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
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
"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
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
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."