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The Iranian rulers are closing their ranks and increasing pressure on Biden to lift the sanctions

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the IAEA headquarters in Vienna

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From Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian state newspaper aiming for lawmakers to intervene in Tehran’s nuclear dispute with the West warned Tuesday that too radical measures could lead to the isolation of Iran after a new law ends rush inspections by UN inspectors would have.

The 2015 Iranian nuclear deal with the world powers has been frayed since 2018 when the United States withdrew and reinstated Tehran, causing it to exceed the limits of the uranium enrichment agreement, a potential route to nuclear weapons.

On Monday, Iranian lawmakers protested the government’s decision to allow “necessary” surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Agency for up to three months, saying the move violated a new law that put an end to IAEA rush inspections on Tuesday.

Under the 2015 agreement, Iran agreed to comply with the IAEA Additional Protocol, which allows short-term inspections of sites that have not been reported to the agency, in order to increase confidence that nuclear work will not be subjected to covert military purposes.

The three-month compromise that the Director General of the IAEA reached on a trip to Tehran last weekend raised hopes for a possible diplomatic solution to rescue the nuclear deal.

The state newspaper Iran, which is close to the pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani, a former chief nuclear negotiator, suggested in an unusually critical comment that the new law to block rapid inspections could be counterproductive.

“Those who say Iran must crack down on the nuclear deal quickly and tough should say what guarantees there is that Iran will not be left alone as it has in the past … and will end up somewhere other than creating one Consensus to contribute against Iran? ” it said.

Both Tehran, whose economy has been paralyzed by sanctions, and the administration of the new US President Joe Biden want to save the agreement that his predecessor Donald Trump had rejected, but do not agree on who should take the first step. Iran insists that the United States must lift sanctions first, while Washington denies that Tehran must first return to compliance with the pact.

Since Trump’s withdrawal in 2018, Iran has rebuilt stocks of low-enriched uranium, enriched it to higher levels of fissile purity, and installed advanced centrifuges to accelerate production.

HIGH LEVEL SHOW OF UNITY

Biden’s refusal to lift sanctions first has been unified by both sides of Iran’s political divide by uniting hardliners who viewed the United States as a relentless enemy with pragmatists who seek rapprochement with the West.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, despite being the top hardliner with the last word on politics, approved the inspection contract with the IAEA in a tacit rejection by Hawk lawmakers.

The hardline daily Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Khamenei, also agreed, saying the deal “could not have been prepared without the participation and opinion of the Supreme National Security Council”.

Iran’s overall strategy, however, appears to be to boost enrichment and ask questions about working with the IAEA to get the Biden administration to drop the “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign launched by Trump.

Khamenei, who increased the stakes on Monday, said Iran could enrich uranium to up to 60% purity if necessary, while reiterating its rejection of any Iranian intent to search for nuclear weapons that would require 90% enrichment.

“The Iranian economy is doing badly due to sanctions, COVID-19 crisis and mismanagement,” said Meir Javedanefar, lecturer at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center in Israel.

“If Biden takes the first step by lifting at least part of the sanctions … Khamenei would be ready to strike a deal with him.”

Washington, which said it was ready to speak to Tehran last week, said Khamenei’s comments “sound like a threat,” but reiterated US readiness to look into Iran over the return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

The ecclesiastical rulers of Iran are facing the challenge of keeping the economy alive under US sanctions that have cut their exports of vital oil.

Economic hardship is a bad sign for the June presidential election, when Iranian rulers usually aim to get a high turnout to demonstrate their legitimacy, even if the outcome will not change an important policy decided by Khamenei.

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