Iran Nuclear Deal Hangs in Balance 06/17 06:06

Iran Nuclear Deal Hangs in Balance     06/17 06:06

   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 U.S. and Tehran to reenter the accord.

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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, U.S. 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% purity, which can be used in 
nuclear power plants but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. 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% 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% 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 U.N. 
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, U.S. 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 U.S. and Iran to 
the deal in negotiations in Vienna. There have been no direct U.S.-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 U.S., 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."

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