September 22, 2023
September 22, 2023

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US-Iranian Nuclear Talks Come Unglued

Negotiators at the Vienna-based talks on re-establishing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have reportedly drafted an agreement and returned to their respective capitals, apparently in the hopes of securing an endorsement for the revived “nuclear deal” with Iran—which, by the way, Iran never signed. While some differences still remain, the P5+1 nations (the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) were trying to restore the JCPOA deal before the new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took office last week.

President Biden’s negotiating team, to win the support of Iran’s hardline dominated regime, had reportedly agreed to a substantial lifting of Trump administration-imposed sanctions on Iran.

The JCPOA, which was falsely touted as preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, had in reality only postponed it a bit; and never addressed at all Iran’s manufacture of ballistic missiles to deliver such nuclear weapons.

One significant aspect of a newly-invigorated JCPOA is whether the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) would be granted total access to known and suspected Iranian sites associated with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Better not count on it.

The IAEA would need a commitment to monitor the warehousing or destruction of Iran’s more advanced centrifuges, which were installed during the JCPOA’s suspended interregnum after US President Donald J. Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in May 2018. Better not count on that, either. In the past, the IAEA registered its dissatisfaction with the Islamic Republic’s cooperation with its inspectors. IAEA officials have complained that Iran resisted attempts to monitor compliance with the JCPOA. The IAEA would also need to be tasked with monitoring Iran’s fulfilling its obligation to export or destroy highly enriched uranium beyond the amount permitted by the JCPOA—a third item not to count on.

Part of the problem may have been the new Iranian presidency, which began last week, of Ebrahim Raisi, “the Butcher,” apparently a destruction machine who reportedly murdered thousands of Iranians, some of whom were not even sentenced to death. Raisi has already announced that he would not meet with Biden and that advancing Iran’s missile program was “not negotiable.” Although it is Iran’s Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who makes all final decisions, the US, to its credit, seems to have concluded that no deal just now would be better than “any” deal.

Only a month ago, Iran’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abbas Araqchi, who headed the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna, played down positive expectations, and suggested that there were some difficult issues still to be negotiated and that now there are grounds for optimism. Ali Akbar Dareini of Tehran’s Center of Strategic Studies has insisted that President Raisi would endorse the revitalized JCPOA and that he had Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s confidence.

Dareini, author of “Legitimate Deterrence,” a book on Iran’s nuclear program, has repeatedly warned that any US effort to expand the JCPOA to include Iranian ballistic missile advances or foreign policy in the region would prove fruitless. Dareini had stated all along that Iran’s national defense plans were not on the table for discussion.

It now looks as if Iran may be happier with no agreement, and just sprint for unlimited nuclear capability without any Western strings attached. There also apparently exists, with good reason, insufficient trust on the Western side that the Islamic Republic would ever actually be in compliance.

The IAEA catalogue of doubts regarding Iran’s compliance with any nuclear safeguards is lengthy and continuous. Some of these instances of non-compliance by Iran include: exceeding the limits of installed centrifuges, imprecise recording of the amount of low-enriched uranium, the establishment of unauthorized enrichment sites, and failure to declare exact amounts of imported uranium. In June 2020, the IAEA Board of Governors dispatched a resolution to Iran, calling upon Tehran to satisfy overdue requests regarding several undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stated in June that Israel’s determination to frustrate Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power would not change. He is on record saying that there should be no agreement with this “regime of brutal hangmen.”

He has a point.

Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

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