North Korea is not a nuclear threat

Observers should not mistake the absence of direct engagement between Washington and Pyongyang for disinterest in the fate of US-North Korea relations, State Department representative Ned Price said in a recent press briefing.

Price stressed that the administration’s “strategic goals” with the Kim Jong Un regime will be “focus[ed] on reducing the threat to the United States and to our allies as well as to improving the lives of the North and South Korean people. And, again, the central premise is that we remain committed to denuclearization of North Korea.”

The Biden team’s workmanlike approach is an expedient change from their predecessors’ photo-op diplomacy. But this continued insistence on denuclearization as the primary goal in US-North Korea engagement is incredibly counterproductive.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reviews a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in an undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency, November 30, 2017. Reuters

If Biden and his team are serious about making headway on their first two strategic goals — threat reduction and humanitarian gains on the Korean Peninsula — they must drop the third. For progress with North Korea, forget denuclearization.

We can do that safely for three reasons. First, as Price himself noted, “the United States, of course, remains the most powerful and strongest country in the world.” Even with nuclear weapons, North Korea’s military might is miniscule by comparison. In nuclear and conventional weaponry alike, the US advantage is overwhelming, as the Kim regime well knows.

This is not to say Pyongyang couldn’t do real damage. It could — the South Korean capital of Seoul, a city of 10 million, is only 30 miles from the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, well within North Korea’s strike range.

But Kim is unquestionably aware of the consequences unprovoked aggression against a US ally (let alone the United States proper or our military, which has an extensive South Korean presence) would bring. He would not finish the resultant conflict in power; he might not finish it alive.

That glaringly obvious truth creates a powerful deterrence for the United States, and it is a deterrence which maintaining the nuclear status quo indefinitely will not obviate.

Kim at what was said to be a missile test site at an undisclosed location in North Korea, May 15, 2017. KRT via AP Video

Second, Price repeats the longstanding claim that denuclearization is itself a goal. This is not — or, at least, should not be — quite correct. The proper goal is avoidance of horrific, world-changing, history-altering nuclear war.

Denuclearization is one means of accomplishing that avoidance. But it is not the only way, and the mere existence of North Korea’s nuclear weapons does not mean they will be used.

The United States is already securely coexisting with a nuclear North Korea. We are stably coexisting with other nuclear powers, too, including several (chiefly China and Russia, but also Pakistan, if conventional wisdom is correct) that are hardly reliably friendly to America.

Russia’s nuclear arsenal is of a similar strength to our own, and China boasts a far more powerful military and economy than North Korea ever could. Yet complete denuclearization of these countries is not standard US policy, not only because it is an unachievable aim for Washington but because it is not necessary to avoid nuclear war.

We can likewise avoid nuclear conflict involving North Korea without attaining denuclearization — indeed, we have done it for decades.

Finally, forgetting denuclearization for now may ultimately get us to denuclearization, and it will certainly help us toward the administration’s other two goals of de-escalation and improved quality of life for the Korean people.

Biden, then vice president, with Joint Joint Security Area soldiers in Panmunjom, December 7, 2013. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

If we set aside denuclearization — a concession Pyongyang will not make so long as it perceives any risk of forcible, US-orchestrated regime change like that in Iraq and Libya — a multitude of more practical and feasible goals become accessible to us.

Working-level diplomacy by the Biden administration could accomplish a nuclear freeze, regular inspections of Kim’s arsenal, or even some reduction of his nuclear stockpile or missile systems. It could produce, seven decades late, a peace treaty to officially end the Korean War. It could bargain for concessions from Pyongyang by offering cessation of US sanctions that harm ordinary North Koreans. It could permit expanded, Korean-directed engagement between North and South Korea, including trade and reconnection of divided families.

It could take steps toward making North Korea a far more normal country, opening the “hermit kingdom” to the global culture and economy and giving its people a shot at deprograming themselves from their government’s sadistic brainwashing. And it could ultimately lay the groundwork for a new era in North Korean foreign relations, one which might mature someday, probably long after this administration is over, into a denuclearized and even democratic Pyongyang.

None of that is possible, however, if the Biden administration insists on denuclearization now. A shortsighted demand for Kim to concede what he views as his sole guarantee against American invasion will ensure Biden leaves office just like former President Donald Trump, having moved the needle on US-North Korean relations not an inch.

Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities, contributing editor at The Week, and columnist at Christianity Today. Her writing has also appeared at CNN, NBC, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and Defense One, among other outlets.

The Korean Nuclear Horn Continues to Grow

N Korea developed nuclear weapons programme in 2020: UN report

Monitors believe Pyongyang is using money stolen in cyber-hacks to fund the programme and might be getting help from Iran.

North Korea maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes throughout 2020 in violation of international sanctions, helping fund them with some $300m stolen through cyber-hacks, according to a confidential United Nations report seen by the Reuters news agency on Monday.

The report by independent sanctions monitors said Pyongyang “produced fissile material, maintained nuclear facilities and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure” while continuing to seek material and technology as for those programmes from abroad.

A US State Department spokesperson said on Monday the administration of President Joe Biden, who took office last month, planned a new approach to North Korea, including a full review with allies “on ongoing pressure options and the potential for any future diplomacy.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former US President Donald Trump met three times in 2018 and 2019, but failed to make progress on US calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for an end to sanctions.

In the past year, North Korea displayed new short-range, medium-range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at military parades, the UN report noted.

It said an unnamed member state had assessed that, judging by the size of North Korea’s missiles, “it is highly likely that a nuclear device” could be mounted onto long-range, medium-range and short-range ballistic missiles.

The Member State, however, stated it is uncertain whether the DPRK had developed ballistic missiles resistant to the heat generated during re-entry,” into the atmosphere, the report said, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s formal name.

While there were no nuclear or ballistic missile tests in 2020, Pyongyang “announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile warheads and development of tactical nuclear weapons.”

North Korea’s UN mission in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Cooperation with Iran?

North Korea blew up tunnels at its main nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, in 2018, saying it was proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing. However, an unidentified member state told the UN monitors there were still personnel at the site, showing it had not been abandoned.

According to an unidentified country, North Korea and Iran have resumed cooperation on long-range missile development projects, including the transfer of critical parts, the monitors said. The most recent shipment was last year, they said.

In a letter in December to the UN sanctions monitors, annexed to the report, Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said a preliminary review of the information given to it by the monitors indicated that “false information and fabricated data” may have been used in their investigation.

North Korea has been subject to UN sanctions since 2006. They have been strengthened by the 15-member Security Council over the years in a bid to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The UN monitors assessed that in 2020 North Korea-linked hackers “continued to conduct operations against financial institutions and virtual currency exchange houses to generate revenue” to support its nuclear and missile programmes.

According to one member state, the DPRK total theft of virtual assets, from 2019 to November 2020, is valued at approximately $316.4 million,” the report said.

In 2019, the sanctions monitors reported that North Korea made at least $370m by exporting coal, which is banned under UN sanctions. But last year, they said coal shipments appeared to have been largely suspended since July 2020.

The already isolated northeast Asian nation imposed a strict lockdown last year to curb the spread of the coronavirus from neighbouring China. The slump in trade has further damaged an economy already struggling with the burden of international sanctions.

IAEA inspectors watch the Iranian Nuclear Horn Grow: Daniel 8:4

IAEA inspectors find new evidence of Iran’s undeclared nuclear work — WSJ

AL-MUKALLA: Several European ambassadors to Yemen visited the southern port of Aden, the interim capital of the country, on Saturday as Yemeni officials reported that the Houthis were raising obstacles during the prisoner swap talks in Amman.

The ambassador of the EU and ambassadors of France, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Ireland and Finland, as well as the deputy ambassador of Norway, landed in Aden, where they discussed peace efforts with senior government officials.

Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, Yemen’s foreign minister, was quoted by the official media thanking the EU ambassadors for their visit to Aden that carries an “important political message” of support to the Yemeni government, adding that he discussed with the ambassadors the Riyadh Agreement, Houthi resistance to repairing the Safer tanker, the government’s efforts to restore services in the liberated provinces and the government willingness to reach a “real, comprehensive and lasting” peace in Yemen.

The EU delegation is the highest ranking group of foreign envoys to visit Aden since the arrival of Yemen’s new government, which was formed under the Riyadh Agreement.

The Yemeni government delegation in the prisoner swap talks in Amman said the talks encountered a stumbling block after the Iran-backed Houthis refused to swap abducted journalists and activists and seriously ill abductees.

“The Yemeni government delegation has offered concessions for the talks to succeed,” Majed Fadhail, deputy minister of human rights and a member of the government delegation in the talks, told Arab News on Saturday, adding that the Houthis have become more uncompromising and sought to obstruct the talks.

The Yemeni official attributed the Houthis’ new hardline behavior during talks to the US decision to reverse the designation of the Houthis as terrorists.

“Everyone must know that this criminal and terrorist militia refuses to release the remaining journalists in their detention or even consider swapping them with their fighters captured on the battlefields,” Fadhail said.

Representatives of the Yemeni government and the Houthis last month resumed UN-backed prisoner exchange talks with the aim of releasing 301 prisoners on both sides.

At the same time, the Abductees Mothers’ Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of relatives of abductees in Yemen, called for the urgent release of 127 extremely sick prisoners held by the Houthi militia and the Yemeni government.

Fadhail said the government delegation presented names of dozens of sick abductees among the Houthi prisoners and demanded their release during this round of talks. “We floated their names during the talks, but the Houthis refused to discuss releasing them,” Fadhail said.

In a social media campaign Yemeni activists, journalists and politicians demanded an end to Houthi crimes against Yemenis and criticized the US move to drop the terrorist designation of the Houthis.

Using the hashtag #StopHouthiTerrorismInYemen, dozens of Yemenis said that the Houthis have displaced thousands of people, abducted thousands more, blown up the houses of their opponents and carpeted the Yemeni land with tens of thousands of landmines.

Jamal Al-Mamari, a former abductee, reminded the new US administration in a tweet that the Houthis had tortured and killed an American contractor John Hamen, who died in Houthi custody in 2015

“For the Yemenis, the word Houthis means death, destruction, kidnapping, displacement, prisons, torture, diseases, starvation and rape,” said Mohammed Al-Asal, the deputy governor of Raymah province.

Yemeni activists also expressed opposition to any peace deal with the Houthis that does not punish them for human right abuses.

“Yemen does not want an incomplete peace with the Houthi militia who only believe in the language of exclusion, murder, torture, pillage and lack of equal citizenship. Our demand is a comprehensive and just peace, punishing the Houthis for all violations and crimes they committed and disarming them,” Huda Al-Sarari, a Yemeni lawyer and human rights activist who documents human right abuses in the southern city of Taiz.

The US administration should have used the terrorism designation of the Houthis as pressure to force them to stop obstructing the UN mission to repair the floating Safer tanker, Yemen experts said.

“By revoking Houthis designation unconditionally, the Biden administration made a huge mistake. It could have been used as leverage on the Houthis to deliver something in return — at least to allow engineers to empty the Safer. The US just lost that leverage for nothing,” said Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst and a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute.

Iran deepens breach of nuclear deal: Daniel 8

Iran deepens breach of nuclear deal at underground enrichment site

Tehran has recently accelerated its breaches of the deal, raising pressure on US President Joe Biden.

Iran has deepened a key breach of its 2015 nuclear deal, enriching uranium with a larger number of advanced centrifuge machines in an underground plant as it faces off with the new US administration on salvaging the accord.

Tehran has recently accelerated its breaches of the deal, raising pressure on US President Joe Biden as both sides say they are willing to come back into compliance with the badly eroded agreement if the other side moves first.

Iran began its breaches in 2019 in response to Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump and the reimposition of US economic sanctions against Tehran that were lifted under the deal.

The accord says Iran can refine uranium only at its main enrichment site – an underground plant at Natanz – with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. Last year Iran began enriching there with a cascade, or cluster, of much more efficient IR-2m machines and in December said it would install three more.

“Iran has completed the installation of one of these three cascades, containing 174 IR-2m centrifuges, and, on 30 January 2021, Iran began feeding the cascade with UF6,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, referring to uranium hexafluoride feedstock.

The IAEA later confirmed that the Islamic Republic had started enriching with the second cascade.

Tehran is also pressing ahead with the installation of more advanced centrifuges, the report indicated. Of the remaining two cascades of IR-2m machines, installation of one had begun while the other’s installation was “nearing completion,” it said.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said on Twitter Tehran had also started installing IR-6 centrifuges at Fordow, a site dug into a mountain where Iran has begun enriching uranium to the 20% purity it last achieved before the 2015 deal. The IAEA report made no mention of that.

Earlier on Tuesday Israel’s energy minister said it would now take Iran about six months to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, a timeline almost twice as long as that anticipated by a senior Biden administration official.

Iran denies any intent to weaponise enrichment. The nuclear deal sets a limit of 3.67% enrichment purity, suitable for producing civilian nuclear energy and far below the 90% that is weapons-grade.

Blinken: Iran Will Be Ready to Develop Nuclear Weapon in ‘Weeks’

Blinken: Iran Could Be Ready to Develop Nuclear Weapon in ‘Weeks’

Asharq Al-Awsat

Tuesday, 2 February, 2021 – 06:45

How Iran Lured a Dissident From France to Execution

Tuesday, 2 February, 2021 – 06:15

In October 2019, Iranian dissident Ruhollah Zam was running a widely followed news site based in France, accompanied by his family and benefitting from refugee status as well as security in his country of exile.

But just over a year later, on December 12, 2020, Zam was hanged in Iran, an execution that prompted international condemnation.

How had Zam gone from the relative comfort of his life in France to meeting his death aged just 42 at the hands of the hangman in his home country, whose leaders he had targeted in his work?

His father Mohammad Ali Zam is a cleric still based in Iran and was, at one time, a senior figure in Iranian cultural institutions.

So fervent was his support of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted the Shah that he named his son after its founder, Ruhollah Khomeini.

Colleagues and friends of Ruhollah Zam in France told AFP that he had made the mistake of being lured into a trip to Iraq in October 2019, defying their warnings of danger and falling into a trap set to exploit his own character.

“He played a dangerous game by going to Iraq and he lost,” said Mahtab Ghorbani, a Paris-based Iranian writer and a refugee who worked with Zam.

“He was dragged into a dirty psychological game designed by this regime.”

Resident in France for almost half a decade, Ruhollah Zam had attracted up to two million followers to his Telegram channel Amadnews, encouraging people to turn out in protests during the winter of 2017-2018 and also publishing sometimes sensational allegations about the Iranian leadership.

As the privileged child of an influential father, Zam enjoyed good contacts in Tehran which he held onto even after leaving the country following the 2009 protests over disputed elections.

He first went to Malaysia and Turkey, and then France.

“When there were turf wars between people in power, they turned to Zam,” said Maziyar, a friend and fellow Iranian refugee, who worked on Amadnews and asked that his full name not be published.

“He delivered information without limits, he had no red line, he respected neither the president, nor the supreme leader, nobody. He even laughed at his own father.”

But the success of Amadnews and Zam’s own growing radicalism proved their undoing as Telegram suspended the account for inciting followers to use Molotov cocktails against police.

Zam’s influence appeared to be waning. Even friends began to question if he was pushing too hard for the overthrow of the Iranian regime.

“Ruhollah became really well known. He advocated the overthrow of the regime and maybe he started to think of himself as a leader,” said Hassan Fereshtyan, a Paris-based lawyer who assisted Zam.

“Bit by bit, he lost his friends,” he said.

“He was alone and isolated, and part of the Iranian opposition in exile did not trust him,” added Ghorbani.

He was also receiving an increasing number of threats, which prompted French police to give him protection.

His friends said this was a dark time for Zam, a hugely ambitious man who feared that the media presence he had built up so fast was now rapidly losing clout.

“He was in the position where he could make bad decisions and fall for the trap,” said Maziyar.

In mid-October 2019, he appeared at Fereshtyan’s Paris office and told the astonished lawyer that he was going to travel to Iraq to conduct an interview with Ayatollah Ali Sistani, one of the most influential figures in Shia Islam.

This interview was supposed to launch a new television channel suggested by an individual claiming to be an Iranian businessman.

His associates immediately sensed the danger, given the security influence Iran has in Iraq.

“I shouted, I told him: ‘If you go, it’s the end, you will never come back to France!'” said Fereshtyan.

And even though Zam gave no indication of when he planned to go, he took the plane to Amman and then onwards to Baghdad the next day.

“Everyone advised him against leaving, even his bodyguard, but he simply replied that he was tired of waiting,” added Maziyar.

“And he went. Sadly.”

Zam telephoned his wife from Amman airport but he appears to have been apprehended as soon as he arrived in Baghdad.

He was later blindfolded, put into a car and driven to the Iranian border in footage later seen on Iranian state TV.

His detention inside Iran saw him in July 2020 give an interview to state TV, a method used on prisoners in Iran that activists regard as a forced confession extracted by torture.

Sitting in a deep armchair, he was interviewed on the program “Without Compliments” by Ali Rezvani, officially a journalist for state broadcaster IRIB but who campaigners say is actually an interrogator for the Revolutionary Guards.

Zam was convicted of charges including “sowing corruption” and spying for foreign intelligence including France and Israel, accusations vehemently denied by him and his supporters.

His execution on December 12 came just four days after the confirmation of the supreme court’s verdict was announced, a haste that is unusual.

His father wrote on his Instagram account that he was allowed to meet his son a day before the execution, about which he said Ruhollah had been kept in the dark.

His daughter Niaz wrote on social media that her father had called on WhatsApp — inexplicably from a +44 UK number — hours before his execution.

“I knew that was it, and the hardest thing was that I knew and I could not do anything about it!” she wrote.

Still in grief, the family declined requests for interviews from AFP through their lawyer.

The United States and Europe expressed outrage at the execution while UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said there were “serious concerns” that Zam’s capture outside of Iran “could amount to an abduction”.

But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he did not believe the killing would harm relations between Iran and Europe, noting that capital punishment is part of Iranian law.

And for dissidents based in France, the execution was a warning that their security cannot be guaranteed even while outside the country.

“With this execution, they wanted to send a message to the loyalists of the regime not to take another path,” said Ghorbani. “And also to show opponents outside of Iran their power and sow panic among them.”

Iran is 6 Months from a Nuclear Bomb: Daniel 8

Israel sees 6-month Iran nuclear breakout, longer than Blinken projection

February 2, 2021

JERUSALEM: Israel’s energy minister said on Tuesday it would take Iran around six months to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, a timeline almost twice as long as that anticipated by a senior member of the Biden administration.

Israel is wary of the Biden administration’s intent to reenter the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and has long opposed the agreement. Washington argues that the previous Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal backfired by prompting Iran to abandon caps on nuclear activities.

Speaking last month a day before he took office as US secretary of state, Antony Blinken said that the so-called “breakout time” — in which Iran might ramp up enrichment of uranium to bomb-fuel purity — “has gone from beyond a year (under the deal) to about three or four months”.

He said he based his comments on information in public reporting.

But Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, in a radio interview, said the Trump administration “seriously damaged Iran’s nuclear project and entire force build-up”.

“In terms of enrichment, they [Iranians] are in a situation of breaking out in around half a year if they do everything required,” he told public broadcaster Kan.

“As for nuclear weaponry, the range is around one or two years.”

Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weaponry, has recently accelerated its breaches of the deal, which it started violating in 2019 response to the US withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions against it.

The last quarterly estimates by the UN nuclear body in November show that Iran’s stock of enriched uranium had risen to 2.4 tonnes, more than 10 times the amount allowed under the deal but still a fraction of the more than eight tonnes it had before.

Since then Iran has started enriching uranium to higher purity, returning to the 20 percent it achieved before the deal from a previous maximum of 4.5 percent. The deal sets a limit of 3.67 percent, far below the 90 percent that is weapons grade.

Iran Enlarges Her Nuclear Horn: Daniel 8

Iran deepens breach of nuclear deal at underground enrichment site

Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran has deepened a key breach of its 2015 nuclear deal, enriching uranium with a larger number of advanced centrifuge machines in an underground plant as it faces off with the new U.S. administration on salvaging the accord.

FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

Tehran has recently accelerated its breaches of the deal, raising pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden as both sides say they are willing to come back into compliance with the badly eroded agreement if the other side moves first.

Iran began its breaches in 2019 in response to Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump and the reimposition of U.S. economic sanctions against Tehran that were lifted under the deal.

The accord says Iran can refine uranium only at its main enrichment site – an underground plant at Natanz – with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. Last year Iran began enriching there with a cascade, or cluster, of much more efficient IR-2m machines and said in December it would install three more.

“Iran has completed the installation of one of these three cascades, containing 174 IR-2m centrifuges, and, on 30 January 2021, Iran began feeding the cascade with UF6,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, referring to uranium hexafluoride feedstock.

The IAEA later confirmed that the Islamic Republic had started enriching with the second cascade.

Tehran is also pressing ahead with the installation of more advanced centrifuges, the report indicated. Of the remaining two cascades of IR-2m machines, installation of one had begun while the other’s installation was “nearing completion,” it said.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said on Twitter Tehran had also started installing IR-6 centrifuges at Fordow, a site dug into a mountain where Iran has begun enriching uranium to the 20% purity it last achieved before the 2015 deal.

In a second report on Tuesday evening also reviewed by Reuters, the IAEA said only that Iran had informed it in a letter dated Feb. 1 that two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges would be installed at Fordow to be used with the 1,044 IR-1 machines already enriching in six cascades there.

The report did not say installation had begun.

The IAEA confirmed in a statement that Iran had informed it that the two cascades would be installed at Fordow.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Iran’s latest actions increased U.S. “urgency” to address Iran’s atomic program.

“It has undergirded our belief that this is a challenge we have to tackle immediately,” he said. He said he was referring to the broad issue of ensuring Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons.

Earlier on Tuesday Israel’s energy minister said it would now take Iran about six months to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, a timeline almost twice as long as that anticipated by a senior Biden administration official.

Iran denies any intent to produce nuclear weapons. The nuclear deal sets a limit of 3.67% enrichment purity, suitable for producing civilian nuclear energy and far below the 90% that is weapons-grade.

Reporting by Francois MurphyAdditional reporting by Dubai newsroomEditing by Mark Heinrich, Richard Chang and Sonya Hepinstall

Nuclear Deal Hangs in Balance with the Iranian Horn

Nuclear Deal Hangs in Balance as Iran Intensifies Uranium Enrichment

LONDON – The 2015 Iran nuclear deal was hailed by its signatories at the time as a triumph of global diplomacy. The elation was short-lived.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement three years later and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy. Tehran responded by increasing its nuclear enrichment activities, edging closer to the levels of purity required for atomic weapons.

With a new administration in the White House, U.S. allies in Europe are hoping that the escalating crisis can be stopped in its tracks and that both sides can be tempted to return to the negotiating table.

U.S. President Joe Biden has indicated his willingness to rejoin the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if Tehran halts uranium enrichment and returns to its obligations under the agreement.

President Biden has been very clear in saying that if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same thing,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on January 27. “And then, we would use that as a platform to build with our allies and partners what we called a longer and stronger agreement and to deal with a number of other issues that are deeply problematic in the relationship with Iran.”

Blinken said that point remains a long way off.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives to hold his first press briefing at the State Department in Washington, Jan. 27, 2021.

“Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts, and it would take some time should it make the decision to do so for it to come back into compliance and time for us then to assess whether it was meeting its obligations. So, we’re not there yet, to say the least,” he said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested Monday that an EU official could “choreograph” moves between the United States and Iran to help the two countries overcome their impasse.

Zarif’s comments to CNN International were a shift in his previous position in which he said the United States should remove U.S. sanctions before Iran returned to the deal.  

Each government has said it wants the other to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal first. 

“There can clearly be a mechanism to either synchronize it or coordinate what can be done,” he said, when asked how to bridge the gap between the United States and Iran. 

On Thursday, Iran announced it had produced 17 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium — a short step away from weapons-grade 90% uranium enrichment, and in clear breach of the JCPOA.

Tehran said the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA severely damaged trust in the West and is demanding that the United States eliminate sanctions imposed under Trump.

“As soon as they practically fulfill their commitments, [Iran will do as well], which means removal of the entire sanctions,” Iranian Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf told lawmakers January 28.

FILE – Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf speaks after being elected as speaker of the parliament, in Tehran, Iran, May 28, 2020.

There is hope on all sides that the nuclear deal can be saved, said Julie Norman, a Middle East security analyst at University College London.

“Both of the major parties are at least vocally, rhetorically, suggesting that they’re willing to come back to this agreement, but each kind of wanting the other side to make the first move,” she said.

Critics argue that the Biden administration should not consider a return to the deal.

“The Middle East of 2021 is not at all the Middle East of 2015 when the deal was negotiated, or 2018 even when the U.S. left that accord,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).  

“And more importantly, Iran is in gross violation of that deal. Iran is hoping to weaponize time by adding more capability to its nuclear program, recreating more facts on the ground and trying to push the Biden administration to as speedily as possible return to the deal or return to offering some kind of sanctions relief.”

Allies in Europe are pushing for the United States to rejoin. Fellow signatories China and Russia also support the deal.

“In Europe, there’s an enormous hope that the JCPOA can be resurrected,” said Erica Moret of the Global Governance Center at the Graduate Institute of Geneva.

“First of all, in terms of commitment, global commitment to multilateralism or global governance. And secondly, the fact that there is now a really important window within which there is a stronger chance of resuming the deal,” said Moret, who also chairs the Geneva International Sanctions Network.

Trump accused Iran of developing an illegal ballistic missile program and supporting terrorism in the region. He imposed new sanctions on vast swaths of Iran’s economy, part of what Trump termed a “maximum pressure” campaign.

The sanctions simply do not work, said Moret. “Those kinds of measures that affect an entire population can only be counterproductive and don’t help a government like the United States reach its stated policy objectives.”

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at FDD, argues the sanctions were effective.

“When it comes to maximum pressure, a policy that is largely but not exclusively economic, it has done more damage to the Iranian economy unilaterally and in record time, when compared to a decade-plus of multilateral measures against the Islamic Republic. Maximum pressure simply didn’t have enough time to work,” he said.

The political calculations in Tehran and Washington are further complicated by Iran’s presidential election, scheduled for June 18. Incumbent Hassan Rouhani is under pressure from hard-liners to abandon the nuclear deal altogether. Many Iranians feel the agreement failed to deliver economic benefits, said Norman.

“So, there’s some urgency on Rouhani’s side to get this process moving relatively quickly,” Norman said, adding that the future of the JCPOA largely depends on whether either side is willing to make the first move. Iran has said its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

How Malley Will Sell US Out to the Iranian Nuclear Horn

Robert Malley Should Not Be The US Envoy To Iran

Sayeh Yousefi

The appointment of Robert Malley as US Envoy to Iran is a step in the wrong direction for Joe Biden, writes Sayeh Yousefi.

In the first few weeks of his presidency, Biden was met with a critical and prescriptive decision to appoint the U.S.’s envoy to Iran. Rumors circulated that he would pick Robert Malley, one of the lead negotiators on the Iran nuclear deal under the Obama administration. Malley, however, is a controversial pick for the role of the U.S. Envoy to Iran. He has been widely criticized for his support for the Iranian regime. His appointment would indicate that the U.S. is reverting to Obama’s approach to Iran, a cause for Iranians’ concern.

While an effort to reinvigorate the Obama-era relations with Iran on the surface and in comparison to four years of Trump’s mishandling of the U.S. relations with Iran, may seem like a good move, it is seriously misguided.

Just last year, Iranians took to streets to protest against the Islamic Republic in unprecedented numbers, calling for the fall of the Islamic Republic and its Supreme Leader. Iranians want change, not a return to the status quo. Returning to the nuclear deal with Iran and lifting sanctions against the Islamic Republic, without placing new terms on Iran regarding its nuclear arsenal and human rights record, can only further empower Khamenei to oppress Iranians. Even if we put aside the concerns of reverting to an Obama-era approach to Iran, the appointment of Malley is cause for serious concern.

Since the rumors first started milling about Malley’s appointment, the Islamic Republic’s sympathizers and lobbyists in North America have been quick to voice their support for Malley. This list includes the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), whose one of the founders Trita Parsi has close personal ties with the Islamic Republic leaders;  Negar Mortazavi, a journalist best known for spreading pro-Iran propaganda, among other members of the Iranian propaganda engine.

This outpouring of support from regime lobbyists in the U.S. and Canada for Malley’s appointment is a glaring red flag. The same people who openly support the Iranian regime are overwhelmingly in favor of Malley. Why is that? The appointment of Malley suggests a U.S. move towards negotiating with Iran, but dealing with Iran does not mean negotiating for the Iranian people. It means that whatever negotiations come to, it will be in the regime’s interest.

Malley shared controversial comments about the 2019 Iran Protests. In a panel interview with a French TV station, he joined a discussion about the series of uprisings in the Middle East at the time, namely Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran. When asked what his opinions were of the state of mind that Iranians were in, he responded saying, “I think what is happening now has only confirmed their paranoia…sometimes these paranoias are justified to some extent, that there is a conspiracy against them. I said this today and discussed it recently as well, [they] are convinced that the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel are doing everything to weaken Iran”.

This comment angered Iranians, as Malley suggested that the 2019 protests were possibly instigated by foreign powers – a claim repeatedly used by Iran’s leaders to delegitimize the protests. Insinuating that the protests were a “foreign conspiracy” is an incredibly problematic claim for the U.S. envoy to Iran to make, one that is an affront to the Iranians who risked their lives, and those who lost their lives to protest the regime. It is worrying, to say the least, that the person who President Biden has chosen to lead the U.S.’s relationship with Iran going forward not only feeds into the regime’s conspiracies, but seems to agree with them.

Supporters of Malley have argued that these comments were taken out of context and that Malley was not supporting Iran’s response to the protests. First and foremost, this is a straw-man argument. The criticisms of Malley in this video have been focused on his allegation that Iran’s paranoia about foreign meddling in the protests was to some extent justified, an allegation that belittles the protestors who joined the uprisings, and the thousands who lost their lives.

The people defending Malley are saying he never supported the regime’s response to protestors – which is true. But no one is saying that Malley supported the regime’s response. They’re criticizing the other things he said.

The video clip that went viral shows minutes of a 20-minute long interview, is it fair to say that Malley’s words were taken out of context? I was open to the possibility. I watched the entire video and translated it myself, just in case YouTube’s automated subtitles were misinterpreting his words as they often can.

The verdict? Malley’s comments were not taken out of context. In the interview, the moderator brings up the comments made by Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, when he said that the uprisings in the Middle East were purely the result of foreign meddling in the region, efforts by the West to destabilize Iran and its allies. The moderator then asked whether Khamenei has reason to think that the U.S. is behind these efforts “to destabilize the region”? Malley responded by first saying that Khamenei is right that in Iran, the situation is much worse because of Trump’s sanctions after the U.S. left the nuclear deal.

This is one of the most common tropes used by regime sympathisers and apologists to defend the Islamic Republic. Any time the Islamic Republic does anything wrong, whether it is shooting down a passenger plane last January and killing 176 innocent civilians, violently repressing the November 2019 protests, or mismanaging the COVID-19 outbreak and killing more Iranians, Iran lobbyists chant the all-too familiar refrain that sanctions are to blame. Whether it was intentional or not, by agreeing with Khamenei that U.S. sanctions have destabilized Iran, Malley is strengthening Iran’s narrative – that the regime is always innocent and the only thing to blame is U.S. sanctions.

The comments about Iran’s paranoia being justified followed shortly. The moderator noted that Malley, given his experience as one of the negotiators on the nuclear deal, has “rubbed shoulders” with many Iranians.

She asked him what his opinion was on what state of mind they were in, “What has happened only confirms their paranoia”, Malley responded. Malley’s comments were not taken out of context, and in fact, watching the entire video paints an even more worrying image about Malley’s perceptions of Iran.

Another glaring detail in Malley’s past that indicates serious concern about his intentions and moral compass is that before he joined Obama’s administration, Malley had openly had talks with members of Hamas, a terrorist organization. This gained uproar, and Malley resigned from working with Obama’s campaign at the time. Further, Xiyue Wang, a former political prisoner detained in Iran has voiced criticisms of Malley’s appointment, arguing that “if he is appointed, it’d suggest releasing US hostages from Iran won’t be a priority..”

Rather than responding to these criticisms about Malley’s very controversial comments about the 2019 Iran protests, regime lobbyists have simply shut them down as “fake news”. Maral Karimi, an Iranian author and academic, duly noted that “anyone who disagrees with Rob Malley as Iran envoy” is being portrayed as the right-wing. These accusations very conveniently gloss over the many Iranian human rights activists, dissidents, and academics who have voiced concerns over Malley’s commitment to human rights. While Malley does not ever say he supports or defends the regime’s violent response to protestors, he does feed into a dangerous narrative of deferring blame from the regime onto the U.S., a narrative the IR depends on to maintain legitimacy.

This issue ultimately does not boil down to hawks versus doves or sanctions versus diplomacy. The main problem here is that negotiation with Iran should not, and can not, come at the expense of human rights. If the U.S. yields to Iran’s demands for easing of sanctions, and does not require that Iran release its political prisoners, it is saying that human rights are secondary.

This is a mistaken first step for the Biden administration to make that will result in a loss of faith for Iranian people who had hoped Biden would support them.

The Iranian Nuclear Horn Carries All the Cards

Iran says nuclear deal non-negotiable, rejects new participants

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that its 2015 nuclear agreement with six world powers was non-negotiable, and rejected any changes to the participants in the accord. The announcement came in response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement on Friday that any new negotiations should include other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia.

The nuclear accord has already been ratified and is non-negotiable, said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, according to AFP. “If French officials are worried about their huge arms sales to Persian Gulf Arab states, they better reconsider their policies,” he added.  “French arms, along with other Western weapons, not only cause the massacre of thousands of Yemenis, but are also the main cause of regional instability.”

Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have said that they should be involved in any new talks with Iran. The two countries  also want new talks to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for proxies in the region, reported the AFP.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are both locked in a proxy war in Yemen. Iran is also heavily involved in Syria Iraq through militia groups and in Lebanon through the terror group Hezbollah.

Speaking to Al Arabiya in Paris on Friday, Macron said, “Dialogue with Iran will be rigorous, and they will need to include our allies in the region for a nuclear deal, and this includes Saudi Arabia.”

France, along with China, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, was an original signatory to the nuclear agreement.

In a separate statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday that Tehran will not reverse the acceleration of its nuclear program until the United States lifts sanctions against the country. Iran recently announced that it had begun enriching uranium to 20 percent, in violation of the nuclear accord.

Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, Zarif termed France’s demand “not practical” and said it “will not happen.”

The Biden administration has indicated it would like to rejoin the accords, which the previous administration exited in May 2018. However, the administration has stated that a precondition would be full compliance by Iran with the original agreement.