(CNN) — All but lost in the noise of Russia’s “drumbeat of war” on Ukraine is an even more pressing warning siren — getting Iran back into the agreement that would keep it from building a nuclear weapon. And that is looking increasingly chancy.
“We are reaching a point where Iran’s nuclear escalation will have eliminated the substance of the JCPOA,” the Arms Control Association said earlier this month of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear agreement signed by Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, the United States, as well as Iran, in 2015.Three years later, President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the pact and reimposed sanctions on Iran. While the JCPOA is still recognized by the remaining signatories, Iran has since embarked on an accelerated program of enriching uranium that could allow it to create a weapon more quickly.Every delay in the negotiations that have just resumed after a brief break in the eighth round in Vienna allows Iran time to make further progress toward the ability — if not the will — to make at least a testable nuclear weapon. And indeed there is a theoretical off-ramp barely two weeks away when the sixth month of negotiations is reached and the talks could come to a real, and toxic, end.Even now, there is considerable belief that Iran may be desperately close to the ability to create a nuclear device.
“Iran today is probably within a month or two of having enough material that could, with further enrichment, be sufficient to actually build a bomb,” Gary Sick, head of Columbia University’s Gulf/2000 project and the Iran expert on the National Security Council under President Jimmy Carter, told me via email interview.
“The skill and experience that they have developed in this round, however, will not be forgotten. So even if Iran returns to the original status of 2015, it will be better poised to get there quicker the next time, if there is a next time,” Sick added.However Sick and others believe that Iran has not yet made the final determination to go that last step toward a testable nuclear device. The Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will make such a decision, has said an atomic bomb is “haram” or forbidden in Islam. Moreover, Sick points out that Iran is at least a year or two away from producing a device that could be mounted on a missile and fired at a neighboring country or beyond.Meanwhile the White House is playing the blame game — ever more vocally laying Iran’s accelerating progress toward a bomb on Trump’s withdrawal from the process. But in fact, the US is at risk of taking its eye off the ball, focusing intently on talks with Russia over Ukraine, without seeing how they might in some fashion be tied together.
Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that “India was not averse to the possible demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier , the world’s highest battleground and an old sore in India-Pakistan ties , provided the neighbour accepted the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) that separates Indian and Pakistani positions. Acceptance of AGPL is the first step towards demilitarisation but the Pakistan side loathes doing that”. He said, ‘The Siachen situation occurred because of unilateral attempts by Pakistan to change status quo and countermeasures taken by the Indian Army’ (Not averse to demilitarisation of Siachen if Pak meets pre-condition: Army chief, Hindustan Times January 13, 2022).
Reacting to the Indian army chief’s statement, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan reminisced that the Siachen could not fructify into a written agreement because India wanted Siachen and Kashmir to be settled together. India’s approach ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ scuttled the agreement. As for Kashmir, “a simultaneous effort was made through the backchannel …in what is commonly known as the Four-Point Formula” (Siachen recollections, Dawn January 16, 2022). Riaz laments Indi’s distrust that hindered a solution.
Shyam Saran, a voice in the wilderness
Shyam Saran, in his book How India Sees the World (pp. 88-93) makes startling revelations about how this issue eluded solution at last minute. India itself created the Siachen problem. Saran reminisces, in the 1970s, US maps began to show 23000 kilometers of Siachen area under Pakistan’s control. Thereupon, Indian forces were sent to occupy the glacier in a pre-emptive strike, named Operation Meghdoot. Pakistani attempts to dislodge them did not succeed. But they did manage to occupy and fortify the lower reaches’.
He recalls how Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek agreements could not fructify for lack of political will or foot dragging. He says ‘NN Vohra, who was the defence secretary at the time, confirmed in a newspaper interview that an agreement on Siachen had been reached. At the last moment, however, a political decision was taken by the Narasimha Rao government to defer its signing to the next round of talks scheduled for January the following year. But, this did not happen…My defence of the deal became a voice in the wilderness’.
Saran says, `Kautliyan template would say the options for India are sandhi, conciliation; asana, neutrality; and yana, victory through war. One could add dana, buying allegiance through gifts; and bheda, sowing discord. The option of yana, of course would be the last in today’s world’ (p. 64, ibid.).
India’s current first option
It appears that Kautliya’s last-advised option,yana, as visualised by Shyam Saran, is India’s first option nowadays. Kautlya also talks about koota yuddha (no holds barred warfare), and maya yuddha (war by tricks) that India is engaged in.
By unilaterally declaring the disputed Jammu and Kashmir its territory does not solve the Kashmir problem. This step reflects that India has embarked upon the policy “might is right”. In Kotliyan parlance it would be “matsy nyaya, or mach nyaya”, that is big fish eats the small one. What if China also annexes disputed borders with India? India annexed Kashmir presuming that Pakistan is not currently in a position to respond militarily, nor could it agitate the matter at international forums for fear of US ennui.
India’s annexation smacks of acceptance of quasi-Dixon Plan, barring mention of plebiscite and division of Jammu. . Dixon proposed: Ladakh should be awarded to India. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (including Gilgit and Baltistan) should remain with Pakistan. Whole Kashmir valley should have a plebiscite with no option to independence. Jammu should be divided on religious basis. The river Chmab should be the dividing line. Northern Jammu (Muslims dominated) should go to Pakistan and Hindu majority parts of Jammu to remain with India.
In short Muslim areas should have gone with Pakistan and Hindu-Buddhist majority areas should have remained with India.
India’s annexation has no legal sanctity. But, it could have bbeen sanctified in a mutually agreed Kashmir solution.
India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries?
The world is listless to accounts of former diplomats and RAW officers about executing insurgencies in neighbouring countries. B. Raman, in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.
Will the world take notice of confessions by Indi’s former intelligence officers and diplomats?B. Raman reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta. Kao, through one RAW agent, hijacked a Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, of Indian Airlines hijacked from Srinagar to Lahore.
India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, `coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces’… `helicopters, uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds through his brother in London, Wali Massoud’, delivered circuitously with the help of other countries who helped this outreach’. When New Delhi queried about the benefit of costly support to Northern Alliance chief Massoud, Kumar explained, “He is battling someone we should be battling. When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan.”
Death of back-channel
In his memoirs In the line of fire (pp.302-303), president Musharraf had proposed a personal solution of the Kashmir issue. This solution, in essence, envisioned self-rule in demilitarised regions of Kashmir under a joint-management mechanism. The solution pre-supposed* reciprocal flexibility.
Death of dialogue and diplomacy
Riaz warns of “incalculable” risks as the result of abrogation of Kashmir statehood (Aug 5, 2019). Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. In the absence of a dialogue on outstanding issues, war, perhaps a nuclear one, comes up as the only option.
Sans sincerity, the only Kashmir solution is a nuclear Armageddon. Or, perhaps divine intervention.
ISLAMABAD — Overconfidence in its newly acquired S-400 air defense system may give India a false sense of invulnerability and increase the likelihood of a military miscalculation involving archrival Pakistan, analysts warn.
“Indian rhetoric appears to suggest a belief that the S-400 effectively makes its airspace impenetrable and its forces invulnerable,” Mansoor Ahmed, a senior fellow at the Pakistan-based think tank Center for International Strategic Studies who studies the country’s nuclear program and delivery systems, told Defense News.
Consequently, there are concerns “India may be emboldened to resort to military adventurism, believing its ‘Cold Start’ doctrine for punishing strikes and destabilizing incursions into Pakistan” is an assured success, he said.
Deliveries of India’s five S-400 regiments began in December 2021, with initial deployments along the Indo-Pakistan border.
On paper, the defensive — and potentially offensive — anti-access, area denial capabilities of the S-400 appear formidable. The system is reportedly effective against aircraft, UAVs, and ballistic and cruise missiles, with the latter capability potentially neutralizing Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent.
Its layered coverage is provided by a combination of the 40-kilometer-range 9M96E, 120-kilometer-range 9M96E2, 250-kilometer-range 48N6, and 400-kilometer-range 40N6E missiles, enabling it to protect large areas, high-value targets and itself from attack.
It is also highly mobile, can be made operational 5 minutes after arriving at a new location and therefore can be regularly relocated to avoid detection.
However, aerospace expert Douglas Barrie at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, told Defense News the S-400 “should not be underestimated, neither should it be over-estimated.”
A notable claimed feature of the S-400 is its potential offensive capability that would restrict an adversary’s use of its own airspace. For Pakistan, due to its geography and the long border it shares with India, the weapon system would cover most of the country.
However, Barrie is unconvinced. “Its much-touted maximum engagement range is dependent on the variant of surface-to-air missile deployed, the acquisition ranges of the associated radars in the operational area, the capacity of the personnel to effectively exploit the system, and also the steps and countermeasures any opponent might take.”
India plans to integrate the S-400 into its existing air defense network, which consists of indigenous and Indo-Israeli systems.
Consequently, Barrie said, India might “use the system more often to defend high-value targets or critical national infrastructure from air attack, rather than forward-deploy to hamper the Pakistani Air Force’s use of its own airspace [thereby] putting the systems at greater risk of attack.”
“In and of itself, I see the S-400 acquisition having little to no impact on the overall credibility of the Pakistani [nuclear] deterrent,” he added.
Similarly, Ahmed believes “its effectiveness against ballistic or cruise missiles is open to question and will depend on a variety of factors,” such as the effective engagement range. This specific factor takes into account the curvature of the Earth, the nature of nearby terrain and the location from which the system was deployed.
If deployed too far forward, an S-400 — or at least elements of the system, such as the launch vehicle — could be in danger of direct targeting. Ahmed specifically pointed to the Fatah-1, Pakistan’s 150-kilometer-range guided round for the Chinese A-100 multiple launch rocket system, as a weapon that could jeopardize the S-400. The Fatah-1 round was successfully tested in August 2021.
Additionally, suppression or even destruction of the S-400 could be aided by effective electronic warfare measures — a capability Pakistan demonstrated when its Air Force successfully launched retaliatory strikes into Indian-held territory during a flare-up in February 2019.
Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, or SPD, develops and protects all aspects of the country’s nuclear deterrent, and it’s likely the organization will be charged with determining the threat posed by the S-400 and how to respond.
Defense News tried to contact the SPD via the Army’s Inter Services Public Relations media branch, but received no response.
However, Ahmed pointed to improvements Pakistan is making to its existing arsenal to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent.
“Pakistan’s missile tests over the past several years appear to demonstrate enhanced accuracy and penetration capability in view of India’s growing investment in missile defenses. It has also introduced the [multiple independent reentry vehicle]-capable Ababeel ballistic missile system, designed to defeat any dedicated Indian anti-missile system,” he said. “While the S-400 remains a highly capable air defense system at best, its utility against missiles has yet to be proven in real-time conditions.”
Nevertheless, the S-400 does pose a considerable threat to Pakistan’s conventional deterrent.
“Suppression or destruction of enemy air defense (SEAD/DEAD) will likely have taken greater priority for the Pakistani Air Force in response to the S-400 acquisition,” Barrie said. “Options include acquiring more capable anti-radiation missiles, improved electronic countermeasures and aircraft self-protection.”
Outsmarting the system
Pakistan potentially has something in development that could be used against the S-400.
A stealthy combat drone design, the ZF1 was specifically created to attack heavily defended targets. It was promoted at Pakistan’s biennial arms exhibition IDEAS in 2018 by the UAS Global, whose CEO Rafay Shaik told Defense News at the time the aircraft would make its first flight soon.
The concept is not new to South Asia. India has its own stealthy UCAV program, the Ghatak, run by the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
Despite requests for information on the state of the program sent to UAS Global, there has been no news regarding its development since early 2019, and it’s unclear if ZF1 work is even ongoing.
Pakistan might also benefit from military exercises “with friendly countries that operate the S-400, such as China and Turkey, who may at least indirectly help identify its strengths and weaknesses for exploring opportunities to suppress and defeat Indian S-400 systems,” Ahmed said.
For its part, China has “multiple options” available for Pakistan, according to Richard Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
“It is very likely that, to the degree that China has aided North Korea’s new hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) missile warhead, it has or will similarly assist a Pakistani HGV, or simply sell the DF-17,” he said, referring to a medium-range missile system equipped with an HGV. “Or Beijing now has the option of allowing North Korea to sell its HGV to Pakistan.”
China could also help Pakistan redress the balance with a similar air defense system, Fisher added, and its ability to do so “can be expected soon.”
“In contrast to China’s flagrant abuse of the intellectual property of [Russia’s] Sukhoi Corporation, S-300 and S-400 maker Almaz-Antey in the 1990s agreed to sell China the means to make their own fourth-generation SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] along with sales of their SAMs,” he explained.
Fisher noted that Pakistan’s recently acquired Chinese-made HQ-9B missile — which reportedly has a 240-kilometer range and is locally referred to as the HQ-9/P — is based on Almaz-Antey technology. He said this transfer of advanced Russian technology enabled China to develop the initial land-based HQ-9 and ship-based HHQ-9 systems, which have a range of 125 kilometers and entered service in the mid-2000s.
These Chinese systems are quite advanced, Fisher added. “Like later variants of the S-300 family acquired by China, the HQ-9 featured a hard-to-jam phased array guidance and tracking radar, and its missile uses an active radar for terminal guidance.”
The longer-range HQ-9B is reported to have a dual semi-active radar homing/passive infrared seeker, while the HQ-9C, which is under development, will reportedly feature active guidance.
Citing the recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as the civil wars in Libya and Syria, Ahmed noted that “increasingly more potent and sophisticated” air defense systems are being “matched by systems and technologies designed to beat them, such as standoff weapons, anti-radiation missiles, electronic countermeasures, UCAVs and drone swarms, and low-flying cruise missiles.”
“The race for offense-defense dominance is therefore increasingly favoring the offense,” he said.
Iran is closer than ever to being able to build a nuclear weapon. After President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran began enriching uranium to higher levels and stockpiling more of it. As a result, Iran now has the capacity to make enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb in less than a month—compared with the roughly one year it would have needed to do so before the United States quit the nuclear accord in 2018.
Iran’s leaders and President Joe Biden’s administration both say they want to return to the 2015 deal, but the parties remain far apart on what nuclear steps or sanctions relief should come first and how far-reaching those steps would need to be. Every day that the talks drag on without resolution, Iran’s centrifuges keep spinning; in late December, European governments warned that “weeks, not months,” remained before restoring the old deal would no longer be possible.
The hard truth is that the United States now has few good options for containing Iran’s nuclear program. It can persist with the no-deal status quo, allowing Iran to continue inching closer to a bomb while suffering under sanctions. It can pursue a return to the 2015 agreement and then attempt to get Iran to agree to a “longer and stronger” pact, as the Biden team has suggested. It can try for various other deals, either more or less stringent than the 2015 agreement. Or it can attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure with a military strike, possibly setting Tehran’s progress toward a bomb back by a few years but almost certainly provoking retaliation and possibly a sprint toward the nuclear finish line.
Of these options, a return to the 2015 deal is the least bad. It would pull Iran back from the nuclear brink, and it would offer modest hope for further talks on hard problems such as Iran’s missile program and its support for armed groups throughout the Middle East. It would pose far fewer risks than attempting to set Iran’s program back with a military strike, and it would likely buy more time. But Iran’s gains in knowledge are irreversible, meaning that the old accord won’t be as strong a barrier to the bomb as it was before Trump tore it up, and getting Tehran to agree to strengthen the deal over time will be difficult.
Iran claims that its decades-long nuclear program has always been entirely peaceful. But a wide range of sources of information—confirmed and expanded by an archive of Iranian documents Israeli agents stole in 2017—proves that at least from 1999 to 2003, Iran sought to design and manufacture nuclear weapons and to carry out a nuclear test. It was a comprehensive effort that included each element needed to produce nuclear materials and fabricate them into bombs. The secret program was led by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer who was assassinated, reportedly by Israeli intelligence, in November 2020.
In late 2003, after the United States invaded Iraq and international inspectors began probing some once secret Iranian activities, Iran shut down the parts of its program that were most identifiable as nuclear weapons efforts or that were still covert. But it continued its open uranium enrichment program—suitable for making low-enriched fuel for reactors as well as highly enriched material for bombs—and the construction of a “research reactor” at Arak that was well suited for producing weapons-grade plutonium.
By 2015, Iran had mastered centrifuge uranium enrichment, installed thousands of first-generation centrifuges, started to test more advanced centrifuges that could enrich uranium even faster, and stockpiled substantial amounts of low-enriched uranium. Uranium enrichment is an exponential process, so once centrifuges have increased the 0.7 percent U-235 that comes out of the ground to the four percent suitable for reactor fuel, they have already done two-thirds of the work to reach the 90 percent enriched material typically used for nuclear weapons. In other words, Iran’s large stock of low-enriched uranium meant that it was two-thirds of the way to producing the highly enriched uranium for its first bomb—a process that U.S. officials publicly estimated Iran could have completed in three months.
Today, Iran is closer to a bomb than ever.
The 2015 nuclear deal changed all that. In return for sanctions relief, Iran agreed never to design or build nuclear weapons, took down and stored more than two-thirds of its centrifuges, disposed of 98 percent of its enriched uranium, poured cement into the core of the Arak reactor, agreed never to conduct a range of activities relevant to nuclear bomb development, and accepted a far-reaching set of verification measures.
These limits were designed to lengthen Iran’s timeline for producing bomb material to roughly a year—enough time for the international community to detect such an effort and take action to stop it. But the nuclear deal was a compromise, and its enrichment restraints contained “sunset clauses” that expired in ten to 15 years; its inspection provisions, while unprecedented, were far from “anytime, anywhere”; and it did not require Iran to confess all of its past nuclear activities. Moreover, lifting sanctions and unfreezing assets gave Iran more money, some of which went to support armed groups throughout the Middle East or to further its missile program, neither of which was covered by the deal. The pact’s advocates saw it as “a floor, not a ceiling,” hoping that the benefits of cooperation and increased economic integration with the West would make additional deals and ultimately a different relationship with Iran possible.
None of that happened, of course. Trump withdrew the United States from the accord in 2018, imposing stringent sanctions on Iran with which companies around the world were forced to comply if they didn’t want to be frozen out of the U.S. market and financial system. Iran’s currency plunged, inflation and unemployment soared, and poverty mounted. Remarkably, Iran continued to comply with the terms of the deal for a year after the United States withdrew, making sure the blame would be firmly fixed on Washington. But then it began to step past the deal’s restraints, gradually exceeding the limits on enrichment until in January 2020 it finally announced that its enrichment program would no longer be constrained by the deal at all.
THE NUCLEAR PRECIPICE
Today, Iran is closer to a bomb than ever. The latest reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, published in November 2021, show that Iran has surged far past the limits of the 2015 accord. Tehran’s experts are casting uranium metal, gaining valuable experience they would need to make uranium weapon components. Iran has also blown past the 3.67 percent enrichment limit set by the 2015 deal and is now enriching uranium at up to 60 percent—an easy jumping-off point to produce 90 percent enriched uranium for weapons (or material Iran could use directly in weapons if it modified its nuclear weapon and missile designs). Meanwhile, Iran’s stocks of enriched uranium have grown to over seven times the 2015 limit, and the country has enough 20 percent and 60 percent enriched uranium to rapidly make a bomb’s worth of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium. And despite a dramatic explosion in April at its largest enrichment facility, allegedly a result of an Israeli operation, Iran is running more centrifuges than the 2015 deal permitted, including hundreds of advanced centrifuges, and testing still more advanced devices.
The combination of enriched uranium stocks and advanced centrifuges enables Iran to produce the material for its first bomb in roughly a month—a time frame that will continue to shrink as Tehran’s stocks of 60 percent enriched uranium grow. In another couple of months after a breakout, Iran could have enough material for a second bomb, and then a third and a fourth soon after that. At the same time, Iran has scrapped the extra monitoring agreed to in the 2015 deal and continued to provide false information about the origin of human-made uranium particles inspectors found at several undeclared sites (although it has continued to allow inspections of its declared nuclear facilities).
A return to the 2015 deal could roll back some of Iran’s nuclear progress.
A return to the 2015 deal could roll back some of Iran’s nuclear progress, getting rid of the extra enriched uranium stocks, dialing enrichment back down to 3.67 percent, and taking the advanced centrifuges offline. But the knowledge Iran has gained can’t be erased. Day by day, Iran is gaining more insight into casting uranium metal, operating and manufacturing higher-performance centrifuges, handling highly enriched uranium without causing accidental chain reactions, and frustrating international inspectors without provoking a serious response.
Yet producing enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon is not the same as making a nuclear weapon. To make a weapon, Iran would have to cast and machine the uranium components, manufacture shaped explosives to crush a ball of uranium to much higher density, make exquisitely timed detonators to set off those explosives on all sides of the bomb at the same time, and build a device to set off a shower of neutrons at the right moment to start the chain reaction. Iran worked on all of that in its old nuclear weapons program. But it is unclear how much Iran’s bomb-making capabilities have atrophied in the 18 years since the main parts of its weaponization effort ended or how much the assassination of Fakhrizadeh and other nuclear scientists—as well as the natural deaths and retirements of others—has set the country back. Israeli intelligence agents are optimistic, estimating that even once it has produced enough highly enriched uranium, Iran would need between a year and a half and two years to make a bomb. That’s probably in the right ballpark, unless Iran has unknown secret facilities. But once Iran has produced enough highly enriched uranium, it could hide the material away, making it very difficult to find and disrupt any program to manufacture a bomb.
Iran’s rapid progress on the nuclear front has left the United States with few good options. Without a deal, Tehran’s nuclear program will be essentially unfettered: only fear of provoking a military strike will limit Iran’s progress toward a bomb. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—to which Iran is a party—still prohibits Tehran from making nuclear weapons, but the treaty does not bar the production or storage of weapons-usable nuclear material, so long as it is under international inspection. As a result, Iran might choose to build up its stocks of 60 percent enriched uranium so that it has enough, if further enriched, for several nuclear bombs. Iran would likely also continue testing and manufacturing advanced centrifuges so that it is ready to move rapidly—possibly at a secret site—if it ever decides to take the final step toward nuclear weapons. The only real tools the United States would have to constrain Iran in this case are sabotage and sanctions. Sanctions might modestly limit Iran’s financial support to armed groups in the Middle East, but they would also cause substantial suffering for Iran’s people. Sabotage can create setbacks for Iran, but only temporary ones. Neither, so far, has stopped Iran from making substantial progress toward a bomb. And such actions come with their own risks, potentially heightening the sense of threat that strengthens the position of Tehran’s bomb advocates and intensifying the low-level “shadow war” between Iran, the United States, Israel, and the Gulf states.
Should the United States manage to revive the 2015 deal, it would reduce the nuclear threat posed by Iran, but not to the extent that the original agreement did. More than six years of the time bought by the deal is gone, along with most hopes that the pact could establish habits of cooperation on which additional agreements could be built. And even if Iran mothballed its extra centrifuges and gave up its extra stocks of enriched uranium, it would probably be able to have those same centrifuges up and running again at known or secret sites in relatively short order should it choose to violate the pact. It could also make more centrifuges, expanding its enrichment capacity much faster than it would have been able to before the United States withdrew from the 2015 deal. (One key uncertainty is how rapidly Iran would be able to make and install more of these advanced centrifuges.) By one estimate, reviving the deal would lengthen Iran’s timeline for producing a bomb’s worth of material to between five and six months—up from less than a month today but well down from roughly a year when the deal was first fully implemented in 2016. And returning to the deal would involve again lifting key sanctions on Iran, strengthening the Iranian government and reducing Western leverage.
Some experts have suggested settling for a “less for less” approach—for example, getting Iran to relinquish its stocks of 60 percent enriched uranium, stop stockpiling more enriched uranium, and halt the installation of new centrifuges in return for lifting some sanctions. Such an arrangement might buy some time for talks, but it is by no means a long-term solution.
Others have urged the Biden administration to give up on reviving the 2015 deal and instead impose tougher sanctions to convince Iran to compromise, offering a “more for more” arrangement in which Tehran would accept more substantial restraints than the 2015 deal—perhaps combined with some limits on its missiles and regional activities—in return for lifting even more sanctions (and perhaps other benefits). But the current mess is the result of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, so there is little reason to think that more of the same will lead to a breakthrough. In Tehran, Trump’s exit from the deal has vindicated those who argue that Washington will never be a reliable partner, and these hard-liners now hold the levers of power. Moreover, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s most recent budget proposal assumes that Iran’s economy will grow at eight percent in the coming budget year even without a deal, suggesting that he doesn’t feel much urgency to compromise. And historically, Iran has responded to Western efforts to build leverage by trying to build counterleverage of its own—which partly explains why Iran has deployed so many centrifuges, stockpiled so much enriched uranium, and supported so many armed groups throughout the Middle East.
A military strike could buy from two to five years— less than a negotiated deal could provide.
A more plausible path to a longer and stronger deal would be to first return to the original deal and then attempt to lengthen and strengthen it in subsequent negotiations. That’s worth trying. But because a return to the 2015 deal would require lifting many of the sanctions on Tehran, Washington’s leverage for better terms down the road would be reduced.
A final option is a military strike, which could temporarily disable much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Although Iran could use its deep underground Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant to produce bomb material, some types of bunker-busting bombs would be able to damage the plant, and the tunnels into the site could be destroyed. But other nuclear facilities would also need to be destroyed, along with Iran’s extensive air defenses, making such an attack a large and complex air operation—far more difficult than the single-site strikes that Israel conducted against Iraq’s Osiraq reactor in 1981 and Syria’s Al Kibar reactor in 2007.
The U.S. military is capable of carrying out such an assault, and Israel has been improving its ability to do so (although its long-range refueling and bunker-busting abilities are more limited). But afterward, Iran would likely rebuild at secret locations, and it might well decide to kick out inspectors and try to build a nuclear weapon before it was found out and attacked again. In other words, such a strike might increase, rather than decrease, the long-term probability that Iran would obtain a nuclear bomb.
Estimates for how much time a military strike could buy range from two to five years— less than a negotiated deal could provide. If in the wake of a strike foreign intelligence agencies located new secret sites, another round of strikes would be needed and possibly another after that. Iran and its proxies would almost certainly retaliate, and they have many options—from long-range missiles that can reach Israel to an estimated 100,000 missiles and rockets in Hezbollah’s hands to ultraprecise drones that carried out what amounted to a warning strike at Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facility in 2019. Neither Iran nor the United States wants another full-scale war in the Middle East, but the risk of blundering into one would be substantial. And, of course, military attacks on foreign countries that are not carried out in self-defense are banned by international law. On the whole, then, the option of a military strike is the riskiest of all, though it would have to be considered if Iran ever did begin racing for the bomb.
SWALLOW HARD AND DEAL
In short, Iran’s nuclear progress has left the United States with some ugly options. Restoring the 2015 deal won’t buy as much time or safety as the original deal did, but doing so is the best of a bad set of choices. Not only would a return to the deal technically constrain Iran’s program, but by reducing the threats to Iran and creating a flow of benefits from cooperation with the West, it would weaken Tehran’s bomb advocates and strengthen those arguing that Iran should maintain the option to build a bomb without incurring the costs and dangers of actually building one. Ultimately, Iran has the technical capability to make a nuclear weapon; Washington’s goal must be to convince Iran’s leaders to choose not to do so.
The Biden administration is therefore right to try to find a path back to compliance with the original deal and from there to a longer and stronger follow-on accord. But with Iran’s hard-line leadership justifiably doubting American promises, there is no guarantee it will be possible to get back to the 2015 pact. And as time passes, the benefits of a return to the original deal will continue to diminish. Moreover, it will not be easy to limit the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program after the sunset clauses expire or to constrain its advancing missile program or address its support for armed groups throughout the Middle East. Ultimately, what is needed is a different relationship between Iran, its neighbors in the Middle East, and the West. A return to the nuclear deal would be one step forward on that long and difficult road.
Sunday, 16 January 2022 6:59 AM [ Last Update: Sunday, 16 January 2022 10:26 AM ]
A US soldier looks on while an AH-64 Apache assault helicopter flies above during a patrol by the Suwaydiyah oil fields in Hasakah province, northeastern Syria, on February 13, 2021. (Photo by AFP)
Several rockets have reportedly hit a military facility housing US occupation forces in Syria’s oil-producing eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr.
Local source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Arabic service of Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency that the projectiles landed in the vicinity of the US-controlled al-Omar oil field late on Saturday, causing a fire.
The sources added that American forces stationed at the field put out the fire, and responded with missile strikes.
There were no immediate reports of serious injuries and the extent of damage caused.
US military drones also flew over the field following the attack. So far, no group has claimed responsibility.
Angry locals prevent US convoy from entering Hasakah village
Meanwhile, residents of a village in Syria’s northeastern province of Hasakah intercepted a US military convoy attempting to pass through their community and forced it to turn back.
According to Syria’s official news agency SANA, residents in Salehiyeh Harb village, which lies near the city of Qamishli, and Syrian government forces blocked the convoy on Saturday evening, making it turn around and head back in the direction it came from.
Damascus, however, says the unlawful deployment is meant to plunder the country’s resources.
Former US president Donald Trump admitted on several occasions that American forces were in Syria for its oil.
Turkish military base in northern Iraq under attack
Separately, a number of rockets targeted a military base in Iraq’s northern province of Nineveh, where Turkish military forces are engaged in on-and-off operations against positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.
Sabereen News reported that three rockets were launched at Zilkan base in northern Iraq’s Bashiqa region late on Saturday.
The report added that Turkish occupation forces responded to the attack with a volley of artillery rounds.
Iraq and Turkey have been locked in a dispute over Ankara’s military activities in Kurdistan region. The Baghdad government has repeatedly called on the Turkish government to stop violations of Iraqi sovereignty.
Militants of the PKK — designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union — regularly clash with Turkish forces in the Kurdish-dominated southeast of Turkey attached to northern Iraq.
A shaky ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish government collapsed in July 2015. Attacks on Turkish security forces have soared ever since.
More than 40,000 people have been killed during the three-decade conflict between Turkey and the autonomy-seeking militant group.
NEW DELHI: Even as there looks no immediate headway towards deescalating tensions between South Asian nuclear neighbours, at least 50 politicians, former officials, and peace activists have come together urging Pakistan and India to attend to their differences and work for durable peace in the region.
Indian peace activist Om Prakash Shah is planning to release compilations of 50 articles in the form of a book — In Pursuit of Peace: Improving Indo-Pak Relations — in the Indian capital New Delhi over the weekend, requesting both countries to at least start talks to find solutions to their political issues.
The authors, who have contributed to the book include former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, former Information Minister Javed Jabbar, former Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari, former Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha and former Chief Minister of occupied Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah, among others.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency ahead of the release of the book, Shah said there was a general recognition on both sides to find a way to co-exist in a peaceful productive manner and to make sure that the differences do not spin out of control, especially given the developmental challenges faced by both countries.
“The main aim of this book is to deepen our mutual understanding of the different points of view in Pakistan and India and to speed up the process of dialogue, which I believe is an important tool for bridging the trust deficit between India and Pakistan,” said Shah, who is working on improving Pakistan-India relations for the last three decades.
He said the book has taken the stock of Indo-Pak relations as both countries are approaching the 75th anniversary of their independence in August 2022.
Relations between India and Pakistan plummeted to a new low after August 5, 2019, when India not only revoked the longstanding special status but also bifurcated the state of Jammu and Kashmir, prompting Islamabad to downgrade its diplomatic ties.
Desirable to turn to dialogue
Pakistan has been maintaining the normalization of ties with New Delhi is linked to a review of the August 5 decision and ultimate resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
Stating that India Pakistan relationship, “like any complicated multi-faceted relationship, has its ups and downs,” Shah said that it is important to maintain a focus on bridging the gaps between the two neighbours that share a long border.
“To bridge this inherited chasm, it is desirable to turn to dialogue, which is an important tool that is available to all of us. It is important that we do not leave the challenging task of establishing a climate of trust and confidence between India and Pakistan to our respective governments only,” he said.
Shah urged the civil society in both countries to take a lead in progressing the peace talks and to resolve our mutual differences, in addition to the efforts made by the two governments.
Asked about the central idea in the articles written by a divergent group of people across the borders, Shah said, all authors are committed to finding ways to improve India and Pakistan relations.
Mohammad Mukhtar Ansari, a former top official in the Indian government, who has also contributed to the book, said both countries should not be oblivious of emotional attachment between the divided families and cultural affinity among the people of both sides.
“The countries, which support cultural exchange programs across the regions and promote economic and business trade, do not engage themselves in war-like activities or maintain adversarial relations.
Both the countries must give a chance to its people to establish contacts at various levels, which will pave the way for establishing a friendly relationship with all the neighbouring countries,” he said.
He added that it is important that the protection of sociocultural identities is duly factored “in the dialogue process to respect and promote traditional bondage between the people living beyond the borders.”
The commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) warned that taking revenge for the assassination of Lt. General Qassem Suleimani has turned into a strategy, a goal, and a plan for the Islamic Republic.
In an interview with Khamenei.ir, Major General Hossein Salami said the US assassination of Lt. General Suleimani sparked a “revolution in the hearts” and impressed the characters of the youth.
He said the assassination attack created millions of followers of General Suleimani, all of whom are seeking a revenge.
“At present, the revenge has turned into a strategy, a wish, an aspiration and a starting point,” the commander noted, saying the young people’s enthusiasm for the battle against the enemy has increased after the martyrdom of General Soleimani.
“This would create danger for the enemy,” he warned.
General Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and several of their companions, was assassinated in a US airstrike authorized by then-US president Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020.
Both General Suleimani and al-Muhandis played a key role in defeating the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group which at its peak, threatened a complete take-over of Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill in January 2020, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country following the assassination of the two anti-terror commanders.
There are only “a few weeks left” to save the Iran nuclear deal, and the United States is ready to look at “other options” if negotiations fail, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday.
Talks to restore the 2015 accord between Tehran and world powers — United States, France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany — began last year but stopped in June as Iran elected ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi.Advertisement
The talks resumed in November.
“We have, I think, a few weeks left to see if we can get back to mutual compliance,” Blinken said in an interview with US public radio station NPR.
“We’re very, very short on time,” because “Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon,” he said.
According to the top US diplomat, Tehran has made nuclear advances that “will become increasingly hard to reverse because they’re learning things, they’re doing new things as a result of having broken out of their constraints under the agreement.”Advertisement
The 2015 deal offered Iran much-needed relief from sanctions that crippled its economy, in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
But then-US president Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the deal in 2018 prompted Tehran to break its commitments.
Trump’s successor Joe Biden has backed a return to the deal, with Washington indirectly taking part in the European-brokered negotiations on reviving the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
After months of stalled talks, hosted in Vienna, Washington recently reported modest but still insufficient progress.
Reviving the accord “would be the best result for America’s security,” said Blinken. “But if we can’t, we are looking at other steps, other options” with allies including in Europe and the Middle East.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in the briefing room of the State Department in Washington, January 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
Blinken has previously raised implicit threats of military action.
The other options have been “the subject of intense work as well in the past weeks and months,” he said. “We’re prepared for either course.”Advertisement
The Biden administration has been stepping up criticism of Trump and blaming the former president for the current Iran situation as negotiations appear headed to a close. Both State Department spokesperson Ned Price and White House spokesperson Jen Psaki in recent days have attacked Trump for pulling the US out of the 2015 deal.
Iranian officials have recently expressed more optimism than other parties to the talks about the possibility of reaching an agreement, but international leaders, as well as Israeli officials, are increasingly convinced a deal is on the way.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, however, said Tuesday that talks are proceeding so slowly that they are unlikely to lead to any agreement “within a realistic timeframe.”
Britain, France and Germany said last month that the window for concluding a deal was “weeks, not months,” due to the speed of Iran’s nuclear enrichment.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that the countries negotiating with Iran must stand firmagainst its progress on its nuclear program.
Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.
The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.
Even the good news isn’t that great. No, Iranian officials haven’t yet exited the room in anger, but they have good reason to just keep talking, according to Eurasia Group’s Henry Rome — even if they have no intention of working toward a deal. Negotiations, Rome warns, “provide political cover to advance the nuclear program.”
They make it harder for the US and Europe to dial up new pressure on Iran or for Israel to target its nuclear facilities and scientists. They give Russia and China a reason to defend Iran’s position.
They also protect (what’s left of) Iran’s economic stability by ensuring sanctions don’t immediately get tighter. And perhaps, Tehran may reason, the Americans might improve their offer.
Iran’s (mis?) calculation
But Iran’s government, now led by Ebrahim Raisi, a president more openly hostile than his predecessor toward the West, may feel it has little more to lose by continuing to say no.
After all, Iran’s “resistance economy” have survived tough sanctions before, and the government believes that new protests inside Iran against economic hardship can be contained — or, if necessary, crushed.
And what if Donald Trump becomes US president again in three years? Won’t he just tear up whatever Iran has signed, just as he withdrew the US from the last nuclear agreement?
Maybe. But revival of the nuclear pact, according to Rome, “is the best option for Iran’s economic stability.”
A new deal could free up $100 billion in frozen foreign reserves. It would allow Iran to sell much more oil at market prices. It would draw new trade and investment into the country.
That’s a plus for Iran’s cash-poor government and for its long-suffering people. Without an agreement, Iran faces the indefinite extension of US sanctions, which might one day trigger public unrest that Iran’s security forces can’t contain.
The Biden administration — focused for now on COVID, domestic political headaches, inflation, China, and Vladimir Putin — is well aware that Iran’s willingness to talk may not offer hope for a breakthrough. US and European officials have said publicly that a deal must come within “weeks, not months.” That deadline could be extended, but only if genuine progress offers credible hope for an agreement.
In short, if there’s no deal by late spring, it will be time for all sides to brace for trouble. A breakdown of talks will persuade the Biden administration to squeeze Iran’s economy still harder. Iran could accumulate enough highly enriched uranium for several bombs, set more advanced centrifuges spinning, and advance closer to a nuclear weapon than ever before.
If so, warns Rome, Israel may be ready to come back off the sidelines “with cyberattacks and sabotage inside of Iran against military, economic, and nuclear sites, aimed at degrading Iranian capabilities and destabilizing the government.” Israel might also conduct military exercises that put the Middle East — and global oil markets — on edge.
The risk of military conflict, deliberate or accidental, can’t be ignored. In fact, Eurasia Group sets the likelihood of direct Israeli and/or US airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2022 at 20 percent. Given the stakes, that’s a frighteningly high number. In short, there’s a reason this story features in Eurasia Group’s report on Global Top Risks for 2022.
The US embassy condemned the attack, attributing it to “terrorist groups attempting to undermine Iraq’s security, sovereignty, and international relations”.Friday 14/01/2022
A file picture shows Iraqi Counter Terrorism Forces standing guard outside the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. (AFP)
At least four rockets targeted the US embassy compound in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone on Thursday, Iraqi security officials said. The area is home to diplomatic missions and the seat of the Iraqi government.
Three of the missiles struck within the perimetre of the American embassy, the officials said. Another hit a school located in a nearby residential complex.
An Iraqi military statement said the rockets had been launched from the Dora neighbourhood of Baghdad.
“Three rockets were fired towards the Green Zone,” a high-ranking Iraqi official said on condition of anonymity, adding that two of the wounded were children.
“Two of those fell on the grounds of the American embassy, and the other on a school nearby, injuring a woman, a girl and a young boy.”
Another security source who did not wish to be identified said there were no injuries or damage inside the US embassy compound.
The US embassy in Baghdad said in a statement that its compound had been attacked by “terrorists groups attempting to undermine Iraq’s security, sovereignty and international relations.” The embassy’s C-RAM defence system, supposed to detect and destroy incoming rockets, artillery and mortar shells, was heard during the attack.
The attack is the latest in a series of rocket and drone attacks that have targeted the American presence in Iraq since the start of the year, following the second anniversary of the US strike that killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Last Thursday, a series of attacks targeted American troops in Iraq and Syria. Rockets struck an Iraqi military base hosting US troops in western Anbar province and the capital.
Pro-Iran Shia factions in Iraq have vowed revenge for Soleimani’s killing and have conditioned the end of the attacks on the full exit of American troops from the country.
The US-led coalition formally ended its combat mission supporting Iraqi forces in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group last month. Some 2,500 troops will remain as the coalition shifts to an advisory mission to continue supporting Iraqi forces.
The top US commander for the Middle East, Marine General Frank McKenzie, warned in an interview last month that he expects increasing attacks on US and Iraqi personnel by Iranian-backed militias determined to get American forces out.