Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, June 4th, 2020

Between Hope and Fear;

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Between Hope and Fear;

Iran's Nuclear Enigma

Controversy over Iran's nuclear program and the level of authorized inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) lives on following the so called hopeful talks between Iran and the world six powers. Iranian officials have kept resisting against IAEA's demand for inspection of certain distrusted nuclear sites. They say the U.N. nuclear watchdog has not yet given good enough reasons to visit an Iranian site where it suspects there may have been experiments for developing nuclear weapons.

The Parchin complex is at the centre of Western suspicions that Iran is developing atom bombs despite Tehran's repeated denials of any such ambition. A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week said satellite images showed "extensive activities" at Parchin.

Six world powers failed to convince Iran last week to halt its most sensitive nuclear work, but they will meet again in Moscow next month to try to end a standoff that has raised fears of a new war that could threaten global oil supplies. However, experts maintain that resistance of a country whose eighty percent revenues come from oil exports will not last long or it will cripple itself intentionally.

The devastating sanctions imposed by the United Nations, EU and the United States have made Iran to pay a heavy cost for the opposition to international demands to stop its nuclear enrichment program. The European Union sanctions imposed on Iranian oil, the country's biggest revenue source, will come into effect by July this year.

This will reduce some twenty percent of the country's oil export. However, China and Russia are still reluctant to abide by the US and EU calls for further damaging sanctions on Iran's oil and financial sectors. This, the experts say, will ultimately end in more tightening space against Iranian export and trade activities. Notwithstanding, Iran has strongly denied detrimental economic outcomes produced by international sanctions applied so far.

In order to avoid military interventions, the world countries have been encouraging Iran to put some steps forward to address concerns on objectives pursued through nuclear program. In a move to comply with world powers' demands, Iran held a meeting with the world six powers - the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — plus Germany - in Turkey last month to seek new solutions for its controversial nuclear program. The meeting outcomes apparently created the interest to carry on talks. Iran requested to hold next round of talks in neighboring Iraq. The meeting was held in Baghdad last Wednesday and Thursday. The meeting came at a critical juncture for Iran. EU sanctions are close to hit the country's oil sector.

Iranian and foreign analysts have asserted that, in addition to the direct dire economic consequences, EU sanctions on Iranian oil will inflame rage against the regime at home. The close-to-recession economy has driven Iranian government officials to demonstrate a more flexible approach to the problem. Some emerging signs indicating the change in Iranian attitude towards its long lasting controversial nuclear program are internationally seen as a harbinger to alleviate the country's resistance against the global calls and concerns.

One day before the meeting began in Baghdad, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said he would soon sign an agreement with Iran, a sign that Tehran may have agreed to broader inspections of its nuclear facilities. With this, the world countries hoped Iran gets ready for further IAEA inspections to address concerns on its ambiguous Uranium enrichment objectives. However, many things remain undone to push diplomatic efforts forward. This long controversy has never had a clear and easy solution and will never have. Both sides are stressing on their own viewpoints while less common points are in sight.

Failure of the nuclear talks in Baghdad between Iran and six world powers to produce a grand breakthrough is hardly surprising. At least they have set a date for another round in Moscow next month. The gaps between the sides are so wide that negotiations failed for years; as former high-ranking American official Dennis Ross put it on Tuesday, cited by Foreign Policy Magazine, "The idea that you have a breakthrough after only two rounds, I think, given everything going on, is just not realistic." By most accounts, both Iran and the Western powers share a strong interest to reach a compromise, and one is within reach.

Still, formidable obstacles remain. Should the negotiations collapse, the US, which has reluctantly stated that, as a last resort, it would go to war with the Islamic Republic in order to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, will not only find increased international legitimacy to attack, but also will experience increased pressure to do so. On the other side, experts say, Iran has recently leaned towards a more flexible position to deal on its nuclear program.

IAEA chief's statement on a possible agreement with Iran indicated a ray of hope about the controversial trend. After a visit to Tehran last week, Yukiya Amano said he was close to an agreement with Iran on inspection visits to nuclear facilities but some differences remained. Iran has begun enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile purity, saying that is needed for a medical research reactor, but worrying Western countries who see it as a big step towards the 90 percent purity needed for weapons-grade uranium.

Tehran says it has a sovereign right to enrich uranium, but has sometimes indicated it may be flexible when it comes to higher grade uranium enrichment. Iran has expanded enrichment at its Fordow nuclear facility, buried deep beneath rock and soil to protect it from air strikes. Last week's IAEA report said nuclear engineers had installed 50 percent more enrichment centrifuges at Fordow. Although not yet being fed with uranium, the new machines could be used to further boost Iran's output of uranium enriched to 20 percent.

Normally, as a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium, but in 2006 the United Nations Security Council, with Resolution 1696, formally took that right away because of unresolved suspicions over the nature of the Iranian nuclear program and a series of violations of the NPT by the authorities in Tehran. 

Moreover, uranium enrichment is only one component of the alleged Iranian military nuclear program, and many analysts believe that even stopping it altogether might not derail the Iranian progress toward a bomb. Similarly, Iran's nuclear activities are only one area of friction between the Islamic Republic, its neighbors, and the West. Iran's apparent aspirations and gradual ascendance to major regional power status worry gravely both its neighbors in the Persian Gulf and numerous other powers with stakes in the region. 

However, the need to work out a diplomatic solution still remains substantial. With all the recent improvements seen in talks between the two parties, the US has never openly declared leaving aside military option when dealing with Iran.

During an interview for "This Week," few days ago, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made sure that the United States has readied plans to carry out a military strike on Iran to prevent the regime from obtaining nuclear weapons if diplomacy fails to dissuade the country from its current path. American ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, had recently stated that the United States has already made preparations for a potential strike on Iran.A lookat the annals of talks and negotiations about Iran's nuclear enigma suggests that a shift between hope and fear has always been seen on both sides.

Nasruddin Hemmati is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlookafghanistan@gmail.com

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