As Hopes for Nuclear Deal Fade, Iran Rebuild and Risks Grow


Over the last 20 months, Israeli intelligence agents have assassinated Iran’s top nuclear scientist and detonated major explosions at four Iranian nuclear and missile facilities, all in the hopes of crippling the centrifuges that produce nuclear fuel and delaying the day when Tehran’s new government is able to build a bomb.

However, according to American intelligence officials and foreign inspectors, the Iranians have promptly reactivated the facilities, frequently by replacing older machinery with newer machines that can enrich uranium at a far faster rate.

Production restarted in late summer after a company that created essential centrifuge parts suffered what appeared to be a debilitating explosion in late spring, destroying much of the parts inventory as well as the cameras and sensors deployed by international inspectors.

It’s been dubbed Tehran’s Build Back Better initiative by one senior American official. That attack and counterpunch are only part of the escalation between Iran and the West in recent months, a conflict that is likely to erupt once more in Vienna.

Iranian negotiators are to meet with their European, Chinese, and Russian counterparts at the end of the month for the first time since President Ebrahim Raisi took office this summer to debate the future of the 2015 nuclear accord, which severely constrained Iran’s operations.

According to numerous individuals aware with the behind-the-scenes conversations, American officials have advised their Israeli counterparts that while repeated assaults on Iranian nuclear sites may be tactically pleasing, they are ultimately futile.

Israeli officials have stated that they have no intention of backing down, dismissing concerns that they may be promoting a hasty restoration of the program. This is one of several instances where the US and Israel disagree on the virtues of diplomacy over force.

American officials will be in Vienna, but not in the room, because Iran has refused to meet with them since President Donald Trump walked out of the agreement more than three years ago, leaving it in shambles.

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While those officials appeared confident five months ago that the 2015 pact was on the verge of being restored, with the language substantially agreed upon, they return to Vienna significantly more skeptical than when they last left it in mid-June. Today, that text appears to be dead, and President Biden’s plan to re-enter the accord in his first year and then develop something “longer and stronger” appears to be fading fast.

Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s newly designated top nuclear negotiator, did not refer to the impending meetings as nuclear negotiations at all, indicating a shift in mindset.

Officials in the Biden administration think they may be obliged to announce at some time that Iran’s nuclear program is simply too advanced for anybody to return to the 2015 deal safely. Mr. Malley said in a briefing last month, “This is not a chronological clock; it’s a technology clock.” “The accord will have been so degraded at some time,” he warned, “because Iran will have achieved advances that cannot be restored.” “You can’t resurrect a dead body,” he continued.

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