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Iran Pressures While Netanyahu Pleads

Tehran is making the EU work for a continuation of the nuclear deal

In recent days, analysts have noted a change of tactics in Iran’s approach to the stalled nuclear deal. The Islamic Republic’s aim has seemingly shifted from a patient stance to one of ramping up pressure on European backers of the accord in a bid to salvage it.

ne example is the indication by Iran that it will not fully cooperate with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors until the impasse over the deal is resolved. After a meeting at IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna on Wednesday, Reza Najafi, Iran’s envoy to the agency, dismissed calls for Iran to take extra precautions in cooperating with inspectors. “No one should expect Iran to implement more voluntary measures,” he said, as quoted by Reuters.

Najafi also emphasized that Tehran’s patience with European leaders who hope to save the deal was not unlimited. He warned them that the time frame was narrow. “A few weeks means a few weeks, not a few months,” Najafi stated.

“But I should emphasize that it does not mean that right now Iran will restart any activities contrary to the [deal],” Najafi added. “These are only preparatory works.”
Earlier this week, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei indicated that Tehran intends to press forward with its uranium enrichment plans if the agreement collapses.

On Monday, Iranian officials released detailed plans for the construction of a facility at Natanz in central Iran where it will build advanced centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium.

The E.U. responded on Tuesday with an obvious intent to prevent the injured deal from unraveling any further, asserting that while the latest Iranian moves do not increase confidence in the negotiations, they do not constitute a breach of the nuclear deal, either.

Since the United States pulled out of the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal last month, European backers of the agreement have been scrambling to save it while at the same time the Trump administration has threatened to reimpose sanctions on foreign companies with business ties to Iran by November.

Dr. Sanam Vakil, an expert on Iranian domestic and foreign policy at London’s Chatham House, told The Media Line that under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA)— the full title of the Iranian nuclear deal— Tehran is permitted to enrich uranium to certain levels. This leeway provides them with more home-grown sources of fuel with which to run their power plants.

“I think this is important to make very clear. The media has been getting this completely wrong,” Vakil said. “Iran’s plans to scale up are from the perspective of the IAEA within the confines of the JPCOA.”

But, she added: “It is indeed messaging to the E.U., U.S. and the international community that Iran has the capability and the will to increase its program.”

Vakil is skeptical of claims or threats that Iran will not fully cooperate with atomic inspectors. “There have been general threats, even threats to withdraw from the NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons],” she said, but added that that the Iranians have “thus far complied with the current agreement in allowing IAEA inspectors access to its nuclear facilities.”

Israel has been closely watching the ongoing negotiations to save the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is at the end of a four-day diplomatic tour in Europe where he has been pushing allies to amend the Iranian deal and prevent Iranian forces from gaining a foothold in Syria. During the trip, he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Before his departure earlier this week, Netanyahu, who has been a leading critic of the nuclear deal, was optimistic about the diplomatic whirlwind, saying, “It could be that on this matter there isn’t a consensus right now, but with time, in my opinion, that understanding will be reached.”

The prime minister focused on what Israel and the Trump administration see as the deal’s gravest shortcomings. They include “sunset” provisions that phase out restrictions on Iran’s enrichment of uranium over time, as well as provisions allowing Iran to develop long-range ballistic missiles. Netanyahu has warned that when the deal expires over the next decade, Iran will come out of the pact essentially unscathed and with the ability to produce a nuclear bomb within a short timeframe.

Shimon Stein, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Germany between 2001-2007 and was a member of Israel’s delegation to multilateral negotiations on arms control, told The Media Line that if Netanyahu’s objective was make the Europeans rethink their positions on the Iranian deal, then he failed.

Nevertheless, Stein qualified, the Europeans “understand the nature of his concerns with respect to the overall Iranian threat in the region. But what steps are they willing to take in order to counter this threat remains to be seen.

“But at this stage, I don’t think that they [the Iranians] will go beyond the signals of recent days… it is not in their interests to go all the way and relaunch their nuclear project.
“I don’t see any reason why they would do it, when they are letting the Europeans do their utmost to introduce blocking measures which would protect Europeans companies that have business dealings in Iran.”