded over the months between Segal’s decision and the June 16 transplant caused deep rifts in the family. Her husband and the oldest of her three children, a son in his early 20s, opposed the plan. Her father stopped talking to her.
To them, Segal recalled, she was unnecessarily risking her life. The loss of three relatives in Palestinian attacks, including her father’s parents, made it even more difficult.
“My family was really against it. Everyone was against it. My husband, my sister, her husband. And the one who supported me the least was my father,” Segal said during a recent interview in her mountaintop home in Eshhar. “They were afraid.”
When she learned the boy’s identity, she kept the details to herself for months.
“I told no one,” Segal recalled. “I told myself if the reaction to the kidney donation is so harsh, so obviously the fact that a Palestinian boy is getting it will make it even harsher.”
Israel has maintained a tight blockade over Gaza since Hamas, an Islamic militant group that opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of the area in 2007.
The bitter enemies have fought four wars since then, and few Gazans are allowed to enter Israel. With Gaza’s health care system ravaged by years of conflict and the blockade, Israel grants entry permits to small numbers of medical patients in need of serious treatments on humanitarian grounds.
Matnat Chaim, a nongovernmental organization in Jerusalem, coordinated the exchange, said the group’s chief executive, Sharona Sherman.
The case of the Gaza boy was complicated. To speed up the process, his father, who was not a match for his son, was told by the hospital that if he were to donate a kidney to an Israeli recipient, the boy would “immediately go to the top of the list,” Sherman said.
On the same day his son received a new kidney, the father donated one of his own — to a 25-year-old Israeli mother of two.
In some countries, reciprocity is not permitted because it raises the question of whether the donor has been coerced. The whole ethic of organ donation is based on the principle that the donors should give of their own free will and get nothing in return.
In Israel, the father’s donation is seen as an incentive to increase the pool of donors.
For Segal, the gift that had sparked such conflict in her family accomplished more than she hoped. Her kidney has helped save the boy’s life, generated a second donation and established new links between members of perpetually warring groups in one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. She said she visited the boy on the eve of his surgery and maintains contact with his parents.
Segal said she honored her grandfather in a way that helps her cope with the grief of his death five years ago. The donation was an act of autonomy, she said, and she never wavered. And eventually her family came around — a gift, perhaps, in itself.
She said her husband understands better now, as do her children. And on the eve of Segal’s surgery, her father called.
“I don’t remember what he said because he was crying,” Segal said. Then, she told him that her kidney was going to a Palestinian boy.
For a moment, there was silence. And then her father spoke.
“Well,” he said, “he needs life, also.”

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Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’

Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’
Updated 28 July 2021

Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’

Tunisians back their president as he vows: ‘Your freedoms are safe’
  • Responsibility for political crisis lies with Islamist Ennahda party, analysts tell Arab News

JEDDAH: Tunisians threw their weight behind President Kais Saied on Tuesday after he told leading civil society groups that the emergency situation was temporary and he would “protect the democratic path.”
Saied pledged that the “freedoms and rights of Tunisians would not be affected in any way,” said Sami Tahri, an official in the powerful UGTT trade union.
Thousands celebrated on the streets on Monday after Saied dismissed the government, including Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and the justice and defense ministers. He also suspended parliament, which had been dominated by its speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda party.
On the streets of Tunis, many welcomed the president’s orders. Najet Ben Gharbia, 47, a nurse, said she had been waiting “a long time” for such a move. A decade after Tunisians ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, many are struggling.
“There is still great poverty,” Ben Gharbia said, describing the inflation that has stripped the value of income, making meat too expensive to buy. “People are miserable.
“Kais Saied, he’s a teacher, not a politician, he’s like us. We are sure of him, he is not like Ben Ali, he is not a dictator.”
Mounir Mabrouk, 50, said: “What the president is doing is in our interest. Political parties have done nothing except sell our property to foreigners and wealthy elites.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Taxi driver Hosni Mkhali, 47, said action had to be taken — especially to bring the cases of coronavirus under control, as Tunisia struggles with one of the world’s worst recorded death rates. “All Tunisians are disgusted,” he said. “It was the best time to act.”
Analysts laid the blame for Tunisia’s turmoil firmly at the door of Ennahda, the Islamist party led by Ghannouchi.
Ammar Aziz, an associate editor at Al Arabiya News Channel, told Arab News: “With Ennahda controlling parliament and also the government, everything has simply collapsed — from security to the economy. The same is true for the country’s transport system and public health institutions. All Tunisians have noticed the deterioration and it is for this reason we saw the protests in different towns on July 25.”
Writing today in Arab News, Sir John Jenkins, a senior fellow at Policy Exchange and former leading British diplomat, said Ghannouchi’s motives were questionable.
He said: “Although Ghannouchi claimed to have separated the political, social welfare and dawa wings of Ennahda in 2016, there has never been anything to suggest that he does not share the ultimate Muslim Brotherhood goal of an Islamized state.”