As Australia looks to join a coalition in Iran, the risks are many



The Morrison government must have a plan for Australia’s involvement if the “peacekeeping” descends into hostility.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated Australia will join a multinational peacekeeping force to protect freedom of navigation in the Gulf, but at this stage he has not indicated what form Australian participation might take.

Speaking to reporters after a conversation overnight with newly-installed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Morrison said Australia was “looking very carefully at an international, multinational initiative” to provide a peacekeeping role.

But given recent experience of Australia too hastily joining an American-led Iraq invasion of 2003, with disastrous consequences, Morrison and his advisers need to ask some hard questions – and set clear limits on any Australian involvement.

It is not clear the extent to which the prime minister and his team have interrogated the risks involved before acceding to an American request for some form of military contribution to policing one of the world’s most strategically important waterways.




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Iran and US refusing to budge as tit-for-tat ship seizures in Middle East raise the temperature


Nor is it clear what form Australian engagement might take to deter Iran’s threats to tanker traffic. This includes its seizing of a British-flagged vessel.

Options include sending a warship or warships to join peacekeeping patrols under American command, or stationing surveillance aircraft in the region to monitor ship movements through the Strait of Hormuz.

The operative words in the above paragraph are “American command”.

Any peacekeeping mission might be presented as a multinational exercise, but in effect the preponderance of American power, including an aircraft carrier battle group, means Americans would be in command.

In the Iraq invasion of 2003, Australians operated under broad American oversight, as did the British at considerable cost to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s reputation.

This is not an argument against Australian involvement in protecting a vital sea lane through which passes one-third of the world’s seaborne tradeable oil every day. Rather, it is to make the case for extreme caution.

Morrison and his team need to ask themselves whether there is a risk of being drawn into an American exercise in regime change in Iran. What might be the limits on Australia’s involvement should hostilities broke out in the Gulf?

What would be the rules of engagement? What might be an exit strategy?

What, for example, would be Australia’s response if a warship involved in a peacekeeping exercise was damaged – or sunk – in a hostile act? This includes hitting a mine bobbing in the Gulf waterway, or a limpet mine stuck on the side of a vessel.

We have seen this before in 1984, when traffic in the Gulf was brought to a standstill by Iran floating mines into busy sea lanes.

What would Australia’s response be in the case of a surveillance aircraft or drone being shot down if it strayed into Iranian airspace?

In other words, there are multiple possibilities of conflict escalating given the concentration of firepower that is planned for the Gulf.

The aim of any international mission to which Australia attaches itself should be to de-escalate tensions in the world’s most volatile region. A military presence cannot – and should not – be detached from a political imperative.

That imperative is to draw Iran back into discussions on a revitalised Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Under this 2015 plan, the Iranians agreed to freeze their nuclear program under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision.

Iran was complying with that agreement before US President Donald Trump recklessly abrogated it in 2018 and re-applied sanctions. These have brought Iran’s economy to its knees.




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US-Iran conflict escalates again, raising the threat of another war in the Middle East


Trump’s abandonment of the JCPOA against the wishes of the other signatories, including the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, was as inexplicable as it was damaging.

Now, the world is facing a crisis in the Gulf of American making, and one that Washington is asking its allies to police.

Morrison has been equivocal about the JCPOA. He would be well advised to reiterate Australia’s backing for the agreement as a signal to the Americans that Australia stands with its allies in its support of international obligations.

These cannot – and should not – be ripped up at the whim of a president who seems to have been motivated largely by a desire to undo the useful work of his predecessor.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this has been an act of self-harm to American interests and those of its allies. It is a crisis that need not have occurred.

Viewed from the distance of Canberra, Morrison and his advisers might have difficulty fully comprehending the risks involved in a potential escalation of tensions in the Gulf.

In a useful paper, the International Crisis Group warns of the dangers of an escalation of hostilities due to a mistake or accident in a highly charged environment.

As Iran Project Director Ali Vaez puts it:

Just as in Europe in 1914 a single incident has the potential of sparking a military confrontation that could, in turn, engulf the entire region.

What should be kept in mind in all of this is that it is not simply stresses in the Gulf itself that are threatening stability, but a host of other Middle East flashpoints. These include ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and heightened tensions between Iran and a Sunni majority led by Saudi Arabia.

Then there is the drumbeat on Capitol Hill. Hawkish Republican lawmakers agitate for pre-emptive strikes against Iran in the mistaken belief such an exercise would be clinical and short-lived.

Further destabilisation of the entire region would result, and possibly all-out war.

The ICG is urging America to redouble its efforts to establish a dialogue with Iran to bring about a resumption of negotiations on a revised JCPOA. This would require Washington making a down payment in good faith by easing sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

It is not clear the Trump administration would be willing or able to make these concessions.

Morrison could do worse than argue the case for “redo” of the JCPOA when he is in Washington next month on a state visit.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Morrison looking at details for commitment to protect shipping


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has flagged the government is working with the United States and Britain on details for an Australian role in helping safeguard shipping passages in the Middle East.

Morrison told a news conference in Townsville on Thursday he had spoken to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday night and “indicated to him that we were looking very carefully at our participation in this initiative”.

Morrison stressed it would be a multinational operation.

This is not a unilateral initiative by any one country, and it is about safe shipping lanes, it is about deescalating tensions and making sure that the current situation does not worsen.

He said the government had not “made any decisions on this yet. We want to be fully satisfied about the operational arrangements that are in place”. It was very early days and it would be a while before things came together.




Read more:
Iran and US refusing to budge as tit-for-tat ship seizures in Middle East raise the temperature


In practice though, the government has obviously agreed in principle, subject to satisfactory arrangements being worked out. Its role is somewhat complicated, however, by the fact it does not have a ship in the region.

The US’s request for Australian assistance was discussed at the weekend AUSMIN talks.

Morrison said there were other countries which were in a similar position to Australia – “engaging before making any full decisions”.

He stressed the maritime issue “should be clearly divorced from the broader issues that relate to Iran and the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the nuclear deal that the US pulled out of last year].

“That’s a separate issue. This is about safe shipping lanes and ensuring that we can restore at least some stability to what is a very unstable part of the world at the moment,” Morrison said.

“There has been a very disturbing series of events that we’ve seen in the Straits of Hormuz, and freedom of navigation and safe shipping lanes is very important to the global economy and that is a matter that is as important in that part of the world as it is in many other parts of the world.”

China hits back at Liberal chair of security committee

The Chinese authorities have accused Liberal MP Andrew Hastie of “Cold-War mentality and ideological bias”, after he drew on the example of France’s “catastrophic” failure to comprehend the threat of a rising Nazi Germany in an article warning about the dangers from a rising China.

Hastie, chair of the powerful parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The West once believed that economic liberalisation would naturally lead to democratisation in China. This was our Maginot Line. It would keep us safe, just as the French believed their series of steel and concrete forts would guard them against the German advance in 1940. But their thinking failed catastrophically. The French had failed to appreciate the evolution of mobile warfare. Like the French, Australia has failed to see how mobile our authoritarian neighbour has become.

Even worse, we ignore the role that ideology plays in China’s actions across the Indo-Pacific region. We keep using our own categories to understand its actions, such as its motivations for building ports and roads, rather than those used by the Chinese Communist Party.

The West has made this mistake before. Commentators once believed Stalin’s decisions were the rational actions of a realist great power.

Hastie referred to action Australia had taken such as foreign espionage legislation and more closely monitoring infrastructure.

But “right now our greatest vulnerability lies not in our infrastructure, but in our thinking. That intellectual failure makes us institutionally weak. If we don’t understand the challenge ahead for our civil society, in our parliaments, in our universities, in our private enterprises, in our charities — our little platoons — then choices will be made for us. Our sovereignty, our freedoms, will be diminished.”




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A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy said in a statement:

We strongly deplore the Australian federal MP Andrew Hastie’s rhetoric on “China threat” which lays bare his Cold-War mentality and ideological bias. It goes against the world trend of peace, cooperation and development. It is detrimental to China-Australian relations.

History has proven and will continue to prove that China’s peaceful development is an opportunity, not a threat to the world.

We urge certain Australian politicians to take off their “colored lens” and view China’s development path in an objective and rational way. They should make efforts to promote mutual trust between China and Australia, instead of doing the opposite.

Morrison played down the Hastie comments, noting he was a backbencher not a minister.

We will continue to work to have a cooperative arrangement with China. Of course, there is much to be gained from that relationship, particularly from the trade side, but let’s not forget that relationship is far broader than just the economic one.

But equally, our relationship with the United States is a very special one indeed and there is a deep connection on values and that’s of no surprise to anyone.

So we believe we can continue to manage these relationships together, but I don’t think anyone is in any way unaware of the challenges that present there.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia likely to tick off on US request to help protect shipping in Middle East



Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, and Australian Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds at the AUSMIN talks in Sydney.
AAP/Rick Rycroft

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government is expected soon to approve a commitment in response to the United States’ request for allies to help protect shipping as tensions with Iran remain high.

Speaking at a joint news conference after the AUSMIN talks, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds on Sunday said the government was giving the request “very serious consideration”.

Although Reynolds said no decision had yet been made, it would be highly unlikely the request would not receive a favourable answer.

Meanwhile, on Sunday it was reported that Iran state TV said the country’s naval forces had seized another foreign tanker and that seven sailors had been detained. The Iranians said the vessel, carrying 700,000 litres of fuel, was smuggling the fuel to Persian Gulf Arab states.

It is not clear what form Australian assistance would take.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously said, when talking about a possible request, “it’s not unheard of to have Australian frigates in that part of the world engaged in maritime operations”.

However Australia does not currently have a ship in the region. An alternative would be to help with aircraft.

Reynolds said the Australian government’s position was very clear.

“We are deeply concerned by the heightened tensions in the region and we strongly condemn the attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Oman,” she said.

“The request that the United States has made is a very serious one and it is a very complex one. That’s why we are currently giving this request very serious consideration.”

US secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the news conference that the US had been very clear that the purpose of the proposed operations had been twofold.

“First of all, to promote the principle of freedom of navigation and freedom of commence through all waterways.

“Number two, is to prevent any provocative actions by Iran that might lead to some misunderstanding or miscalculation that could lead to a conflict.

“When we first advanced this idea several weeks ago, we had good response from some of our allies and partners. We continue to develop that idea,” he said.

The AUSMIN talks were attended by Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Reynolds, Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper.

Esper also met Morrison on Sunday afternoon and Morrison had Pompeo to dinner on Sunday night.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Risk of shooting war with Iran grows after decades of economic warfare by the US



Iranian officials show off the U.S. drone they shot out of the sky.
Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency

David Cortright, University of Notre Dame

Many are worried about the risk of war between the U.S. and Iran. But the truth is, the U.S. has been fighting with Iran for decades in an economic war waged via sanctions – which is about to get a lot worse.

Concerns about a war of guns, warplanes and missiles grew after Iran shot down a U.S. spy drone amid already worsening tensions. President Donald Trump says he ordered a retaliatory strike in response – only to reverse course at the last minute.

Whether or not a shooting war does break out, the United States’ economic war has already been intensifying over the past year. On June 24, Trump imposed “hard-hitting” new sanctions on Iran in response to the attack on the drone.

Existing sanctions have already devastated innocent Iranians. Not only that, they’ve undermining long-accepted principles of international cooperation and diplomacy, a topic I’ve been researching for the past 25 years.

Carrots and sticks

Many nations have recognized that sanctions work best as tools of persuasion rather than punishment.

Sanctions by themselves rarely succeed in changing the behavior of a targeted state. They are often combined with diplomacy in a carrots-and-sticks bargaining framework designed to achieve negotiated solutions.

Indeed, the offer to lift sanctions can be a persuasive inducement in convincing a targeted regime to alter its policies, as was the case when successful negotiations involving the U.S. and Europe led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. That deal ended sanctions in exchange for Tehran shutting down much of its nuclear production capacity.

A year ago Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord and not only reimposed previous sanctions but added further restrictions, including so-called secondary sanctions that penalize other countries for continuing to trade with Iran.

Protesters hold anti-war signs outside the White House.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Multilateral vs unilateral sanctions

In an increasingly globalized world, unilateral sanctions like these – in which one country goes it alone – are rarely effective at achieving their end result, which in this case is regime change.

Multilateral sanctions involving several or many countries have greater impact and make it more difficult for targeted individuals or regimes to find alternative sources of oil or other goods. And getting authorization through the United Nations or regional organizations provides legal and political cover.

When the U.N. Security Council imposed targeted sanctions on Iran in 2006 over its illicit nuclear activities, for example, members of the European Union were able to join the U.S. and other countries in applying pressures that brought Iran to the bargaining table. That’s what led to the negotiated nuclear deal nine years later.

The U.S. circumvented this voluntary multilateral process when it withdrew from the accord and unilaterally imposed “extraterritorial secondary sanction.” These barred nations or companies that buy Iranian oil or other sanctioned products from doing business in the U.S.

Although most countries disagree with the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal and some reject such sanctions as an infringement on their own sovereignty, they are powerless. They cannot afford to lose access to dollar financing and the U.S. economy and thus are forced against their will to do Washington’s bidding.

Iranians pay the price

And the Iranian people are paying the price.

Oil exports and national income are dropping, inflation is rising and economic hardships are mounting. The Iranian rial lost more than 60% of its value in the last year, eroding the savings of ordinary Iranians.

Life is becoming increasingly difficult for working families struggling to make ends meet. There are indications that the new sanctions are inhibiting the flow of humanitarian goods and contributing to shortages in specialized medicines to treat ailments such as multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Cargill and other global food giants have halted shipments to Iran because of the lack of available financing.

Punishment of the Iranian people seems to be a deliberate policy. When asked recently how the administration expects sanctions to change the behavior of the Iranian government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged they won’t be able to do that and instead suggested it’s up to the people to “change the government.”

In other words, the pain of sanctions will force people to rise up and overthrow their leaders. This is as naïve as it is cynical. It reflects the long-discredited theory that sanctioned populations will direct their frustrations and anger at national leaders and demand a change in policy or the regime. Sanctions have never worked for this purpose.

The more likely result is the classic “rally around the flag” effect. Iranians are critical of their government’s economic policies, but they also blame Trump for the hardships resulting from sanctions. Governments subjected to sanctions are adept at blaming economic hardships on their external adversaries, as Iran’s religious and elected leaders are doing now against the United States.

Tehran is likely to respond to tightening sanctions by giving greater authority to companies associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a major branch of the Iranian military, further empowering the very hard-line forces Washington claims to oppose.

The White House is ignoring these realities and adding to the already draconian sanctions, while threatening and making preparations for military strikes, hoping that economic pain and military pressure will make Iran’s leaders cry uncle. There is no sign of surrender yet from Tehran, nor is there likely to be, until the two sides pull back from the brink and agree to negotiate a diplomatic settlement.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 23, 2019.The Conversation

David Cortright, Director of Policy Studies, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Iran and US refusing to budge as tit-for-tat ship seizures in Middle East raise the temperature



Footage released by Iran’s Sepah News reportedly shows Revolutionary Guard Corps boarding the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero.
EPA/Sepah news handout

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

In a world run ragged by multiple crises and an unravelling of American global leadership, military confrontation in the Gulf poses risks that extend well beyond the region itself.

One of the greater risks is to a global economy dependent on the continued flow of oil from Middle East producers in the Persian Gulf.

A Gulf crisis is the last thing the world needs when confidence between Washington and its European allies has been undermined by an unpredictable Donald Trump administration.




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US-Iran conflict escalates again, raising the threat of another war in the Middle East


Tensions between the US and China over multiple trade and other issues are not helping.

These are high octane moments in the Gulf as America and its allies confront difficult choices in how to deal with an Iran that has clearly decided to test the limits of western tolerance.

Iran’s seizure in international sea-lanes of a British-owned tanker in the Gulf of Oman at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf itself is highly provocative.

Britain, with Boris Johnson likely to be installed as its new prime minister this week, is facing a test of its resolve. Its ability to navigate its way through this crisis carries with it real risks of wider conflict.

Detention of the Stena Impero in retaliation for Britain’s seizure earlier this month off Gibraltar of the Iranian oil carrier, the Grace 1, represents a significant escalation of what had been a war of words between Tehran and London.

Iran’s wider purpose is to raise the costs to the west of maintaining security in the Persian Gulf in response to American-imposed sanctions that are strangling the Iranian economy.

Attacks on oil tankers and facilities in the Gulf over the past month are widely attributed to Iran or its proxies. These attacks have reminded the international community that one-third of the world’s seaborne oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz every day.

Iran has the ability, if only temporarily, to shut down a choke point that is critical to the well-being of the global economy. Interference with oil shipments from the Gulf would prompt a spike in prices and prove a drag on slowing economic activity globally.

Tehran’s regime is playing a high stakes game born of its worsening economy. American-imposed sanctions are doing real harm to livelihoods and well-being of Iranians.

Reports of sporadic civil unrest over rising prices and shortages attest to the challenges facing the regime.

Sanctions are crippling Iran’s ability to export its oil, overwhelmingly its main source of foreign exchange. The US says that since oil sanctions were tightened last November, Iran has lost something like US$10 billion in revenue foregone.

The International Monetary Fund reports that Iran’s economy shrank by 3.9% last year. It is expected to shrink by a further 6% this year. Unemployment has risen sharply.

At the same time, the value of the Iranian rial against the US dollar has collapsed by 60% in the past year, adding to cost of imports and fueling inflation.

There are reported shortages of imported medicines.

It is against this background that Tehran has clearly embarked on a campaign to remind the West of its ability to increase the costs of maintaining regional security.

Tehran’s message is this is not a zero game.

For Washington and its allies, the question becomes: how does the international community respond to Iranian provocations?

Does it allow the US, egged on by the Sunni Gulf state like Saudi Arabia, to lead it into a military confrontation with Iran, or does it seek to deescalate potential conflict?

This is a question the federal government needs to ponder since it is likely Australia would be asked to make a contribution in the event of a continued deterioration of the security environment.

Given the stakes involved, the wisest course would seem to be reopening discussions with Tehran about Gulf security and an American-imposed sanctions regime.

However, this will be easier said than done.

Washington would need to unscramble an ill-advised decision to abrogate a 2015 agreement to freeze Iran’s nuclear program. The US reimposed sanctions that had been eased under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated painstakingly over some months by the Barack Obama administration.




Read more:
Trouble in the Gulf as US-Iran dispute threatens to escalate into serious conflict


Trump’s decision to abandon the JCPOA and reimpose sanctions is what has brought the Gulf to the brink. If conflict results, this will be a heavy price for capricious American policymaking.

Iran was complying with its obligations under the JCPOA. But it has now indicated it will resume enriching uranium above agreed levels.

Faced with the possibility of renewed conflict in the Gulf, Trump himself has offered to talk to Iranian leaders “without preconditions”. Tehran has said it will not negotiate without an easing of sanctions.

Overcoming this impasse will require concessions Washington has not yet indicated it is prepared to make. In the meantime, the risk of wider conflict grows.

This is just the scenario Middle East experts have been warning about.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Iran’s leader is losing his grasp on power. Does this mean diplomacy is doomed?



President Hassan Rouhani came to office with an olive branch, but his hard-liners rivals now appear to be setting the political agenda in Iran.
Iranian Presidency Office Handout/EPA

Shahram Akbarzadeh, Deakin University

Iran’s announcement last Sunday that it would break the limit on uranium enrichment agreed to in the nuclear deal with world powers was not a surprise. It came hot on the heels of another breach only a few days earlier on the 300-kilogram limit agreed to in the deal on stockpiles of low-enriched uranium.

Iran had warned Europe that it would start dismantling the nuclear accord if the promised economic benefits of the agreement did not materialise. A year after the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, and imposed very strict sanctions on Iran, the Iranian leadership appears ready to give up on finding a diplomatic solution to this deadlock.




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Iran’s nuclear program breaches limits for uranium enrichment: 4 key questions answered


This bodes ill for the future of President Hassan Rouhani and regional security. A weakened Rouhani will find it difficult to fend off his hard-line critics in Iran and keep the nuclear deal alive.

With every step away from diplomacy, the hard-liners have taken a step forward and appear to be now setting the political agenda in Iran.

Rouhani’s riskiest gamble

The JCPOA was signed in 2015 between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany.

This was Rouhani’s greatest achievement and riskiest gamble. He faced the ire of hard-liners in Iran who continue to have a formidable presence in the parliament, as well as the security and judicial system.

They accused Rouhani of selling out Iranian sovereignty and betraying the ideals of the Islamic revolution by scaling back Iran’s nuclear program and subjecting it to an unprecedented international monitoring regime.

Rouhani nonetheless pushed through his agenda of finding a diplomatic solution to Iran’s isolation because he believed that years of sanctions and mismanagement had pushed the Iranian economy to the brink of collapse.

He staked his political fortunes on bringing Iran out of isolation.

The JCPOA was the compromise deal to assure the international community that Iran would not pursue a nuclear weapons program in return for sanctions relief to revive the Iranian economy.

But US President Donald Trump never liked the deal. He campaigned against it and often questioned Iran’s commitment to it, though the UN International Atomic Energy Agency consistently reported on Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement.




Read more:
Why Donald Trump is backing the US into a corner on Iran


Despite much lobbying by European powers, Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and reimposed severe unilateral sanctions on Iran, and anyone dealing with Iran.

Losing control to the hard-liners

Trump’s decision to tear up the nuclear deal was seen by the conservatives in Iran as a vindication of their feelings towards the United States. They lambasted Rouhani for putting his trust in the US.

In May 2019, the situation got even more tense after Trump announced that US warships were sailing to the Persian Gulf to counter potential Iranian hostility. No intelligence regarding a suspected Iranian threat was shared.

The escalation of tensions following the alleged Iranian attack on two oil tankers last month, and the downing of a US reconnaissance drone by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards has made it very hard to find a diplomatic solution. Drums of war are silencing voices of diplomacy.

While Rouhani came to office with an olive branch, he realises that he has effectively lost the political contest against his hard-line critics. He has another two years in office, but is at risk of losing the presidency if the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who yields ultimate power in Iran, is disillusioned with his performance.

This realisation has seriously undermined Rouhani, who appears to have adopted the language and posture of the hard-liners in relation to the US. It is unclear if this can save him in office, or embolden his critics who seem to be gaining significant momentum.

In May, the Supreme Leader appointed a battle-hardened General as the commander of the Basij paramilitary force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards that suppresses domestic dissent.




Read more:
Iran nuclear deal is hanging by a thread – so will Islamic Republic now develop a bomb?


This was a significant development for the hard-liners in case they seek to assert political control. Basij has been a ruthless security force inside Iran and can provide the necessary street support for a potential coup against Rouhani.

Another notable military commander is General Qasem Soleimani, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Iran due to his performance as commander of Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards’ international arm operating mostly in Iraq and Syria to defeat the Islamic State.

He is considered a war hero by the public and now has the confidence of the Supreme Leader. This is an ominous development for Rouhani.

A woman carrying a picture of Qasem Soleimani during an anti-US demonstration in Tehran earlier this year.
Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

Breaking with the tenets of the nuclear deal was also clearly not Rouhani’s objective, as it would reverse his hard-won diplomatic gains and discredit his legacy.

Iran’s recent breaches on uranium enrichment and stockpiles were incremental steps to exert pressure on European leaders to adhere to their promises of sanctions relief. This strategy was predicated on the assumption that Europe has more to lose with the collapse of JCPOA than a rift with the United States. It can only be described as a desperate move, showing that Rouhani is fast running out of options.

The window of opportunity for a diplomatic solution is fast closing and the alternative scenario of the return of a combative government in Tehran is looking more and more unavoidable. This would shut the doors to diplomacy and increase the chance of confrontation with the West.

Trump accused Iran of not wanting to sit at the table. He may be fulfilling his own prophecy.


An earlier version of this article implied General Qasem Soleimani was the leader of the Basij security force, when he is actually the commander of the Quds Force.The Conversation

Shahram Akbarzadeh, Professor of Middle East & Central Asian Politics, Deputy Director (International), Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Iran’s nuclear program breaches limits for uranium enrichment: 4 key questions answered


Martin Sevior, University of Melbourne

Iranian officials this week revealed that the country’s nuclear program will break the limit for uranium enrichment, set under the terms of the deal struck in 2015 between Iran and world powers including the United States under former president Barack Obama.




Read more:
Uranium, plutonium, heavy water … why Iran’s nuclear deal matters


What is uranium enrichment?

The nucleus of a uranium atom is a very rich source of energy. The splitting of a uranium atomic nucleus – a process called nuclear fission – produces more than 20 million times more energy than a strong chemical reaction such as burning a molecule of natural gas.

Atomic nuclei are made of two types of subatomic particles: protons and neutrons. All uranium atoms contain 92 protons, but can contain varying numbers of neutrons. Each specific combination of neutrons and protons is called an isotope. Isotopes are named according to the total number of protons and neutrons – hence, uranium-238 (U-238) contains 92 protons and 146 neutrons, whereas U-235 contains three fewer neutrons.

U-235 undergoes nuclear fission more readily than U-238, making it more valuable as a source of nuclear energy. What’s more, only U-235 can sustain a “nuclear chain reaction”, in which enough neutrons are released during nuclear fission to trigger fission in neighbouring atomic nuclei. This process is necessary to efficiently release large amounts of energy – either in a controlled way, such as in a nuclear power station, or in an uncontrolled explosion such as in a nuclear bomb.

Natural uranium, however, contains just 0.7% U-235, and 99.3% U-238. Commercial nuclear reactors designs generally require uranium fuel with U-235 concentrations of between 3.5% and 5%.

Uranium enrichment is the process of artificially increasing the proportion of U-235 in a sample of uranium to meet this requirement.

What does the process involve?

The technical details of uranium enrichment technology are highly classified, but we know the most efficient technique uses a process called centrifuge enrichment.

This involves reacting the uranium with fluorine to form a gas called uranium hexafluoride (UF₆). This is then spun at very high speeds in a series of centrifuges.

UF₆ molecules containing the heavier U-238 isotope are forced to the outside of the centrifuge, where they are removed. The remaining gas is thus richer in U-235, hence the term “enrichment”.

By feeding the mixture through a succession of centrifuges, the uranium becomes successively more enriched. Higher levels of uranium enrichment are therefore more expensive and time-consuming.

A typical 1-gigawatt commercial nuclear reactor contains one reactor and uses around 27 tonnes of enriched uranium fuel per year, although this depends on the quality of the nuclear fuel used. In a commercial market this costs around US$40 million, which is a small fraction of the US$450 million revenue that would be generated if we assume an electricity price of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Does it inevitably lead to weapons?

The technical details of nuclear weapons development are more closely guarded still. But we know that a uranium fission weapon requires tens of kilograms of highly enriched uranium, with U-235 concentrations of around 90%.

While the level of enrichment is much higher, there is no difference in the equipment used to make weapons-grade uranium, as opposed to nuclear fuel.

The same facilities used to produce 27 tonnes of 3.6% U-235 fuel for a commercial reactor could conceivably also be used to make one tonne of U-235 enriched to 90% – roughly enough for 20 nuclear weapons.

However, the post-processing of the UF₆ to make nuclear fuel is considerably different to that required for a weapon. In the case of nuclear fuel, it is formed into uranium oxide pellets and encased in zirconium alloy tubes. Weapons require pure uranium metal.

What limit has Iran breached, and what does it stand to gain?

Under the treaty, Iran agreed to enrich uranium to no more than 3.6%, and to only stockpile enough fuel to run its single commercial nuclear reactor for one year.

It has already breached the stockpiling limit, and has now broken the enrichment limit.




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The Iran nuclear deal could still be saved, experts say


In theory, these breaches could allow Iran’s nuclear reactor to run more economically and for a longer time before the fuel needs to be replaced. However, these higher-enrichment fuels require very specialised processing, and only a handful of companies worldwide have the technology to do this. The waste handling required for the spent fuel is also more sophisticated.

Whatever Iran’s ultimate aim, and despite the diplomatic tensions, its uranium enrichment levels are not yet near those required for nuclear weapons.The Conversation

Martin Sevior, Associate Professor of Physics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.