Will Iran Build A Bomb If The JCPOA Talks Fail?

The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran nuclear agreement) talks have been staggering for over a year now. I haven’t followed them as closely as I did in 2015. Back then, I followed the technical aspects – how many centrifuges of what kind, what would be inspected to be sure that Iran was following the agreement. The JCPOA is remarkable in its technical detail and verifiability.

This time around, the discussions have been about sanctions and who is going to take action on what, when. Not much I can contribute there. The negotiators have kept things secret, too, another reason I haven’t had much to say. Even when some information leaks, I have to wonder what hasn’t leaked.

I would hate to see the JCPOA fail. It is a force for stability in the Middle East, and, until the US withdrawal by the Trump administration, Iran was complying with it. Israel seems to be itching for an incredibly destructive war if the talks fail, despite the statements of much of Israel’s security establishment that the JCPOA is good for Israel, war is not.

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It’s Not Easy To Get Back To The JCPOA

Between April and June of this year, Iran’s talks with the P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany with the EU as well) progressed to a point where an agreement on reinstating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, Iran nuclear deal) was in sight. Then Iran had an election and had to reorganize under a new government. Last week that government came back to the talks.

Participants in the talks have been admirably restrained in their comments on the Iranian proposals, and no specifics are available, but reports are that Iran’s proposals retained all the concessions made by other parties while eliminating all concessions made by Iran. Agreement among the P5+1 has been remarkable that Iran overplayed its hand. Talks restarted yesterday (December 9) with a perhaps more restrained Iran.

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Wars and Rumors of Wars

Now that we are out of Afghanistan and have declared the Forever Wars over, a number of people are eagerly pushing their favorites for the next war.

Alexander Lukashenka, who lost Belarus’s election for president but doesn’t want to go, is causing trouble on his borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia by forcing refugees from the Middle East across those borders. Belarus has restricted the flow of oil to Poland.

Lukashenka’s neighbor to the east, Vladimir Putin, backs him warily because Belarus is one of Russia’s few allies. On the other hand, Lukashenka has defied Putin in the past. His latest move to restrict the flow of oil to Poland may or may not be backed by the Kremlin. Putin has been increasing troop strength near the eastern part of Ukraine, where he has kept a shooting war going since 2014. It’s unlikely that he is preparing for a broader invasion – that would require holding additional territory and thus more military resources. But it’s not clear what he’s about.

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Assassination Attempt On Iran’s “Father Of Nuclear Program”

There has just been an assassination attempt on Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s leading nuclear scientist. He is seen within Iran in a role much like that of Robert Oppenheimer in the United States.

Israel has assassinated other Iranian nuclear scientists and is thus the prime suspect. Bibi Netanyahu has mentioned Fakhrizadeh by name.

Israel, and the Trump administration, have been trying to break the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) so that it cannot be revived. The JCPOA froze and even pushed back Iran’s nuclear weapons program, putting it under greater international scrutiny than any nuclear program in the world.

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Mike Pompeo’s War On Iran

One of the many damages Donald Trump inflicts on the country is the inability to focus on events elsewhere in the world. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo uses Trump’s distractions to move closer to war with Iran.

Pompeo’s diplomacy begins by presenting a list of impossible demands to establish leverage for his next moves. In the case of arms control, the next move has been to pick up his marbles and go home. The US believes that Russia has been violating treaties. Instead of using the treaties’ mechanisms to bring Russia back into compliance, the US representative insisted that Russia publicly admit to its violations. When it didn’t, the US withdrew from the intermediate-range missile treaty and shot off a missile that would have violated the treaty. They are using the same strategy now to allow the New START Treaty, the last of the big arms control treaties, to lapse.

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Iran Is Far From A Nuclear Weapon

I’ve been writing this now since 2012 or earlier, but reporters and editors don’t care to learn about the uranium supply line and the processes that form it into a nuclear weapon. Or they like sensationalized clicks better. So here it is again.

The IAEA defines what it calls a “significant quantity” of enriched uranium as 25 kg of U-235 in enriched uranium. That’s approximately enough for a nuclear weapon, although it varies with the weapon design. The IAEA needs an arbitrary number like that for reporting on its inspections. It’s a quick rule of thumb. (If you click that link, you’ll see others writing about it in 2012.) Read More

What Is This “Re-Establish Deterrence” They Keep Talking About?

I have a short piece up at Inkstick Media. It’s short enough that I won’t quote it here, except to say that I have found the claims that the Trump administration killed Qassem Soleimani to “re-establish deterrence” annoying in multiple dimensions.

Besides, Inkstick is a new enterprise, trying to make this stuff more understandable, and I support that goal. If you like what I write here, you’ll probably like Inkstick. Go ahead, give them some clicks!

Iran’s Action On The Nuclear Agreement

A lot of claims are flying around about Iran’s actions with regard to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Some things are not yet clear. Here’s the official statement and interpretation by Mehr News:

“The Islamic Republic of Iran, in the fifth step in reducing its commitments, discards the last key component of its operational limitations in the JCPOA, which is the “limit on the number of centrifuges.”

As such, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program no longer faces any operational restrictions, including enrichment capacity, percentage of enrichment, amount of enriched material, and research and development.

From here on, Iran’s nuclear program will be developed solely based on its technical needs.

Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA will continue as before.

If the sanctions are lifted and Iran benefits from its interests enshrined in the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic is ready to return to its commitments.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) is obliged to take the necessary steps and arrangements in coordination with the President.”

US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled Washington out of the JCPOA in May 2018, and reimposed “toughest ever” sanctions against the Islamic Republic in defiance of global criticism.

In response to the US unilateral move, as well as the European signatories’ failure to safeguard Iran’s economic interests in the face of US sanctions, Tehran rowed back on its nuclear commitments step-by-step in compliance with Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, but stressed that its retaliatory measures will be reversible as soon as Europe finds practical ways to shield the mutual trade from the US sanctions.

As a first step, Iran increased its enriched uranium stockpile to beyond the 300 kilograms set by the JCPOA.

In the second step, Tehran began enriching uranium to purity rates beyond the JCPOA limit of 3.76 percent.

In the third phase, after the Europeans failed to meet a 60-day deadline to meet Iran’s demands and fulfill their commitments under the deal, Iran started up advanced centrifuges to boost the country’s stockpile of enriched uranium and activated 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges for research and development purposes.

In November, Iran began injecting gas into centrifuges at the Fordow plant as part of its fourth step away from the JCPOA under the supervision of the IAEA.

Iran will continue to cooperate with IAEA inspections. This is important, because it keep us informed of what is happening in Iran’s nuclear complex. Iran remains within the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which is their commitment not to build nuclear weapons.

Worth requoting from above:

If the sanctions are lifted and Iran benefits from its interests enshrined in the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic is ready to return to its commitments.

This has been Iran’s position all along. They have acted in a measured and predictable way. In fact, they have done less than they might have; a number of experts expected today’s announcement to be that they were enriching uranium up to 20% U-235, which would have been worse than that they are removing limits on numbers of centrifuges.

There are fine points that are still not clear, like what will happen to the Arak reactor and to the international cooperation they have been participating in to convert their nuclear installations to peaceful use.

Here are a couple of threads from people involved in the negotiations and implementation of the JCPOA.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

A Tale Of Two Red Lines

Let’s get this out of the way first: President Donald Trump didn’t actually say the words “red line.” In fact, he, his National Security Advisor, and his Secretary of State say so many different things that it can be hard to tell whether there are red lines, let alone where they are.

In August 2012, President Barack Obama explicitly laid down a red line to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria: Move chemical weapons around, and we will strike. A few days later, Assad brutally killed over a thousand people in Ghouta with sarin. Congress and allied nations were reluctant to back a military strike in response. But then Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered another response: Syria would join the Chemical Weapons Convention and give up its stock of chemical weapons and the means to make more. Read More

Questions To Ask Before Going To War

A hard pushback on the dicey “evidence” the Trump administration didn’t quite present – it’s classified y’know – slowed down John Bolton’s rush to war, but something bit Donald Trump and he has tweeted another implied nuclear threat at Iran. Here are questions that should be considered in going to war. Read More