The world woke up last Friday to the surprise announcement that Beijing has brokered stronger ties between Riyadh and Tehran, radically upending the U.S.-led world order. This has reverberated in capitals all over the world. How does this change the calculus of Iran’s development of nuclear capability, of Israel’s ability to attack Iran through Saudi airspace? What does it say about America’s role in the world, China’s intentions and Saudi Arabia as a long-term ally of the United States?
According to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA), Iran will have very shortly, if it does not have already, enough highly enriched uranium for at least three nuclear bombs. The IAEA has detected traces of uranium at the Fordow Enrichment Facility enriched to 83.7 percent, just a few days’ glide to the 90 percent level necessary for a nuclear bomb.
The IAEA also has said that it can no longer reestablish any certainty regarding Iran’s activities under a revived JCPOA, such as the production of advanced centrifuges and heavy water, due to Iran’s decision in February 2021 to deny the IAEA access to data from key JCPOA-related monitoring and surveillance equipment and because of Iran’s decision in June 2022 to remove all such equipment, including video cameras and online enrichment monitoring devices.
Yet, on Saturday, March 4, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials in Tehran and gave vague assurances that these concerns would be addressed.
The questions remain: Can we trust the IAEA? And can Iran be stopped from developing a nuclear bomb before it is too late?
Here to answer these questions and more is Rich Goldberg.
Goldberg is a senior adviser at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. From 2019-2020, he served as the director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction for the White House National Security Council. He previously served as chief of staff for Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and deputy chief of staff and senior foreign policy adviser to former U.S. Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois in both the U.S. House and Senate.
Barack Obama, A Promised Land (New York: Crown, 2020)
“Whatever you do won’t be enough. … Try anyway.”
— President Barack Obama
It was December 2009 and the still-new president was in his hotel room in Oslo getting dressed in the tuxedo he would wear for the ceremony to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. An aide knocked on the door and urged him to look out the window. Pulling back the shades, Barack Obama saw several thousand people in the narrow street below holding lit candles over their heads to celebrate him. “[O]n some level,” he notes in his excellent new 700-page memoir, “the crowds below were cheering an illusion … The idea that I, or any one person, could bring order to [this chaotic world] seemed laughable.” (p. 446)
Obama famously had questioned how he deserved this prize so early in his presidency. One answer was the “Prague speech” he had given that April, stating “clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Now, 11 years later, Obama devotes more words in his memoir to describing the scene on the streets through which his motorcade lumbered en route to the speech site than he does to the content of the speech. (p. 348)
The reticence clearly is not an accident. Throughout the book he barely mentions and never explores in depth what had been hailed earlier as the Prague Agenda.
For example, in an insightful 12-page discussion of Russian politics and U.S. efforts to “reset” relations with Moscow, Obama writes merely that his initial meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev produced “an agreed-upon framework for the new strategic arms treaty, which would reduce each side’s allowable nuclear warheads and delivery systems by up to one-third.” (p. 462)
Nowhere in the text does he mention the considerable labor that he personally devoted to shaping his administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which was completed in 2010. His signature nuclear policy innovation, a “forty-seven-nation nuclear security summit” to strengthen international efforts to keep nuclear materials away from terrorists, gets no more mention than these four hyphenated words. North Korea receives two glancing comments.
Why does Obama — who was deeply engaged in nuclear policy issues throughout his presidency — devote so little to the topic in his memoir? What does this omission reveal about the politics of nuclear weapons in the United States? And finally, what should those working to reduce nuclear risks around the world learn from Obama’s attempts to grapple with his own legacy on nuclear matters?
There are many ways to interpret Obama’s nuclear reticence. He paid more personal attention to nuclear policy than any president since Ronald Reagan, and he was more knowledgeable about details than any predecessor, except perhaps Jimmy Carter. Disappointment over the results are surely a factor. Although this memoir covers only the first 18 months of his presidency, it is informed by knowledge of what happened later, including the near collapse of arms control with Russia, renewed qualitative arms racing with Russia and China, North Korea’s burgeoning arsenal, and the impossibility of winning Republican support for a nuclear deal with Iran.
But Obama faced lots of other disappointments that he discusses at length. He writes 30 pages on climate change policy and his diplomatic intervention to save the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009. You can imagine him saying of New START nuclear policy what he writes wryly about the Copenhagen effort:
All that for an interim agreement that — even if it worked entirely as planned — would be at best a preliminary, halting step toward solving a possible planetary tragedy, a pail of water thrown on a raging fire. I realized that for all the power inherent in the seat I now occupied, there would always be a chasm between what I knew should be done to achieve a better world and what in a day, week, or year I found myself actually able to accomplish. (p. 516)
An earlier passage may partially answer why nuclear issues barely register in the book. In recounting the 2009 press conference in Moscow with Medvedev where Obama had described the framework for what became the New START Treaty, Obama wryly (as usual) notes that Robert Gibbs, his press secretary, “was more excited by Russia’s agreement to lift restrictions on certain U.S. livestock exports, a change worth more than $1 billion to American farmers and ranchers.” This, Gibbs said, was “[s]omething folks back home actually care about.” (p. 462) Later, Obama bemoans the absence of a strong domestic constituency “clamoring” for the treaty’s ratification by the Senate, which left him no choice but to make “a devil’s bargain” with Republican leaders to boost funding to modernize the nuclear weapons infrastructure. (p. 608)
To sell books or political candidates today, the less said about nuclear policy the better. The public and media don’t follow the details. They can’t reasonably assess the pros and cons of policy options. Until there is a nuclear war — or a real scare that one is imminent — busy people are unlikely to demand big changes.
One could say that the public doesn’t care or follow what’s going on in Afghanistan, either, yet Obama writes much more about it. The difference is that Afghanistan was a war and topic of necessity — as Obama insisted in the 2008 campaign. He had to deal with it. Nuclear policy is an issue of choice so long as deterrence seems to be working. When the political payoff is negligible, it is better to turn to other things. People do get alarmed by Iranian or North Korean proliferation. The president should try to address those challenges. But neither the public nor Congress and the defense establishment see how stopping proliferation requires fidelity to nuclear disarmament, as Obama argued.
Public inattention means that Republican leaders could have relatively free hands to pursue arms control and disarmament measures if they wanted to. Their supporters will not protest, and Democrats by and large will go along. Democratic leaders face a much tougher challenge. The more public their arms control-related initiatives, the more that nativist Republican forces will counter them with narratives of weakness, naivete, and indulgence of evil Iranian Ayatollahs, Chinese Communists, or Russian cheaters. Those narratives win in cable news and internet combat in swing states and districts. To counter them and buy the necessary Republican votes, Democrats are compelled to fund new or different military capabilities that signify strength and revenue to defense contractors and host states. This says more about the public and the political-psychology of enmity than it does about Democrats, but the reader imagines that the Obama of the Prague speech underestimated the challenge.
For Democrats, the most plausible way around the mass constituency problem is to appoint motivated experts to key administration positions and to team them with military leaders who share the view that nuclear deterrence can be maintained between the United States and Russia and China with much leaner arsenals. Obama had a few such officials (e.g., Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller) but neither Secretary of Defense Robert Gates nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared his nuclear policy predilections or exerted themselves against domestic and international resistance to them.
The political logic of selecting and working with military leaders who share a president’s view on the relative importance of conventional versus nuclear forces for securing the United States and allies is affirmed, indirectly, in another line from Gibbs. Talking about what became the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Obama wonders if the public would understand the arcane rule changes involved. Gibbs assures him, “They don’t need to understand it. … If the banks hate it, they’ll figure it must be a good thing.” (p. 553) In nuclear policy, the equivalent line might be, “If the military hates it, the public will figure it’s a bad thing.” In general, Obama stays shy of arguing with the military. Indeed, the memoir’s discussions of Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and Adm. Mike Mullen are sugarcoated compared to Bob Woodward’s account of White House-military relations in Obama’s Wars.
According to the Constitution, civilians should direct the military, of course. But the public trusts military leaders more when it comes to national security, especially compared to Democrats. To shift national nuclear policies in the current environment, the president needs to win 60 votes in the Senate to advance legislation — 67 to ratify treaties. This requires persuading senators from swing states to support the agenda. If the military joins opponents against a Democratic president, that president and his or her policies will lose. (This logic may, in part, be reflected in President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as secretary of defense. Due to the public’s trust in the armed forces, Austin’s military experience is likely to be a political asset. His impact on potential nuclear policy is unclear. Austin comes from the Army, a service that is less invested in the nuclear enterprise, as they and the Marines don’t have any nuclear weapons. As former commander of U.S. Central Command, he will have the best possible credibility for arguing in favor of returning to the Iran nuclear deal — credibility that Biden will need in front of the Congress and the public.)
To win military leaders’ support for new nuclear policies, or at least their politically useful nonresistance, experts and civilian officials will need to offer the military better alternatives for deterring or defeating threats. The best such alternatives would be dialing down Russian and Chinese coercion of their neighbors, and negotiating verifiable reductions of Russian nuclear forces and limitations on China’s military buildup. The United States, of course, will have to provide reciprocal reassurance to Moscow and Beijing, which is easier said than done. The other, not mutually exclusive, need is to improve U.S. and allied non-nuclear capabilities to prevent Russia or China from taking small bits of disputed territory and then leaving Washington with the dreadful choice of capitulation or major conflict that could escalate — purposefully or inadvertently — to nuclear war. To allay concerns of arms racing, Washington should make clear to Moscow and Beijing that it prefers to negotiate confidence-building and arms control mechanisms with them if they want to.
Rather than the audacious hope of Senator Obama, President Obama’s experience suggests that people seeking the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons need an attitude more like Albert Camus’ Sisyphus, whom “we must imagine happy” as he repeatedly pushes the rock up the hill. This is the Obama that comes through the superb memoir: patient, ironic, steadily trying, and grinning even as he knows that whatever we can accomplish may not be enough.
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George Perkovich is the Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Chair and vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
1957 – The United States signs a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Iran.
1958 – Iran joins the IAEA.
1967 – The Tehran Nuclear Research Center, which includes a small reactor supplied by the United States, opens.
1968 – Iran signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Mid-1970s – With US backing, Iran begins developing a nuclear power program.
1979 – Iran’s Islamic revolution ends Western involvement in the country’s nuclear program.
December 1984 – With the aid of China, Iran opens a nuclear research center in Isfahan.
February 23, 1998 – The United States announces concerns that Iran’s nuclear energy program could lead to the development of nuclear weapons.
March 14, 2000 – US President Bill Clinton signs a law that allows sanctions against people and organizations that provide aid to Iran’s nuclear program.
February 21, 2003 –IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei visits Iran to survey its nuclear facilities and to encourage Iran to sign a protocol allowing IAEA inspectors greater and faster access to nuclear sites. Iran declines to sign the protocol. ElBaradei says he must accept Iran’s statement that its nuclear program is for producing power and not weapons, despite claims of the United States to the contrary.
June 19, 2003 – The IAEA issues a report saying that Iran appeared to be in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but that it needed to be more open about its activities.
August 2003 – The IAEA announces that its inspectors in Iran have found traces of highly enriched uranium at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant. Iran claims the amounts are contamination from equipment bought from other countries. Iran agrees to sign a protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty that allows for unannounced visits to their nuclear facilities and signs it on December 18, 2003.
October 2003 – The Foreign Ministers of Britain, France and Germany visit Tehran, and all parties agree upon measures Iran will take to settle all outstanding issues with the IAEA. Under obligation to the IAEA, Iran releases a dossier on its nuclear activities. However, the report does not contain information on where Iran acquired components for centrifuges used to enrich uranium, a fact the IAEA considers important in determining whether the uranium is to be enriched for weapons.
December 2003 – Iran signs the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with the IAEA voluntarily agreeing to broader inspections of its nuclear facilities.
February 2004 – A.Q. Khan, “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, admits to having provided Iran and other countries with uranium-enrichment equipment.
June 1, 2004 – The IAEA states they have found traces of uranium that exceed the amount used for general energy production. Iran admits that it is importing parts for advanced centrifuges that can be used to enrich uranium, but is using the parts to generate electricity.
July 31, 2004 – Iran states that it has resumed production on centrifuge parts used for enriching uranium, but not enrichment activities.
August 8, 2005 – Iran restarts uranium conversion, a step on the way to enrichment, at a nuclear facility, saying it is for peaceful purposes only, and flatly rejects a European offer aimed at ensuring the nation does not seek nuclear weapons.
August 9, 2005 – Iran removes the IAEA seals from its Isfahan nuclear processing facility, opening the uranium conversion plant for full operation. IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky states that the plant “is fully monitored by the IAEA” and “is not a uranium enrichment plant.”
September 11, 2005 – Iran’s new foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, says the country won’t suspend activities at its Isfahan uranium conversion facility and it plans to seek bids for the construction of two more nuclear plants.
January 10, 2006 – Iran resumes research at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant, arguing that doing so is within the terms of an agreement with the IAEA.
January 12, 2006 – Foreign ministers of the EU3 (Great Britain, France, Germany) recommend Iran’s referral to the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear program.
January 13, 2006 – Mottaki states that if Iran is referred, its government under law will be forced to stop some of its cooperation with the IAEA, including random inspections.
April 11, 2006 – Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president, states that Iran has increased the number of functioning centrifuges in its nuclear facilities in Natanz and has produced enriched uranium from them.
August 31, 2006 – The IAEA issues a report on Iran saying the Islamic republic “has not suspended its enrichment activities” despite this day’s deadline to do so. Iran can possibly face economic sanctions.
December 23, 2006 – The UN Security Council votes unanimously to impose sanctions against Iran for failing to suspend its nuclear program.
February 22, 2007 – The IAEA issues a statement saying that Iran has not complied with the UN Security Council’s call for a freeze of all nuclear activity. Instead, Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment program.
March 24, 2007 – The United Nations adopts Resolution 1747 which toughens sanctions against Iran. The sanctions include the freezing of assets of 28 individuals and organizations involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. About a third of those are linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, an elite military corp.
May 23, 2007 – The IAEA delivers its report to the United Nations on Iran’s nuclear activities. The report states that not only has Iran failed to end its uranium enrichment program but has in fact expanded its activity.
June 21, 2007 – Iran’s Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi claims, “Now we have 3,000 centrifuges and have in our warehouses 100 kilograms of enriched uranium…We also have more than 150 tons of raw materials for producing uranium gas.”
February 20, 2009 – The Institute for Science and International Security reports that Iranian scientists have reached “nuclear weapons breakout capability.” The report concludes Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon but does have enough low-enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon. An official at the IAEA cautions about drawing such conclusions. The IAEA says Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium would have to be turned into highly enriched uranium to become weapons-grade material.
February 25, 2009 – Iran runs tests at its Bushehr nuclear power plant using “dummy” fuel rods loaded with lead in place of enriched uranium to simulate nuclear fuel. A news release distributed to reporters at the scene states the test measured the “pressure, temperature and flow rate” of the facility to make sure they were at appropriate levels. Officials say the next test will use enriched uranium, but it’s not clear when the test will be held or when the facility will be fully operational.
September 21, 2009 – In a letter to the IAEA, Iran reveals the existence of a second nuclear facility. It is located underground at a military base, near the city of Qom.
October 25, 2009 – IAEA inspectors make their first visit to Iran’s newly disclosed nuclear facility near Qom.
February 18, 2010 – In a statement, the IAEA reports that it believes Iran may be working in secret to develop a nuclear warhead for a missile.
August 21, 2010 – Iran begins fueling its first nuclear energy plant, in the city of Bushehr.
December 5, 2010 – Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s atomic chief and acting foreign minister, announces that Iran’s nuclear program is self-sufficient and that Iran has begun producing yellowcake, an intermediate stage in processing uranium.
January 8, 2011 – Salehi reports that Iran can now create its own nuclear fuel plates and rods.
September 4, 2011 – Iran announces that its Bushehr nuclear power plant joined the electric grid September 3, making it the first Middle Eastern country to produce commercial electricity from atomic reactors.
September 5, 2011 – In response to Iran’s nuclear chief stating that Iran will give the IAEA “full supervision” of its nuclear program for five years if UN sanctions are lifted, the European Union says that Iran must first comply with international obligations.
November 8, 2011 – The IAEA releases a report saying that it has “serious concerns” and “credible” information that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons.
January 9, 2012 – The IAEA confirms that uranium enrichment has begun at the Fordo nuclear facility in the Qom province in northern Iran.
January 23, 2012 – The European Union announces it will ban the import of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products.
January 29, 2012 – A six-member delegation from the IAEA arrives in Tehran for a three-day visit, shortly after the EU imposes new sanctions aimed at cutting off funding to the nuclear program.
January 31, 2012 – In Senate testimony James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, says there’s no evidence Iran is building a nuclear bomb. CIA Director David Petraeus agrees.
February 15, 2012 – Iran loads the first domestically produced nuclear fuel rods into the Tehran research reactor.
February 21, 2012 – After two days of talks in Iran about the country’s nuclear program, the IAEA expresses disappointment that no progress was made and that their request to visit the Parchin military base was denied.
March 28, 2012 – Discussions regarding Iran’s nuclear future stall.
April 14, 2012 – Talks resume between Iran and six world powers over Iranian nuclear ambitions in Istanbul, Turkey.
May 25, 2012 – An IAEA report finds that environmental samples taken at the Fordo fuel enrichment plant near the city of Qom have enrichment levels of up to 27%, higher than the previous level of 20%.
June 18-19, 2012 – A meeting is held between Iran and the P5+1 (United States, France, Russia, China, Great Britain and Germany) in Moscow. No agreement is reached.
June 28, 2012 – Iranian negotiator,Saeed Jalili writes to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warning world powers to avoid “unconstructive measures” such as the oil embargo that’s about to go into effect and that was agreed upon by the EU in January.
July 1, 2012 – A full embargo of Iranian oil from the EU takes effect.
August 30, 2012 – A UN report finds that Iran has stepped up its production of high-grade enriched uranium and has re-landscaped Parchin, one of its military bases, in an apparent effort to hamper a UN inquiry into the country’s nuclear program.
January 20, 2014 – The European Union announces that it has suspended certain sanctions against Iran for six months.
February 20, 2014 – Following talks in Vienna, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announce that a deal on the framework for comprehensive negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program has been reached.
July 14, 2015 – A deal is reached on Iran’s nuclear program. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reduces the number of Iranian centrifuges by two-thirds. It places bans on enrichment at key facilities, and limits uranium research and development to the Natanz facility. On July 20, the UN Security Council endorses the nuclear deal.
January 16, 2016 – IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano says Iran has completed all the necessary steps agreed under the nuclear deal, and that all participants can begin implementing the JCPOA.
February 3, 2017 – In reaction to the January 29 missile test, the US Treasury Department says it is applying sanctions on 25 individuals and companies connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program and those providing support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force. Flynn says the tests were in defiance of a UN Security Council resolution that bars Iran from taking steps on a ballistic missile program capable of launching nuclear weapons.
October 13, 2017 – Trump decertifies Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement, declaring that the pact was not in US interests and unveiling a tough new policy toward the Islamic Republic. The move stops short of completely scrapping the agreement, instead kicking it to Congress, who then has 60 days to determine a path forward. Congress allows the 60-day deadline to pass without action.
May 21, 2018 – Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Trump administration is “open to new steps” with Iran, including a diplomatic relationship. Part of 12 preconditions: Iran must acknowledge past military dimensions of its nuclear program and expand access given to nuclear inspectors. The United States will then be willing to end sanctions, re-establish commercial relationships and allow Iran to have advanced technology.
September 23, 2019 – In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Zarif outlines a proposal for an agreement that would augment the defunct nuclear deal. In return for lifting sanctions, Iran would be prepared to sign an additional protocol, allowing for more intrusive inspections of the country’s nuclear facilities at an earlier date than that set out previously. Khamenei would also enshrine a ban on nuclear weapons in law, Zarif says.
February 18, 2021 – The Biden administration announces that the US is willing to sit down for talks with Tehran and other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal and achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA. Less than two weeks later, Iran rejects an offer by the European Union for direct talks with P5+1 countries.
February 4, 2022 – The Biden administration restores a sanctions waiver that will allow countries to cooperate with Iran on civil nuclear projects. The move takes place a week after talks adjourn. US officials have warned that there are only weeks left to return to the deal given Iran’s rapid nuclear developments. Tehran has called for broad sanctions relief before coming back into compliance with the deal.
Some 2.5 tons of natural uranium stored in a site in war-torn Libya have gone missing
ByJON GAMBRELL and JACK JEFFERY Associated Press
March 16, 2023, 1:48 AM
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Some 2.5 tons of natural uranium stored in a site in war-torn Libya have gone missing, the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Thursday, raising safety and proliferation concerns.
However, forces allied to a warlord battling the Libyan government based in the capital of Tripoli claimed on Thursday night that they recovered the material. U.N. inspectors said they were trying to confirm that.
Natural uranium cannot immediately be used for energy production or bomb fuel, as the enrichment process typically requires the metal to be converted into a gas, then later spun in centrifuges to reach the levels needed.
But each ton of natural uranium — if obtained by a group with the technological means and resources — can be refined to 5.6 kilograms (12 pounds) of weapons-grade material over time, experts say. That makes finding the missing metal important for nonproliferation experts.
In a statement, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said its director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, informed member states Wednesday about the missing uranium.
The IAEA statement remained tightlipped though on details.
On Tuesday, “agency safeguards inspectors found that 10 drums containing approximately 2.5 tons of natural uranium in the form of uranium ore concentrate were not present as previously declared at a location in the state of Libya,” the IAEA said. “Further activities will be conducted by the agency to clarify the circumstances of the removal of the nuclear material and its current location.”
The IAEA did not identify the site, nor did it respond to questions about it from The Associated Press.
Reuters first reported on the IAEA warning about the missing Libyan uranium, saying the IAEA told members reaching the site that’s not under government control required “complex logistics.”
One such declared site is Sabha, some 660 kilometers (410 miles) southeast of Tripoli, in the country’s lawless southern reaches of the Sahara Desert. Libya’s late dictator Moammar Gadhafi stored thousands of barrels of so-called yellowcake uranium for a once-planned uranium conversion facility that was never built in his decadeslong secret weapons program.
Estimates put the Libyan stockpile at some 1,000 metric tons of yellowcake uranium under Gadhafi, who declared his nascent nuclear weapons program to the world in 2003 after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
But the 2011 Arab Spring saw rebels topple Gadhafi and ultimately kill him. Sabha grew increasingly lawless, with African migrants crossing Libya, saying some had been sold as slaves in the city, the U.N. reported.
In recent years, Sabha largely has been under the control of the self-styled Libyan National Army, headed by Khalifa Hifter. On Thursday night, Hifter’s forces issued a statement claiming they had recovered the material.
They published a video showing a man in a disposable white suit and respirator in the desert, counting off what appeared to be 18 metal drums. Some of the blue-painted drums bore what appeared to be batch numbers. News footage from 2011 of the facility showed similar drums.
However, the man did not open the drums in the footage.
Hifter’s forces claimed they found the drums some 5 kilometers (3 miles) south of the facility. They tried to accuse Chadian separatist fighters, who operate in the region, of stealing the drums after mistaking them for weapons and ammunition. Hifter’s forces provided no evidence for the accusation.
The video footage resembled features of the desert surrounding the uranium stockpile site, though the AP could not immediately locate it.
Hifter’s forces also claimed the storage site had been found with an “opening” on its side. They claimed that a top IAEA official informed them of the “opening” nearly a week earlier than the agency described discovering the missing uranium. The conflicting timelines could not be immediately reconciled.
Hifter’s forces also asserted the IAEA failed to provide protective equipment and security for the site, though countries with nuclear material themselves bear responsibility for those sites. They also didn’t explain how the site had been secured — or if it was currently.
Asked about the claim by Hifter’s forces, the IAEA said: “We are aware of media reports that the material has been found. The agency is actively working to verify them.”
“Stressing that Libya viewed the question as primarily a commercial one, (the official) noted that prices for uranium yellowcake on the world market had been increasing, and that Libya wanted to maximize its profit by properly timing the sale of its stockpile,” then-Ambassador Gene A. Cretz wrote.
This development is not necessarily surprising, since Iran has been working toward advancing its nuclear enrichment program for years, before, during and after the 2015 nuclear deal with the Obama administration. “I’ll take (the Pentagon) at their word that the timetable is now about 12 days,” says Richard Stoll, political science professor at Rice University. “But even if they’re a little off, the principle is there—if you let (Iran) enrich, they can get closer and closer to what they need to have to build a nuclear weapon.”
While acknowledging Iran’s faster ability to produce fissile material, Pentagon officials do not believe Iran has the technology yet to actually build a bomb, nor the ability to launch one a long distance if it were built. Still, the idea of Iran one day possessing a nuke would be a game-changer on the international stage, especially for nearby countries. “Who would want to oppose them on any issue, including those issues where the United States opposes them, knowing that Iran has nuclear weapons,” says Stoll. “If Iran wants to be the dominant country in that region and I’m another country there, given that they have nuclear weapons I’m not going to oppose it.”
While Iran repeatedly threatens the U.S. and its allies, the Biden administration continues to promote diplomacy and push for a return to the 2015 Obama-era agreement. Stoll warns the solution is not that simple. “Go back to the nuclear agreement, if both sides will do that,” he tells KTRH. “But that should not blind us to the fact that we will continue to have to deal with an Iran operating against our interests in that region.”
The emergence of this threat sparks questions about whether the Biden administration’s current Iran policy can effectively prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The more pressing concern is determining alternative strategies to address the threat if the policy falls short of stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear warhead.
In addition to the uranium enrichment program, Iran’s ballistic missile program has been advancing at an alarming rate. The regime has been increasing its long-range missile capabilities in recent years, which could potentially be used to deliver a nuclear warhead. This development is a cause for concern as it suggests that Iran is steadily moving toward becoming a nuclear power with the ability to threaten regional and global security.
Moreover, Iran has likely attempted to develop the third component of a nuclear weapons program: warhead design, which involves constructing a nuclear warhead at the top of a missile. The IAEA previously reported that Iran experimented with advanced nuclear detonation technology, but regime scientists encountered technical obstacles during the experiment. It is plausible that such activities are still ongoing clandestinely, but IAEA inspectors have been unable to detect them.
Detecting a secret warhead design program is challenging because it does not require the use of nuclear materials, which are the primary focus of the IAEA’s safeguards. Warhead design can be conducted using non-nuclear means and in facilities that are not declared to the IAEA, making it harder for inspectors to detect such activities. Furthermore, accessing sensitive military-related sites is essential to detect secret warhead designs. Still, the Islamic Republic has refused to grant access to such sites to inspectors, further complicating the process.
Given the difficulty in detecting progress in this area, it is possible that the Iranian regime has continued with the project and resolved the technical challenges involved in warhead design.
Had the Biden administration taken a more robust approach toward the Islamic Republic, the regime would not have made such significant progress in its nuclear program.
The absence of a strong and assertive response to the nuclear advancements has only served to embolden the regime and encourage it to push the administration on other matters, whether through conducting terrorist attacks within the United States or issuing threats of military aggression against the West.
Given their perception of Biden’s strategy as ineffective, the Islamic Republic felt emboldened to become involved in the conflict in Ukraine without fear of a forceful U.S. response. The regime has been supplying Russia with hundreds of Shahed-136 kamikaze drones, which were manufactured in Iran. These drones have been employed by the Russian military to strike urban areas and vital facilities in Ukraine, contributing to the destruction of almost half of the country’s electricity supply and depleting Ukrainian resources.
The regime’s ruinous involvement in Ukraine and the IRGC’s hostile language and threats toward the United States and Europe, as well as plotting terror attacks on American soil, ought to have solidified Western opinion and Biden’s stance that the present strategy toward Iran is inadequate and necessitates a dramatic change.
In light of the circumstances, the essential issue is what steps the United States and its European partners can take to stop Iran’s hostile actions and pursuit of nuclear weapons.
It is imperative to admit in the first place that the Islamic Republic has no intention of relinquishing its nuclear program, ending its support for the conflict in Ukraine, or halting its terrorist operations in the West and the United States. In the event of a lack of diplomatic efforts, it is crucial for Europe and the U.S. government to establish a potent and credible deterrence capable of forcing the regime to stop its nuclear pursuits. Even from the non-proliferation perspective, restoring the JCPOA at the present stage wouldn’t impede the regime’s capability to build the bomb but accelerate it.
Additionally, the Islamic Republic is confronted with multiple crises that span social, economic, political, and environmental domains. Given the deteriorating economic conditions and the lack of hope for significant reforms in Iran, it is highly likely that a fresh wave of protests could emerge in the not-too-distant future. It is of utmost importance for the U.S. government and Europe to publicly express their support for Iranian protestors and undertake concrete actions to aid Iranians in their pursuit of democracy.
Moreover, the IRGC is a terrorist group that is actively attempting to execute terrorist attacks in both the United States and Europe. Given that it has already been recognized as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the United States, the Biden administration should use its diplomatic influence to persuade European allies to also label the IRGC as such.
Finally, to exert additional pressure on the regime, it is necessary for the United States and Europe to transfer the nuclear file to the United Nations Security Council and activate the snapback provision of the JCPOA, thereby reinstating UN sanctions on Iran that were lifted after the accord’s implementation. Such a move would not only financially strain the regime but also hinder its ability to finance its repressive machinery that suppresses civilian protestors.
Any approach that falls short of implementing these measures would allow the Islamic Republic to persist with its malevolent activities.
Farhad Rezaei is a senior fellow at Philos Project.
Step Two in the budding disaster is that the White House is letting the butcher of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, broker the talks between America and Iran. As I noted last week, on one hand, Putin is a war criminal raining death and destruction on millions of civilians, and on the other hand, we trust him to make an ironclad deal that blocks the mad mullahs from getting the ultimate weapons of mass destruction.
Oh, and in consideration of Putin’s efforts for world peace, any construction work Russia does in Iran related to the nuke deal would be exempt from sanctions imposed over Ukraine. As Biden would say, no joke.
If this sounds absolutely insane, get a load of Step Three. The Biden bots are actively considering, as a bonus to the mullahs, removing the terrorist designation of their main military group, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Recall that Trump droned the longtime commander of the Guards’ elite Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American soldiers in Iraq. Soleimani had spread terror in the region for decades, yet Biden said during the 2020 campaign he would not have ordered the hit.
His objection is probably relevant to the fact that Iran added the demand about removing the terror label. They figured they were pushing on an open door with the appeaser in chief.
Reports say all the group must do is pledge to make nice and stop killing Iran’s enemies across the Middle East and a separate agreement will lift the sanctions blocking its financing, travel, etc., as if it’s the Chamber of Commerce.
The whole notion is so far off the charts that the Jewish News Syndicate reports that Israeli leaders, already unhappy about the prospect of any deal with Iran, initially refused to believe the White House would even consider giving a free pass to the Revolutionary Guards.
Convinced the proposal is real, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid issued a furious statement denouncing the group as “responsible for attacks on American civilians and American forces throughout the Middle East” and said it was “behind plans to assassinate senior American government officials.”
Bennett and Lapid continued: “The IRGC were involved in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians; they destroyed Lebanon and they are brutally oppressing Iranian civilians. They kill Jews because they are Jews, Christians because they are Christians, and Muslims because they refuse to surrender to them.”
Former American diplomats who have advised both Democrats and Republicans in the region agreed the idea stinks.
Dennis Ross tweeted that the concept “makes us look naive” and, citing the group’s recent rocket attacks in Iraq that nearly struck an American consulate, added: “For the IRGC, which admitted this week to firing rockets into Erbil, to promise to de-escalate regionally is about as credible as Putin saying Russia would not invade Ukraine.”
Ambassador Martin Indyk tweeted that removing the Guards from the terror list would be seen as a “betrayal” by many US allies who suffered from their brutal terrorism.
Nonetheless, it looks as if Biden wants to give the terrorists a pass in exchange for a vague promise. The White House has said no decision has been reached, which probably means it has but officials won’t defend it publicly until the agreement is signed.
There is one potential roadblock to all the madness, and that is the Senate. Because the entire package is new, Senate approval is required.
Many people believe it should be considered a formal treaty, which would require two-thirds support. Instead, Democrats are likely to try to use an end run similar to the one they used in 2015 to get the first deal through.
After a GOP-led filibuster effort failed, 58 to 42, the pact was deemed approved through what one critic called “brilliant political subterfuge.” That critic, Eric R. Mandel, director of the Middle East Political Information Network, writes in The Hill: “So, let’s recap: Forty-two senators were able to bind America to an agreement that should have required the votes of 66 senators for a treaty.”
If the Senate lets anything like that happen again, it will prove that Biden’s love of extremely bad ideas is contagious.
The military said that “gunmen opened fire” at an army position near the Jit junction west of Nablus, with the soldiers responding with “live fire”.
“Three armed gunmen were neutralised during the exchange of fire and an additional armed gunman surrendered himself to the forces,” the army said in a statement, noting none of the Israeli forces were wounded in the clash.
The soldiers, members of the elite infantry Golani reconnaissance unit, grabbed three M-16 rifles and a pistol used by the Palestinians, the army said.
Palestinian medical and security sources had no information on the event.
Several Palestinian armed groups had called on Tuesday for revenge for the recent deaths of six Palestinians in an Israeli army raid in the northern West Bank.
The Tel Aviv attack came just hours after Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin had called for de-escalation ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan that starts in March and the Jewish holiday of Passover in April.
Austin, following talks with Netanyahu and his counterpart Yoav Gallant during a brief visit to Israel, also called on the “Palestinian leadership to combat terrorism and to resume security cooperation and to condemn incitement”.
In Beitar Illit, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank southwest of Jerusalem, the army said bomb disposal experts had detonated a suspicious package found on a bus Thursday evening.
A Palestinian from a nearby village was arrested on Saturday for having placed an explosive device on the bus, along with four others suspected of aiding him, the army said.
Since the start of the year, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed the lives of 81 Palestinian adults and children, including militants and civilians.
Twelve Israeli civilians, including three children and one policeman, as well as one Ukrainian civilian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.
“If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, this will be a problem all of us will face. It will change the world,” he said in an English-language interview with Washington-based Iran International that was also dubbed into Persian and broadcast in Iran.
A nuclear Iran will cause “the criss-crossing of the Middle East with nuclear trip wires,” as other regimes who understand the danger of a nuclear Iran will rush to arm themselves,” Netanyahu said, using the platform to urge global action in response to Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 84%, which is close to 90% weapons grade.
Netanyahu said he had a message for “those who say, ‘Well, if we take action against Iran, we will face war’ – You will face a war if you don’t, a potentially horrible nuclear war if you don’t.”
“Iran’s nuclear program has hit a danger zone,” he said, adding that Israeli actions had delayed them by a decade, but now the program is pushing forward.The international community must deliver a strong common message to Iran, Netanyahu saidAn undated handout picture shows a missile being launched during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, obtained by Reuters on February 28, 2023. (credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
“We should tell them that if they cross over a nuclear threshold, that is something that we cannot tolerate,” he said. “We have to tell them there is a line you cannot cross, and there is a price to be paid if you do.”
The security of the world and the hopes of the Iranian people are at stake, Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu has long argued that the combination of crippling sanctions and the presence of a credible military threat is the only way to stop Iran fromproducing nuclear weapons.
“History will change if Iran will get nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that the Iranian people and Israel have a common enemy in the Islamic Republic.
To the Iranian people, “We stand with you; I stand with you,” Netanyahu said. “But now most of the world stands with you. You should know that. Do not lose heart. Be strong.”
In a terse message to the Islamic regime, he said, “We’ll be here long after you’re gone.”
Netanyahu spoke about the growing Iranian threat when he addressed the Jewish community in Rome on Thursday and said he intended to bring the matter up with the Italian prime minister.
He also discussed it with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who met with him at Ben-Gurion Airport prior to his departure to Rome on Thursday.
The US has long said it supports Israel’s right to defend itself. In Israel, however, Austin underscored that US President Joe Biden’s “preference is to explore all diplomatic avenues to ensure that we constrain Iran’s progress in this field, and so we would look to continue to work to make sure that we constrain their dangerous advances.”
Russia has been trying to use the nuclear talks to dilute sanctions against it
By Jeff Jacoby Issue Date: April 10, 2022 Updated: April 03, 2022 10:58 IST
Former US president Barack Obama never submitted his 2015 Iran nuclear deal to the senate for ratification as a treaty. Had he done so, it would have been rejected. A majority of senators opposed the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The public frowned on it, too. A Pew poll that fall found that only one in five of those surveyed backed the treaty.
Almost from the outset, Iran had violated several of the restrictions imposed by the deal. It hid information from international inspectors. It test-fired a nuclear-capable ballistic missile and declared it would accept no limitations on its missile development. Obama had pitched the deal as one that would encourage Iran to “get right with the world”, but that never came close to happening. The Islamic Republic intervened in Syria’s civil war in support of the murderous Bashar al-Assad, armed Houthi rebels in Yemen, seized two US navy vessels and humiliated their sailors, called repeatedly for the extermination of Israel, and continued to subsidise terrorist groups.
Despite that record, Joe Biden ran for president on a pledge to revive Obama’s nuclear agreement, from which the US withdrew when Donald Trump was in the White House. For months, the Biden administration has been negotiating in Vienna to strike a deal with Iran, and latest reports suggested that a return to the JCPOA was imminent.
The Wall Street Journal recently revealed that Russia, which has been a key player in the Vienna talks, was conditioning its support for a new nuclear deal on the creation of a loophole in the economic sanctions imposed by the west. Russia is demanding a written guarantee that its trade with Iran will be exempted from sanctions if the JCPOA is resurrected. But that would undermine the international financial squeeze being applied to Russia. That is a concession the Biden administration refuses to make, even to clinch an Iran deal. Meanwhile, Iran has issued a fresh reminder that it remains committed to spreading terrorism and violence across the Middle East.
On March 13, Iran fired a barrage of missiles into northern Iraq, striking near the US consulate site in Erbil. This was a deliberate violation of Iraqi sovereignty and an act of aggression against the US. Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Seth J. Frantzman observed that the consulate is not in the centre of the city, which meant that the consulate had to be specifically targeted. Tehran readily took credit for that attack. Its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it was meant as a message to Israel.
All this comes as participants in the Vienna negotiations have been warning that the new deal in the works would amount to a capitulation by the US. According to former state department official Gabriel Noronha, the Biden administration agreed “to lift sanctions on some of the regime’s worst terrorists and torturers”. Unable to condone such concessions, Noronha wrote on Twitter, three members of the US team chose to leave.
The response on Capitol Hill to these developments has been a rising tide of opposition to a new Iran deal. A bipartisan group of representatives wrote to the White House with a long list of concerns and questions about the proposed new agreement. Their bottom line was polite but blunt: “It is hard to envision supporting an agreement along the lines being publicly discussed.”
If Russia’s attempted extortion was not enough to put the Iran deal on the ropes, Iran’s recent missile attack should certainly have done so. If those do not do it, the rising tide of congressional opposition ought to. The first Iran deal was a disaster and the second was shaping up to be another. The JCPOA has been dead since 2018. It is in the world’s best interest that it stay that way.
The author is a politically conservative American journalist.