Washington faces a moment of reckoning as Iran nuclear talks reach an impasse

Washington faces a moment of reckoning as Iran nuclear talks reach an impasse
Discussions with Iran have led the world to the brink of a second deal on Tehran’s nuclear capabilities but some fear that the Biden administration has been too soft on the regime. (AFP)
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Updated 07 May 2022

Washington faces a moment of reckoning as Iran nuclear talks reach an impasse

Washington faces a moment of reckoning as Iran nuclear talks reach an impasse
  • Biden’s indirect negotiation strategy at Vienna seems to have done little to keep Iran’s regional ambitions in check
  • US officials believe Iran could be just weeks away from producing a bomb, strengthening Tehran’s leverage

WASHINGTON: White House officials believe Iran is inching closer to becoming a nuclear threshold power and could be just weeks away from producing both sufficient fissile material and the necessary technology to weaponize and deliver a nuclear payload.

Reaching the milestone of a significantly shorter breakout period to building a nuclear bomb would give Iran a great deal of leverage and bargaining power in future negotiations even as it seeks hegemony over the Middle East in accordance with its grand strategy.

Despite a concerted effort by the Biden administration to coax Iran to comply with the 2015 nuclear deal, indirect negotiations between the two sides have hit a roadblock owing to Tehran’s insistence that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from the US list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group based in Washington, believes Iran has been free to push ahead with its nuclear program because Western powers have lacked the commitment to set firm conditions.

“On advanced centrifuge research and production, Iran has made significant progress over the last year — particularly after it started enriching uranium to 60 percent, and in its production of uranium metal,” Brodsky told Arab News.

“This all happened because the Iranians tested the international community’s red lines and found out that what once were thought to be red lines were not really red lines.”

If recent Middle East history is any evidence, the tacit concessions made by the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, did not slake the thirst of the regime in Tehran for nuclear arms or regional dominance.

US President Joe Biden hopes to reverse his predecessor’s decision in 2018 to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear accord. The Trump administration believed the deal did little to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, stem its ballistic missile program, or halt its malign activities across the Middle East.

According to Brodsky, even after the sobering experience of crippling sanctions slapped on the Iranian economy by the Trump administration following the withdrawal from the JCPOA, the regime in Tehran still harbors nuclear ambitions.

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“Iran will continue along this path,” he said. “Iran is increasing its capabilities in the production of centrifuges, with production lines and capacities being expanded, according to recent remarks from the International Atomic Energy Agency director-general. This can be seen at Natanz as well as a separate, new location in Esfahan.”

Negotiations in Vienna between Iran, the US (participating indirectly) and the other original JCPOA co-signatories — China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK, along with the EU — have stalled. In Brodsky’s view, Tehran is deliberately playing for time in the hope of strengthening its bargaining position.

“The Iranians for over a year have been dragging out the negotiations to advance their nuclear program so that it produces a shorter and weaker deal for the West while notching a stronger agreement for itself in the form of non-nuclear sanctions relief,” he said.

While the international community is preoccupied with the conflict in Ukraine and the threat of an armed confrontation between Russia and NATO, a moment of reckoning looms when Washington will have to decide whether the talks with Iran have reached a dead end.

Andrea Stricker, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, believes Iran is rapidly approaching a nuclear milestone that cannot be dealt with at a later date through a watered-down deal.

“It is concerning that Tehran is close to amassing enriched uranium sufficient for a nuclear weapon but Washington’s intention appears to be to scare recipients of this message into supporting a revived Iran deal,” she told Arab News.




Tehran is deliberately playing for time in the hope of strengthening its bargaining position. (AFP)

“Iran has nearly enough 60-percent-enriched uranium for one atomic bomb, which does not require further enrichment to weapons-grade. And, overall, it has enough enriched uranium for at least four weapons.”

She said the solution to the problem is not an accord “that provides billions of dollars in sanctions relief for Tehran and allows it to expand its uranium enrichment program starting in 2024.”

According to Stricker, the deal offered by Biden could mean no restrictions on Iranian advanced centrifuge development from 2024 onward, thereby permitting a significantly shorter breakout time to a bomb than under the original JCPOA.

“Under the terms of the reported deal, Iran’s breakout time would only extend to around four months, not at least seven months, as in 2015,” she said.

“Iran is permitted to add 400 centrifuges per year to its stockpile of advanced centrifuges starting in 2024. By the end of the accord, Iran would be on the threshold of nuclear weapons and unstoppable if it chose to break out.”

Wary of a preemptive assault by its enemies, Iran appears to be placing its most advanced centrifuges deeper underground, beyond the reach of international monitors, saboteurs and missile strikes.

This strategy is reinforcing latent suspicions that Iran’s centrifuge production, enrichment research and production efforts are serving military ends rather than strictly civilian purposes, as the regime claims.

“Iran is restarting advanced centrifuge production at two underground facilities that Tehran relocated to make the sites impervious to sabotage or military strikes,” said Stricker.

“Theoretically, Iran could use around 650 IR-6 centrifuges, for example, and existing stocks of enriched uranium to make weapons-grade uranium very quickly. These two centrifuge-manufacturing facilities are not currently under IAEA monitoring, so the world has no assurance that Iran is not diverting centrifuges for a clandestine enrichment plant.”




Reaching the milestone of a significantly shorter breakout period to building a nuclear bomb would give Iran a great deal of leverage. (AFP)

Among the advocates of a Biden nuclear deal that gives in to Iran’s demand for rescinding the IRGC’s terrorist designation is Ben Rhodes, who was deputy national security adviser to former President Barack Obama. Rhodes recently stated publicly that the terror designation is an overly burdensome roadblock to a deal that would benefit US national security interests. The facts, however, tell a different story.

According to data compiled by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, Iranian aggression — specifically missile strikes, naval confrontations, cyberattacks, kidnappings and weapons tests — has doubled since Biden took office. There is no proof that the express wish of the Biden team to revive the nuclear deal and offer significant incentives on sanctions and nuclear inspections has moderated the behavior of the Iranian regime or curbed its proclivity for violence.

“There are alternative policy options available to the Biden administration: A combination of sanctions, aggressive sanctions enforcement, diplomatic isolation, covert action, deterrence, and a credible military option is one,” said Brodsky.

“There is now greater realignment with the E3 (group of France, Germany and Italy) on Iran policy, and Washington should use this dynamic to move on from the JCPOA.”

Critics of the Biden administration’s policy on Iran say that maintaining the foreign terrorist organization, or FTO, designation of the IRGC benefits US interests that go beyond the purview of a nuclear deal with Iran.

“There is significant bipartisan opposition to removing the foreign terrorist organization designation,” said Brodsky.

“It would cause a firestorm if the Biden administration, in a midterm-election year, delisted the IRGC as an FTO. And, in the end, I have questions as to how much political capital the Biden administration wants to expend on resuscitating this deal.”

Stricker believes the Iranian leadership is hedging its bets in the expectation that US negotiators will eventually blink, in no small part thanks to the fact that Iran has not faced any real penalties for evading sanctions or for its clandestine nuclear advances.




The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, did not slake the thirst of the regime in Tehran for nuclear arms or regional dominance. (AFP)

“The IAEA has not been able to complete its investigation into whether Iran’s program maintains military dimensions, which is why the deal’s proposition of loosening restrictions on the enrichment side over time makes no sense,” she said.

In her view, if the Biden administration wants to halt its tumbling poll ratings, it needs to set much firmer conditions for Iran to follow in exchange for sanctions relief and a revived nuclear deal.

“A policy reset requires scrapping any legalization of Iran’s enrichment program and requiring full transparency and IAEA access,” Stricker said. “Tehran should prove to the world that the nuclear program is fully peaceful before it gets relief from sanctions.”

By all accounts, the likelihood of Iran opting for the straight and narrow is slim to none. On Monday, Ali Bahadori Jahromi, an Iranian government spokesman, told state media that Iran intends to continue the negotiations for a nuclear deal until its “national interests are fully and comprehensively protected.”

The Biden administration therefore might have to quickly reevaluate the utility of offering Iran practically everything it is asking for on a silver platter and, instead, begin charting a new policy course that takes into account the hard reality of the regime’s unabated nuclear-weapons development.


Iran says crew of two seized Greek tankers not detained and are on board

Iran says crew of two seized Greek tankers not detained and are on board
Updated 58 min 32 sec ago

Iran says crew of two seized Greek tankers not detained and are on board

Iran says crew of two seized Greek tankers not detained and are on board
  • Iranian forces seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf on Friday
  • Greece said on Friday an Iranian navy helicopter landed on Greek-flagged vessel Delta Poseidon in international waters, and took the crew hostage

DUBAI: Iran’s state maritime body said on Saturday the crew of two Greek tankers seized by its Revolutionary Guards on Friday had not been detained, and were in good health and being cared for on board their vessels.
Iranian forces seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf on Friday, shortly after Tehran warned it would take “punitive action” against Athens over the confiscation of Iranian oil by the United States from a tanker held off the Greek coast.
“The crew of the two Greek tankers have not been arrested, and all crew members ... are in good health and are being protected, and provided with necessary services while on board, in accordance with international law,” Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said in a statement carried by state media.
The two vessels were stopped over unspecified “maritime violations,” the body said.
Greece said on Friday an Iranian navy helicopter landed on Greek-flagged vessel Delta Poseidon in international waters, and took the crew hostage. It said a similar incident took place on another Greek-flagged vessel near Iran, without naming the ship. Athens said both actions violated international law.
Greek authorities last month impounded the Iranian-flagged Pegas off Greece due to European Union sanctions. The United States later confiscated the Iranian oil cargo held onboard, Reuters reported on Thursday.
The Pegas and its Russian crew were later released, but the seizure inflamed tensions as Iran and world powers seek to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.
Separately, Nour News, affiliated to an Iranian state security body, said: “Iran will not remain passive in the face of any threat to its interests, and testing Iran’s will is a strategic error that will entail heavy costs for the United States and its entourage.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted: “Our ties must not be hampered by deeply shortsighted miscalculations, including highway robbery on the command of a 3rd party.”
In 2019, Iran seized a British tanker near the Strait of Hormuz for alleged violations two weeks after British forces detained an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of shipping oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Both vessels were later released.


Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed

Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed
Updated 28 May 2022

Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed

Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed
  • ‘We have achieved an 82 percent growth in trade exchanges within two years,’ the UAE’s top diplomat said
  • Emirati-Turkish relations are steadily growing and evolving

LONDON: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received on Saturday Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, in Istanbul, the state news agency WAM reported.
The two discussed the prospects of advancing cooperation between Turkey and the UAE across all fields and discussed regional issues and the importance of enhancing efforts to establish peace, security and stability.
The Ukrainian crisis and global developments were also discussed.


The UAE’s foreign affairs minister visited his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and explored avenues of cooperation between the countries and prospects to advance relations.
Sheikh Abdullah and Cavusoglu addressed the latest global developments, including those relevant to the stability of energy supplies and food markets in the world, and the global efforts made to reach a political settlement to the crisis in Ukraine.
The UAE’s top diplomat stressed that Emirati-Turkish relations were steadily growing and evolving, and both leaderships were determined to establish a sustainable model of a win-win partnership.
In their joint news conference, Sheikh Abdullah said: “I hope that we can work together to finalize the trade partnership agreement between our countries, whereby we can double our trade exchanges.”
Sheikh Abdullah highlighted renewable energy as one of the sectors where both nations were interested in strengthening their bilateral relations.
“This sector is not only successful from a commercial point of view, but is also consequential to our countries that are both working toward reducing carbon emissions in the world.”


Sheikh Abdullah praised the increase in the volume of trade between the two countries to about AED50 billion. “We have achieved an 82 percent growth in trade exchanges within two years,” he said.
Cavusoglu said that the talks with Sheikh Abdullah touched on many issues related to collaboration in sectors such as trade, economy, technology and energy, stressing that the UAE was Turkey’s largest trade partner in the region.
He indicated that Turkish investors were keen to increase their investment in the UAE.
In response to a question about the future of relations between the two countries, Sheikh Abdullah said: “We talked about some ideas, especially with regards to renewable, solar and electric energy. One of the world’s key companies working in this field today, namely the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar), is highly interested in seeking business opportunities in Turkey.”
He added that Turkey had great potential in the field of tourism.


“Our interest is not only focused on working in Turkey, but also working with Turkey in other parts of the world, including Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia.”
On his recent visit to Israel, Cavusoglu said that dialogue was necessary and fruitful. “Differences might exist, but severing relations is not good. We have conveyed the message to our Palestinian brothers as well as to the Israelis; and we will work to take additional steps in collaboration with Egypt in this regard.”
Sheikh Abdullah said: “There is no doubt that encouraging a return to the peace process and dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis is extremely important.”
He said that Turkey was making efforts on the stability of Libya. “With regards to Yemen, we have expressed our full solidarity with the UAE and Saudi Arabia following the terrorist attacks on the two countries.”


Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads

Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads
Updated 28 May 2022

Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads

Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads
  • The discussions began on Wednesday, and are part of the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2
  • Taiz governor said a military operation would break the siege of Taiz if talks did not lead to reopening roads

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Representatives from the Yemeni government and the Houthis convened in Amman on Saturday to discuss a final draft of an agreement on opening roads in Taiz and elsewhere.

The discussions on opening the regions’ roads began on Wednesday, and are part of the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2.

The talks were on the verge of collapse on Friday, with the Yemeni government threatening to walk away after the Houthis refused to open the main roads that link the city of Taiz with Hodeidah, Aden and Sanaa, suggesting only opening a narrow mountain route.

Maj. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Mahmoudi, deputy head of the Yemeni government delegation on Taiz, told Arab News that it had insisted on lifting the Houthis’ siege of the city by opening the main roads.

“The Houthis want to impose their conditions,” Al-Mahmoudi said.

Taiz Gov. Nabil Shamsan said a military operation would break the siege of Taiz if the talks in Amman did not lead to the reopening roads.

“As Taiz holds an olive branch today, it also possesses a shield and a sword. Taiz is currently fortified by an unprecedented national alignment that is growing every moment,” the governor tweeted.

Other military officials and activists also demanded the use of military force to end the siege.

“The least costly solution to lift the siege on Taiz is to return to the military option by supporting the forces to get rid of the Houthi shame. And this is the safest solution not only for Taiz, but for all Yemen,” Ibrahim Abdul Gader, an activist, tweeted.

Dozens of human rights groups, activists, government officials and Taiz residents have launched a new campaign on social media, using hashtag #Siege_of_Taiz_crime, to pressure the world to order the Houthis to open roads in the city.

Yemenis widely circulated images of cars loaded with goods and fuel overturning on the steep and unpaved slopes drivers were forced to turn to after the Houthis blocked the city’s main entrances.

Marwan Ali Noman, deputy permanent representative of Yemen to the UN, described the siege of the city as “ a war crime” that must be ended.

“The siege by #Houthis on #Taiz in #Yemen for more than 7 years now is a smirch on humanity. This war crime must end now,” Noman tweeted.

Yemenis say that many residents in Taiz evacuated their homes near the Houthi checkpoints that blockade the city, fleeing from snipers and landmines.

The online campaign also criticized the international community for not aggressively pushing to end the siege as it did for opening Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port.

“#Taiz has been besieged by #Houthis since 2015 amid international silence that turns this tragedy into a sub-issue which receives little attention. Unfortunately, this file is only discussed marginally when there are international efforts to end this war,” Mohammed Al-Dhabyani, a Yemeni TV anchor, tweeted.


Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media
Updated 28 May 2022

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media
  • State TV said 100 drones were being kept in the heart of the Zagros mountains, including Ababil-5

The Iranian army has given some details — but not the exact location — of an underground base for its military drones, state media reported on Saturday, amid simmering tensions in the Gulf.
State TV said 100 drones were being kept in the heart of the Zagros mountains, including Ababil-5, which it said were fitted with Qaem-9 missiles, an Iranian-made version of air-to-surface US Hellfire.
“No doubt the drones of Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces are the region’s most powerful,” army commander Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said. “Our capability to upgrade drones is unstoppable,” he added.
The Iranian state TV correspondent said he had made the 45-minute helicopter flight on Thursday from Kermanshah in western Iran to a secret underground drone site. He was allowed to take blindfolds off only upon arrival at the base, he said.
TV footage showed rows of drones fitted with missiles in a tunnel, which it said was several hundred meters underground.
The TV report came a day after Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf, in an apparent retaliation for the confiscation of Iranian oil by the United States from a tanker held off the Greek coast.
Greek authorities last month impounded the Iranian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, due to European Union sanctions. The United States later confiscated the Iranian oil cargo held onboard and plans to send it to the United States on another vessel.
The Pegas was later released, but the seizure inflamed tensions at a delicate time, with Iran and world powers seeking to revive a nuclear deal that former US President Donald Trump abandoned, reimposing sanctions on Tehran.


Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media
Updated 28 May 2022

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media
  • A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in Abadan, Khuzestan province crumbled on Monday

TEHRAN: Iranian police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse protesters in the southwestern city of Abadan where a tower block collapse killed 28 people, local media reported on Saturday.
A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in Abadan, Khuzestan province, crumbled on Monday in one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years.
It was the third night of protests in Abadan and other cities of the province which borders Iraq, local media reported.
Security forces in Abadan “used tear gas and shot in the air near the collapse site” on Friday night to disperse hundreds of protesters, who were mourning the lives lost and demanding justice for the perpetrators of the incident, Fars news agency said.
A number of people shouted “death to incompetent officials” and “incompetent officials must be executed,” similar to calls in protests on Wednesday and Thursday nights, it added.
Elsewhere in Khuzestan another protest, in the city of Bandar-e Mahshahr, saw people chanting while banging on traditional drums and hitting cymbals, images published by Fars showed.
People also took to the streets further afield including in the central Iranian cities of Isfahan, Yazd and Shahin Shahr on Friday to express sympathy with the victims of the tragedy, Fars news agency said.
On Thursday night, a shop in Abadan belonging to the family of the building’s owner “was set on fire and destroyed by unknown individuals,” Tasnim news agency reported earlier.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, who is in Abadan, said on Saturday that “two more bodies were recovered” and sent for identification, raising the death toll to 28, according to state news agency IRNA.
Officials, however, have not announced how many are people still trapped under the rubble.
The number of suspects has also risen.
Khuzestan’s provincial judiciary said on Saturday that 13 people have now been arrested in relation with the incident, including the mayor and two former mayors, IRNA said.
In a statement posted on his official website on Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for those responsible to be prosecuted and punished.
First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber told state television that “widespread corruption existed between the contractor, the builder, the supervisor and the licensing system.”
In January 2017, 22 people, including 16 firefighters, died in a blaze that engulfed the 15-story Plasco shopping center in Tehran.