Iran is closer to a bomb than ever before. Is a new nuclear deal possible? Here is everything you need to know:
What is Iran’s nuclear status like?
Iran doesn’t have atomic bombs yet, but it is close to being able to build them. Since the Trump administration pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018 – which entailed UN nuclear inspections in exchange for the lifting of sanctions – Iran has drastically increased the pace of its prosecution. It’s currently about a month away to produce enough fuel for a weapon, though building a warhead and mounting it on a missile would take much longer. Some experts believe the country may seek to become an “emerging nation” capable of building nuclear weapons whenever it chooses to do anything, while others believe it is just looking for leverage in negotiations to force the US to revert to the agreement and lift sanctions. The original pact between Iran and a group of world powers limited Iran to enriching uranium to only 4 percent potency, enough to run a nuclear power plant but far from the 90 percent required for a bomb. Now it is said to have reached 60 percent, although the new President Ebrahim Raisi says his government is ready to negotiate.
Who is Raisi?
Raisi, 60, is an ultra-conservative protÃ©gÃ© of the 82-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a top candidate for his successor as Supreme Leader. His black turban signals that he is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. When the Islamic Revolution broke out in 1979, he was a student protester, quickly rose to the position of Tehran public prosecutor, and was a member of one of the four judicial bodies known as the death committees that brought several thousand dissenting prisoners back to court and sentenced them to execution. Raisi took office in August after a rigged low-turnout election in his favor, in which reformist candidates were excluded from running. He immediately took a tough line against the US, telling the UN last month that the “US hegemonic system has no credibility” and that US sanctions against Iran are tantamount to “crimes against humanity”.
What are the sanctions?
The US has imposed various economic sanctions on Iran since 1979, when radical Islamic students overthrew the US-backed Shah and took US embassy staff hostage. Back then, the US froze Iranian assets worth $ 12 billion. Over the years, sanctions have been increased multiple times by both the US and the UN Security Council to punish Tehran for the prosecution of nuclear weapons technology, and by the 2010s, the Iranian economy suffered badly. In 2015, President Hassan Rouhani’s administration desperately sought to lift an international ban on the sale of Iranian oil and concluded the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the Obama administration, as well as the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany. American Conservatives condemned the deal as overly lenient, and although UN inspectors confirmed Iran’s compliance, then-President Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the six-party pact and imposed the weakest sanctions yet in a “maximum pressure” policy. In just two years, the inflation rate in Iran rose to 40 percent and the poverty rate doubled to 30 percent.
What effect did that have?
It actually strengthened the power of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a military body that reports directly to the Supreme Leader and campaigned for the nuclear program. The Revolutionary Guards have met with Iran’s pro-democracy reformers for decades, but the reformers have enough popular support to win parliamentary seats and even the presidency, and curb the Supreme Leader’s extremism. Trump’s sanctions undermined the reformers by proving the US was not a reliable negotiator and by desperately looking for Iran for international financial channels. The Revolutionary Guard bought finance and oil contracts through their front companies, which were used to circumvent sanctions. The Guard then controlled Iran’s ability to sell oil under the table, thereby strengthening its own power and status. That paved the way for an anti-US hardliner, Raisi, to take over the presidency.
What did biden do?
President Biden is trying to revive the deal and promises the US “full compliance” if Iran does the same. But it has also increased the pressure by imposing new restrictions, preventing Iran from using its assets in South Korean and Japanese banks to purchase COVID vaccines, and pressuring the UK to stop repaying old Iranian debts. At this point in time, the Iranians no longer trust the word of the US. And the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan damaged the US’s image as a nation whose military power is to be feared and cast doubts about its willingness to intervene abroad.
What is the next step?
Raisi insists that Iran will “soon” resume nuclear talks with several nations in Vienna, but has not given a date. Yet with each month that passes, the country is getting closer to reaching breakout capability. Some believe Tehran is just hesitating until it is able to build a bomb. “We really don’t have the level of deterrence we need, either on the nuclear issue or in the region,” said US diplomat Dennis Ross Foreign policy. “The Iranians are obviously no longer afraid of us.”
Effects of a nuclear Iran
Should Iran become a nuclear state or even float in a threshold state, the entire Middle East could be destabilized. Some analysts believe that Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which see Shiite Iran as dangerous rivals, would likely seek nuclear weapons if Iran got them. Others argue that this “nuclear domino theory” is implausible because it would require the Saudis to defy and even alienate their US allies, and even Russia would be reluctant to see a nuclear arms race in the region. However, there is no doubt that Israel, which itself has unrecognized nuclear weapons, sees a nuclear Iran as an existential threat because of Ayatollah Khamenei’s repeated calls for the annihilation of the Jewish state. Over the past decade, Israel has repeatedly sabotaged Iranian computer systems and murdered Iranian nuclear scientists in order to roll back the program. But if Iran keeps on going this time, Israel might be tempted to preemptively attack locations where uranium enrichment and bombing are underway.
This article was first published in the current issue of. released The week Magazine. If you want to read more of it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.