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Thursday, 10 May 2018

Nuclear agreement with Iran: Trump will decide

Por Rory

In an unexpected move, US President Donald Trump has announced that on Tuesday he will make public his decision on whether or not to keep the nuclear pact with Iran. An announcement that was scheduled for Saturday May 12 and will be made public after last week the first Israeli minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, accused the Tehran government of having a secret nuclear program. Something that the White House took for granted but that the European allies doubt.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson have come to Washington in recent days to pressure the US president to remain in the agreement. Trump has said on several occasions that he will withdraw from the pact if it is not revised, and requires doing so to limit Iran's ballistic missile system and its influence in the region.

The agreement, signed between Tehran and the 5 + 1 Group (USA, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom, plus Germany), limits Iran's atomic program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, but does not include any reference to conventional weapons or the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian president, Hasan Rohaní, affirmed that Iran could stay in the nuclear agreement of 2015, although the United States withdraws from it, provided that its interests are guaranteed by the rest of the signatories of the pact. "Or what we want from the JCPOA is provided without the United States or, if we see that this is not achieved, we will have our plans," Rohaní said in a speech, picked up on the website of the Presidency. The president tried to calm the restlessness of the Iranian population before an eventual exit from Washington when assuring that his Government is considering "the necessary decisions for the different scenarios".

Trump demands to remain in the agreement, signed between Tehran and the 5 + 1 Group, to limit Iran's ballistic missile system and its influence in the region. In this regard, Rohaní warned that, if the US objective is not to allow Iran to be independent and have influence in the region, the Iranian people "will oppose it with force as in the past. We have shown the world that Iranian phobia is a lie and that the conspiracy and use of the atomic bomb by Iran are propaganda against the Iranian nation," he continued. He added that the nuclear agreement eliminated the international concern that Tehran sought to develop atomic weapons.

Along the same lines, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohamad Yavad Zarif, said today that "the Islamic Republic decides according to its own interests" and that the action of Washington, "should it adopt the erroneous decision envisaged, will not benefit the Americans." Zarif said that Iran has made "the necessary provisions so that the US decision does not have an impact on the life of the population", so, if Washington wants to put pressure on Tehran economically with sanctions, they will give "an adequate reaction".

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has ratified on a dozen occasions that Tehran is fulfilling its commitments to the nuclear agreement. The pact is also defended by Russia and China and by the European countries; although among the latter the United Kingdom and France have been open to put more pressure on Iran. In recent days they have come to Washington to, among other things, defend this agreement the French president, Emmanuel Macron; the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel; and the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson.

The agreement on the Iranian nuclear program provides for a gradual and conditional lifting of international sanctions imposed on Iran in return for the guarantee that they do not develop atomic weapons. It was reached on July 14, 2015, in Vienna, after 12 years of crisis and 21 months of intense negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom) plus Germany. At the signing, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran agreed on a roadmap to be able to certify before 2016 whether or not the nuclear program pursued a military purpose.

The question of uranium enrichment (reducing the concentration of one of the isotopes of uranium while increasing that of another to be used in fission processes) was the key to negotiation. The fear of the international community - especially of Israel - was that the centrifuges that are used to enrich low-level uranium, used as fuel, were used to produce highly enriched uranium, used in nuclear weapons. The agreement established that Tehran could not enrich uranium above 3.67% for a period of 15 years; Afterwards, it will have absolute freedom of enrichment.

Under the terms of the agreement, Iran reduced the number of authorized centrifuges to enrich uranium to 5,060 (against 10,200 at the time the agreement was signed) and pledged not to exceed it for a period of 10 years. They also agreed to modify their Araka heavy water reactor, under the control of the international community, to make it impossible to produce plutonium for military purposes in this facility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is in charge of regularly controlling all Iranian nuclear facilities, with considerably more important prerogatives. Iran accepted "limited access" from the IAEA to non-nuclear facilities, particularly military ones. In a report published at the end of August 2017, the IAEA certified mainly that Tehran did not enrich uranium to prohibited levels, neither constituted illegal stocks of weakly enriched uranium or heavy water, nor "continued" the construction of its heavy water reactor. Arak. On November 13, the IAEA indicated that Iran respected its commitments.

The UN embargoes on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles are maintained until 2020 and 2023, respectively. However, the Security Council may agree to exceptions in particular cases. Since then, numerous international sanctions have been lifted, which opened the door to foreign investment. During his campaign, Trump condemned "the plan of action" agreed during the government of Barack Obama, to whom he reproaches "disastrous deficiencies" in the agreement with Tehran. In October 2017, as president, he refused to "certify" that Tehran respected his commitments, but assured that his country did not withdraw from the agreement for the time being.

In January 2018, the US president confirmed the suspension of economic sanctions lifted under the agreement. However, the White House said it was "the last suspension that will sign." "It's the last chance," Donald Trump declared, and demanded an "agreement" with the Europeans to "remedy the terrible gaps" in the text. That same month, he issued an ultimatum to the Europeans: he gave them until May 12 to "toughen" the agreement at several points: the IAEA inspections and the progressive lifting - since 2025 - of certain restrictions on Iranian nuclear activities, which the US president considers a time bomb. Other points are that for Trump, the agreement does not directly attack the Tehran ballistic missile program, nor its "destabilizing" role in several countries of the Middle East, such as Syria, Yemen or Libya.

Diplomats and analysts are convinced, except for a last minute change that Trump will announce in the White House, which will reestablish, at least partially, the sanctions lifted to Iran as part of the agreement signed in 2015 to prevent that country from donating a weapon nuclear. That would imply, say the experts, the "death" of the nuclear agreement signed in Vienna.