Faced with doubts about US credibility, Iran is rushing towards nuclear threshold status

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The new Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian made his debut on the international stage last week, and his statements before the United Nations looked self-confident to the point of arrogance. Both US and international sources point to his administration’s emerging conviction that it is holding the upper hand in the Middle East for the first time in years – and that it is keen to turn Iran into a so-called nuclear threshold state under the guise of continuing are talking to the West.

The Biden administration said it still hopes for a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, but privately senior US officials fear Iran is already moving to a “Plan B”: postpone negotiations while advocating a swift breakout a nuclear weapon positioned.

This dire outcome comes after President Joe Biden’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent Taliban takeover, which signaled Biden’s eagerness to pull out of the region to focus on the Chinese threat. Some call it the “Afghanistan Effect,” and it has seriously damaged US credibility in the Middle East.

The new Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian made his debut on the international stage last week, and his statements before the United Nations looked self-confident to the point of arrogance. Both US and international sources point to his administration’s emerging conviction that it is holding the upper hand in the Middle East for the first time in years – and that it is keen to turn Iran into a so-called nuclear threshold state under the guise of continuing are talking to the West.

The Biden administration said it still hopes for a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, but privately senior US officials fear Iran is already moving to a “Plan B”: postpone negotiations while advocating a swift breakout a nuclear weapon positioned.

This dire outcome comes after President Joe Biden’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent Taliban takeover, which signaled Biden’s eagerness to pull out of the region to focus on the Chinese threat. Some call it the “Afghanistan Effect,” and it has seriously damaged US credibility in the Middle East.

“The Iranians are clearly no longer afraid of us,” said long-time US Middle East diplomat Dennis Ross. “That alone means we really don’t have the level of deterrence we need, be it on the nuclear issue or in the region.” former US President Donald Trump from the 2015 nuclear deal prevailed. As part of this agreement, Tehran agreed to curb uranium enrichment and, in return for the lifting of the sanctions, to undergo UN inspections.

“Iran has now taken a kind of maximum pressure approach on the United States. it is [adopting] a Trumpian approach to us with the expectation that we will give in, ”said Ross.

In 2018, with the enthusiastic support of then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump withdrew from what he called a “terrible” deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Atomic Pact is called. Trump then imposed what US officials called his “maximum pressure” campaign, including a series of new sanctions to bring Tehran back to the table. That attempt failed completely, and Netanyahu proved wrong when he bet that Iran would either collapse under pressure from sanctions or Trump would be forced to attack Iran militarily.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other experts, Iran is now closer to an atomic bomb than ever. Some experts now believe that Tehran could be only a month away Not having enough fissile material or weapons grade uranium to make a single bomb.

On Monday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan flew to Saudi Arabia to discuss the ongoing war in Yemen between Iranian and Saudi representatives, signaling that Washington intended to remain engaged in the region. But Saudi officials are paying more attention to US actions – such as Biden’s withdrawal of Patriot missiles and fighter jets from Saudi soil – which for them primarily indicates a US withdrawal, Ross and other experts said. Additionally, Riyadh has long hinted that Saudi Arabia is likely to build its own nuclear capacity as Iran gets closer.

The Biden government, by sending mixed and unclear signals about its nuclear red lines, could lay the foundation for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and that is exactly what the JCPOA was supposed to prevent.

Whether or not Tehran will get to the point where it openly builds a nuclear weapon, the bigger concern is that, like Japan, it will have the expertise and enriched uranium to build one very quickly. Even this result, known as threshold status, would dramatically change the balance of power in the region. Despite regular declarations by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, many experts believe it will not be satisfied with the threshold status.

“It will be part of Khamenei’s legacy, a manifestation of the Islamic revolution haybat, or ‘invincible awe,’ ”said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer and Iran expert. “After Afghanistan and its end to the rhetoric of ‘eternal wars’, it really is not credible to imagine Biden using military force against the Iranian nuclear program. The Israelis could. “

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Monday, the new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: “The Iranian nuclear program has reached a turning point, as has our tolerance. … Words cannot stop centrifuges from turning. “

But the Israelis, like the Saudis and other US allies like the United Arab Emirates, are deeply concerned that they are getting little more than reassuring words from Washington. “There is great concern about what happened in Afghanistan, and the Israelis are pretty clear that America’s priorities now are China, COVID and the climate. Iran is not in the top three, ”said Amos Harel, national security columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

And despite Netanyahu’s harsh rhetoric, he did not fully prepare the Israeli military for an attack on Iran, Harel said in an interview. As a result, Israeli security experts are hastily discussing new options, including additional sabotage efforts such as the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. In a column in another Israeli newspaper earlier this month Yedioth Ahronoth, Former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel must face the strategic reality that Iran may already be an emerging nation.

“The biggest factor stiffening Iran’s backbone is that the regime believes that not only has it survived maximum pressure and survived the Trump administration, but that such crippling punishments and political pressure will not return anytime soon,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Defense of Democracies Foundation, a right-wing think tank.

Amir-Abdollahian and tough Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi have said Tehran is ready to return to JCPOA talks in Vienna, which could resume later this month. “We are currently examining the Vienna negotiating files, and Iran’s negotiations with the ‘four plus one’ countries will be resumed very soon,” said Amir-Abdollahian. That was an indication of negotiations between Iran on the one hand and Great Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia on the other. Since Trump left the pact, Tehran has refused to negotiate directly with Washington.

But several diplomats linked to the talks said they believe Iran is mainly trying to drag the talks out as it nears its breakout point – sourcing enough enriched uranium for a bomb. When asked if Washington has a Plan B if the Vienna talks fail, a senior US official said: “The ‘Plan B’ we are concerned about is what Iran may be pondering about, where it is wants to continue his nuclear program. “

The only hope, said longtime Middle Eastern observers, could now be that the United States and Western nations will pass a motion of censure on the IAEA Board of Governors and try to refer Iranian opposition to the JCPOA to the UN Security Council. But the Western consensus is crumbling as France is angry with Washington over its role in breaking a nuclear deal with Australia and Germany in the middle of a leadership battle to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Iran’s newfound confidence is also bolstered by a feeling that other major nations that once joined the US-led alliance are breaking away. This is especially true of China, which has signaled that it is ready to do business with Tehran again after resuming oil purchases from Iran. Tehran has also returned fuel to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon via war-torn Syria. And only in the last few days Beijing complied with Tehran’s request to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Eurasian alliance dominated by China and Russia, which also includes India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

“Iranians are confident that time is on their side and that US leverage has peaked,” said Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group. “When talks resume, they will believe that the West will have no alternative to accepting their calls for the sanctions to be lifted.”


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