Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Iran is on Track to Become a Nuclear Nation

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript

For over a year now, the American administration and its partners have attempted to lure Iran back into the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Recent reports indicate talks may resume.

But Iran wants President Joe Biden to drop sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and to guarantee that future presidents won’t back out of the deal. The result has been deadlock, and one that favours Tehran.

The mullahs have used the time well. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has placed radicals in top positions, including the presidency. His proxy forces have spread violence in Iraq, Lebanon Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East. And he has built up his stockpile of nuclear fuel.

“Our nuclear program is advancing as planned and time is on our side,” an unnamed Iranian official told Reuters on May 5.  “Oil sales have doubled,” noted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi May 16, with a flow of new revenue resulting from soaring oil prices. In short, Tehran has not only made impressive strides toward a nuclear weapons capability but repaired much of the financial damage done by U.S. sanctions.

Iran has enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on May 30 said that Iran hasn’t offered credible answers to its probe into nuclear material found in the country. It reported that Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium has grown to roughly enough material for a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA watchdog estimated that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to more than 18 times the limit laid down in Tehran’s 2015 deal with world powers.

Iran is violating its safeguards agreement under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, continued the IAEA report. Moreover, it shows no sign of being willing to rectify these violations or provide assurance to the IAEA that its nuclear weapons program has ended.

Indeed, Iran disconnected security cameras from one of its declared nuclear sites and began taking down IAEA cameras throughout its territory. “When we lose this,” IAEA director Rafael Mariano Grossi told reporters, “then it's anybody’s guess” what Iran is doing.

David Albright and Sarah Burkhard of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington wrote on June 1 that “Iran’s breakout timeline is now at zero. It has enough 60 per cent enriched uranium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) to be assured it could fashion a nuclear explosive. If Iran wanted to further enrich its 60 per cent HEU up to weapon-grade HEU, or 90 percent, it could do so within a few weeks with only a few of its advanced centrifuge cascades.”

What was Washington’s response? On June 9, Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed that Iran’s moves against the IAEA are “counterproductive and further complicate our efforts to return to full implementation of the JCPOA.” But what’s Blinken going to do about it? “We continue to press Iran to choose diplomacy and de-escalation instead,” he remarked.

Robert Malley, the Special Envoy to Iran and America’s chief negotiator at the nuclear talks in Vienna, knows it is not looking good. Nonetheless, he and his team have repeatedly assured Congressional committees and the U.S. media that a revived deal is within reach.

And, what makes things even more difficult is the current American proxy war with Russia over Ukraine. Moscow, one of the 2015 JCPOA signatories, is not going to go out of its way to help seal a new deal.

Joe Biden is almost 80 years old and receives little respect. Meanwhile, inflation, crime, the crisis at the southern border, guns, abortion, and the Ukraine war command the American public’s attention. The growing danger from Iran does not.

Thus, all the necessary elements have aligned for the Islamic Republic to move for nuclear weapons: reduced international monitoring, substantially improved atomic assets that are increasingly hardened against aerial strikes, an absence of international penalties, a reviving economy, and hard-liners in charge of the government who might be eager to go nuclear.

If the Iranian regime ever intended to submit to a revived nuclear treaty that doesn’t meet all their demands, they have little incentive to do so now, and Biden knows it.


Tuesday, June 28, 2022

A Fractured National Assembly

  By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

There are three big winners and two big losers in the French National Assembly elections that concluded June 19.

The winners? Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Marine Le Pen, and…Vladimir Putin.

The losers: Emmanuel Macron and Volodymyr Zelensky.

The two big issues before voters were the huge jump in inflation, and the continuing costs of the war in Ukraine.

True, President Macron has not taken as hard a line against Putin as have his American, British, and Canadian counterparts. But even that may have been too much for many who voted for parties to his political left and right.

Macron had said it was crucial to provide Putin with a way out of what he called a “fundamental error.” He had repeatedly spoken to Putin by phone in an effort to broker a ceasefire and negotiations. He also visited Kyiv on June 16 to meet with Ukrainian President Zelensky.

One shouldn’t joke about matters like war and murder, but I must say I couldn’t help pointing out to friends that Russia has unveiled a new weapons system: Call it an “inflation missile,” programmed to strike all gas stations and grocery stores in Europe and North America.

They are now working on an “anti-heating oil bomb,” which should be ready by this coming winter. It may “disable” all oil and gas-fueled furnaces in Europe.

The Western powers, using sanctions, assumed they had, so to speak, put Russia in a cage. But the world is now actually divided into two cages, and it appears Russia’s version includes Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, and perhaps others. So who is actually “imprisoned”?

In March 2014, Russia was suspended indefinitely from the Group of 8 (G8) major economic powers following the annexation of Crimea, leaving seven nations.

Russia is now apparently en route to create a “new G8” in response to its ruptured economic ties with the United States and western allies such as Canada.

“The economies of the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, and Canada continue to collapse under the pressure of sanctions against Russia,” asserted Vyacheslav Volodin, the chair of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, on June 11.

France is facing intense economic headwinds as inflation sets in. Who wants to hear about Ukraine when people are struggling to pay their rent or gas for their car? Meanwhile, Russia has shown a surprising amount of economic resiliency since sanctions kicked in.

Perhaps Macron has become the first victim of Russia’s “counterattack.” And that is, unfortunately for him, no joke. The annual rate of inflation stood at 5.2 per cent in May, the highest since September of 1985.

The price of energy skyrocketed, particularly gasoline, up 24.2 per cent.  Prices also increased for services, food and manufactured goods. The economy contracted by 0.2 per cent in the first quarter of this year. Dwindling purchasing power became the top political issue in the election.

Macron needed to secure at least 289 of the 577 seats to have a majority for pushing through legislation during his second five-year term. The results demonstrate that France continues to grapple with its political identity.

Macron’s Ensemble, a centrist coalition, won 245 seats, down 102. His biggest challenge came from an alliance of France’s left-wing forces known as NUPES. At 131 seats, a gain of 73, they now have a commanding presence in French politics.

The far-right Rassemblement National (NR) of Marine Le Pen also dramatically increased its tally from five years ago, winning 89 seats, way up from the eight seats it held, while a group of centrist right-wing parties came fourth with 61, less than half its previous total of 136.

The NR’s success was made possible by the near disappearance of the “Republican front,” the French tradition whereby mainstream parties join forces against far-right candidates in the second round of elections.

Macron on June 22 implored the opposition parties to make “compromises” for the “sake of national unity.” The president held two days of talks with opposition leaders at the Élysée Palace, but no party has taken up his offer. 

The president faces a potentially tumultuous five years of deadlock, with a National Assembly which cannot guarantee the passage of his reforms. Collaboration will entail lengthy negotiations over legislation, and unstable agreements.