Jan 17, 2022
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Iran and the United States are on the verge of a nuclear deal … or war

In the photo: a view of a nuclear reactor located 250 km from the Iranian city of Arak, Iran.

In the photo: a view of a nuclear reactor located 250 km from the Iranian city of Arak, Iran. (Photo: Mehdi Marizad/Fars News Agency via AP, File/TASS)

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Iran only had “a few weeks” to get back into the nuclear deal before the United States considered “other options”. The words came on January 14 amid ongoing negotiations between Tehran and Washington on a nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The deal was closed in 2015. It provided Iran with sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. Iran then got the opportunity to sell oil, refusing to enrich uranium above 3.7% (which meant that the country uses uranium only for civilian purposes). In addition, Iran then agreed to allow international inspectors into its nuclear facilities.

However, despite Iran’s compliance with these agreements, the former president Donald Trump backed out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran, the heaviest in its history. More than 1,000 sanctions have been imposed against all sectors of the Iranian economy. Along with the internal ineffective management of the country, this caused an economic disaster: today, according to various estimates, from 60 to 80% of Iranians are below or near the poverty line. Unemployment according to unofficial data reaches 30%.

A year later, Iran, which had previously unilaterally fulfilled the terms of the deal, abandoned them and began to enrich uranium, approaching the weapons level of 90%. Iran is now weeks or months closer to producing enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear device. The country’s missile program is also highly developed and it is believed that Iran will take no more than a year to integrate a nuclear device with a missile system. Then he will get a full-fledged nuclear weapon.

President of the U.S.A Joe Biden attempted to restart the deal if Iran retracted its rule violations. Negotiations aimed at saving the JCPOA resumed in late November after a five-month hiatus following the election of a tough, conservative Iranian president. Ebrahima Raisi.

“We have very, very little time,” Blinken said on Thursday. They are making progress that will be harder to reverse because they are learning; they do new things as a result of getting out of the restrictions placed on them by the agreement.”

As Iran refuses to meet directly with the United States in Vienna, the US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley and his team of negotiators participate in the negotiations indirectly, through intermediaries. In recent weeks, US officials have reported “modest progress” in the talks, but have also warned that there are other options if diplomacy fails.

“We have, I think, a few weeks left to see if we can return to mutual compliance with the deal,” Blinken said. His words are quoted by Al-Monitor.

The main concerns stem from Iran demanding that the United States lift all sanctions before Iran reverses any of its breaches of the deal. He also requires that any future deal contain assurances that Washington will not back out of its obligations, as Trump did three years after the President Barack Obama signed the agreement in 2015. For example, a US commitment to comply with the terms of a nuclear deal could be written into law passed by Congress. The logic of Iran is as follows – what is the point of a deal if you can easily get out of it at any time, as Trump did? A new republican administration will come and cancel everything. We need guarantees.

But the US administration says such guarantees are impossible and refuses to discuss them. For example, because it would be extremely difficult to pass such a law in Congress because of the large number of its opponents, and also because the administration does not want to tie its hands. A number of terms of the nuclear deal expire in 2025 and 2030, and it may turn out that then Iran will be automatically removed from obligations under it, and it will be difficult for the United States to impose sanctions again. In a word, the US does not meet Iran halfway on these issues.

But perhaps the most important news was published in the pages of the US political class magazine, Foreign Affairs, in early December 2021. The publication reported that a senior US official said: “The concern is that in the first quarter of next year, Iran’s breakthrough to nuclear weapons will begin to approach the margin of error … IAEA representatives personally visit Iran only once a week … We may enter a period when they , being within the margin of error, will be able to build everything and quickly get one bomb [из высокообогащенного урана]”.

And yet, in recent weeks, there has been a breakthrough in the negotiations. The Israeli military and politicians, who are the most aware (except the Iranians and the Americans themselves) of what is happening, have been making statements since early January that a return to the nuclear deal is likely to happen. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid indicated on January 3 that the world powers involved in the negotiations are moving towards a nuclear deal or an interim agreement that will lead to this goal. Israel is critical of the deal, but behind the scenes, its politicians say they don’t seem to have a choice to make a deal. This plunges them into pessimism, as a well-informed Israeli journalist points out. Ben Caspit.

Encouraging information also came from Iran. On January 9, the Iranian parliament voted on the state budget for 2022. Before the vote, officials advised lawmakers to vote for the budget because “the government is in a situation where the budget is both political and economic.” Apparently, this refers to the completion of negotiations on the renewal of the nuclear deal and the possible lifting or reduction of sanctions. The government predicts that 1.2 million barrels of oil per day will be exported next year. Today, Iran exports between 700,000 and 1 million barrels, mainly to China. Without the lifting of sanctions, he will not be able to increase this figure. On the contrary, if there is no deal, the US will try to block this flow as well.

We are a little confused: so what will happen? A return to the deal or a war between the US (and its allies, primarily Israel) and Iran? No one knows this, but one thing is clear – the situation has reached a critical point. Everything will be decided in the next few weeks or, at most, months. Either there will be a return to the deal, or the negotiations will be interrupted and then the parties will begin, in all likelihood, preparing for military operations.

However, Blinken did not specify what Plan B would be. The US may not unleash the bombing of Iran, but impose new sanctions against it. For example, they may try to cut off the remnants of Iranian oil exports to China. With a high probability, China will comply.

So far, all forecasts of large-scale economic cooperation between China and Iran have not worked – China does not want to invest in Iran while Iran is under sanctions. The existing agreements on Chinese investment in Iran are, for now, nothing more than an indication of future opportunities. The trade turnover between China and the United States in 2021 increased by 28.7%, amounting to $755.64 billion. At the same time, from January 2021 to the end of November, the volume of commercial exchanges between Iran and its leading trading partner, China, reached only 13.13 billion. dollars, which is 3% less than in the corresponding period of 2020. China does not want to risk its trade with America and lose the giant US market for Iran. He will not be sanctioned.

But Iran is highly likely to respond to new sanctions by escalating military operations against the United States in the Middle East (as it has done so far). So the likelihood of a major military clash between the US and Iran will increase dramatically.

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