Iran threat­ens to sur­pass ura­nium lim­its in 10 days

WANTS EURO­PEAN HELP ON SANC­TIONS Pen­tagon to send 1,000 more troops to Mid­dle East

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KAREN DEYOUNG

Iran said Mon­day that its stock­pile of en­riched ura­nium will sur­pass lim­its set by the 2015 in­ter­na­tional nu­clear deal 10 days from now, un­less Euro­pean part­ners in the agree­ment do more to help it cir­cum­vent U.S. sanc­tions — a step by Tehran likely to add to grow­ing U.S.-Iran ten­sions.

The an­nounce­ment, made by the spokesman for Iran’s Atomic En­ergy Organizati­on, was the first time Tehran ex­plic­itly said it was on track to violate the agree­ment. The in­crease in both quan­tity and quality of the en­riched fuel could shorten the time, cur­rently es­ti­mated at one year, that it would take to pro­duce enough for a nu­clear weapon.

“There is still time for the Euro­pean coun­tries, but if they want more time it means that they ei­ther can’t or don’t want to honor their obli­ga­tions” un­der the deal, spokesman Behrouz Ka­mal­vandi told re­porters gath­ered at Iran’s Arak heavy-wa­ter re­ac­tor.

The Ira­nian ura­nium threat

was fol­lowed by an an­nounce­ment by act­ing de­fense sec­re­tary Patrick Shana­han that he was send­ing ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 ad­di­tional troops to the Mid­dle East “for de­fen­sive pur­poses to ad­dress air, naval, and ground­based threats.”

Pres­i­dent Trump has said re­peat­edly that his goal in Iran is “no nu­clear weapons” and that he does not want war. But events seem to be quickly mov­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tions on both counts.

The en­rich­ment an­nounce­ment fol­lowed last week’s U.S. charge of Ira­nian re­spon­si­bil­ity for at­tacks against two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

In re­sponse, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said that it is con­sid­er­ing a “full range of op­tions” be­yond the crip­pling sanc­tions it al­ready has im­posed, in­clud­ing on Iran’s oil ex­ports. “Of course, of course,” Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo told CBS’s “Face the Na­tion” on Sun­day when asked if those op­tions in­clude mil­i­tary ac­tion.

Euro­pean al­lies, part­ners in the nu­clear agree­ment that Trump dropped out of last year, re­main stuck in the mid­dle. They want to stay in the deal and con­tinue trad­ing and in­vest­ing in Iran. But ef­forts to per­suade their own skit­tish busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties and to use gov­ern­ment cof­fers to ar­range fi­nanc­ing, while avoid­ing sanc­tions and the U.S. dol­lar, have proved dif­fi­cult. If Iran seriously breaches the bound­aries of the agree­ment, it would be al­most im­pos­si­ble for them to stay in it.

While they are ex­as­per­ated with Iran, the Euro­peans are per­haps even more an­noyed with Trump, who has re­peat­edly tested their al­le­giance and trust. On Iran, France, Ger­many and the Euro­pean Union be­lieve the U.S. pres­i­dent has put them in an im­pos­si­ble po­si­tion — and made the Ira­nian threat far worse than it was a year ago for no good rea­son. Of the Euro­pean part­ners to the deal, only Bri­tain so far has ac­cepted that it is “al­most cer­tain” that Iran at­tached mines to the oil tankers last week.

As the ad­min­is­tra­tion tries to present con­vinc­ing proof, the Pen­tagon on Mon­day re­leased sev­eral pho­to­graphs it said showed Iran’s in­volve­ment more clearly than a grainy video re­leased last week.

A de­fense of­fi­cial said that Ma­rine Gen. Ken­neth F. McKenzie Jr., the chief of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, will meet with Pom­peo on Tues­day at U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand head­quar­ters in Tampa to dis­cuss Mid­dle East se­cu­rity.

“It would be fool­ish to quar­rel with the as­sess­ment that things haven’t gone well” over the past sev­eral weeks, a West­ern of­fi­cial said of the U.S.-Euro­pean breach. To dis­cuss the sensitive is­sue, the of­fi­cial spoke on the con­di­tion that nei­ther his po­si­tion nor coun­try would be re­ported.

There is a wide­spread con­sen­sus that the only way out of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is for Iran and the United States to ne­go­ti­ate. But it is hard to see a path in that di­rec­tion, as each seems in­tent on show­ing it can in­flict pain on the other, and both are edg­ing ever closer to the brink of war.

“The pres­i­dent and the ad­min­is­tra­tion keep say­ing that they’re keen to talk to the Ira­ni­ans. The Ira­ni­ans are the ones so far re­fus­ing to do it. But that’s the way for­ward,” the West­ern of­fi­cial said.

In both coun­tries, the gov­ern­ment is seen as di­vided be­tween those who agree with the need for ne­go­ti­a­tions and those who ap­pear to be­lieve war is in­evitable, and per­haps even de­sir­able.

Iran’s revo­lu­tion­ary gov­ern­ment is the sub­ject of con­stant out­side anal­y­sis to de­ter­mine the ex­tent of di­vi­sion be­tween its re­li­gious fig­ures and its more con­ven­tional po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. Each has its own mil­i­tary forces, with the Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps navy, un­der Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, con­trol­ling sep­a­rate parts of the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hor­muz and Gulf of Oman from the Ira­nian navy.

It was the IRGC navy, ac­cord­ing to the ad­min­is­tra­tion, that at­tacked the oil tankers, just as its land forces con­trol Shi­ite mili­tias in Iraq, Syria and Le­banon.

In Wash­ing­ton, Trump has de­rided the nu­clear deal with Iran as a fail­ure of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, and said that his own pres­sure is de­signed to bring Tehran to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble to forge a new agree­ment.

It is a tac­tic that he be­lieves has been suc­cess­ful with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who was a tar­get of es­ca­lat­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion threats — cou­pled with es­ca­lat­ing North Korean ac­tions — un­til the two agreed to sum­mit diplomacy. But af­ter two meet­ings, in Sin­ga­pore and Hanoi, Kim has not budged on de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, and Trump’s “max­i­mum pres­sure” sanc­tions against Py­ongyang re­main.

North Korea al­ready has a nu­clear weapons arse­nal. With Iran — which al­legedly sought to build a weapon un­til it shelved any such as­pi­ra­tions, at least tem­po­rar­ily, as part of the 2015 ac­cord — the idea is to prevent it from ac­quir­ing a weapon.

Trump’s be­lief that he can get a bet­ter deal from Iran than Pres­i­dent Barack Obama did re­mains to be tested. And ac­cord­ing to some ex­perts, his ad­min­is­tra­tion is the main im­ped­i­ment to do­ing so.

“Trump’s prob­lem is that he has to get his own house in or­der,” said Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hop­kins School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. Nasr says that Pom­peo and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton are part of that prob­lem. Both are long­time Iran hawks who, in Bolton’s case, said in the past that bomb­ing Iran and regime change are the only vi­able way to achieve U.S. se­cu­rity goals.

“Ira­ni­ans don’t credit what Trump says so long as Bolton is his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser,” Nasr said. “It’s not a mat­ter of good cop versus bad cop,” he said. To the Ira­ni­ans, “these are peo­ple who are ide­o­log­i­cally some­place else al­to­gether. Pom­peo, with lan­guage so over the top, makes it dif­fi­cult for the Ira­ni­ans to en­gage.”

Nasr and oth­ers, sketch­ing out ways that a ne­go­ti­a­tion could be­gin, said that Iran would have to abide by the nu­clear deal lim­its while giv­ing Trump some­thing that he could tout as a po­lit­i­cal vic­tory, per­haps an ex­change of pris­on­ers. In Jan­uary 2016, as the nu­clear agree­ment was about to go into ef­fect, Iran re­leased four U.S. cit­i­zen pris­on­ers — al­though seven Ira­ni­ans be­ing held in U.S. prisons for sanc­tions vi­o­la­tions de­clined to re­turn home.

Un­til re­cently, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has counted on the Euro­pean al­lies, who have main­tained diplo­matic re­la­tions with Iran, to serve as in­ter­locu­tors with Tehran. But as their stock has fallen in Ira­nian eyes, Trump has tried to en­list as con­duits both the pres­i­dent of Switzer­land, which fa­cil­i­tates U.S. diplo­matic mat­ters with Iran, and Ja­pa­nese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, who vis­ited Tehran last week.

But there was no inkling of any Swiss suc­cess, and Abe’s meet­ing with Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, over­lapped with the Gulf of Oman at­tack, in which one of the tar­geted tankers was a Ja­pa­nese ship. Khamenei told the Ja­pa­nese leader that he saw no value in the mes­sage he said Abe brought from Trump, “and I do not have any re­ply for him, now or in the fu­ture,” Ira­nian state me­dia re­ported.

Trump, who just days ear­lier said he would welcome the chance to talk to Tehran, quickly dis­owned any part of the ex­change. While he ap­pre­ci­ated Abe’s ef­fort, the pres­i­dent said on Twit­ter, “I per­son­ally feel that it is too soon to even think about mak­ing a deal. They are not ready, and nei­ther are we!”

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