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Something is moving between Iran and the US. But what happens to Dimona?

It seems that the ballet has started again. One step forward, one step back, one step to the side. We are talking about Iran, of course, and the next negotiation that will come, who knows. Some signals have come in recent days, from the US that they are willing to accept the invitation of the European Union to return to sit at the table with Tehran and the other partners of the nuclear deal abandoned by Trump, to a compromise just reached on the inspection powers of the IAEA in Iran.

Powers that remain for three months even if reduced, waiting for Washington to decide – asks Tehran – to revoke the sanctions imposed by the US when Iran respected the agreement to the last point.

Meanwhile, what is happening in Dimona, Israel’s nuclear site in the Negev desert? The Jerusalem Post has also asked this in recent days, giving news, as the British Guardian had done a couple of days earlier, of new satellite images that show expansion works underway around the structure, where in the past Israel would have made the fissile material for its nuclear arsenal: an arsenal that has never been declared but whose existence is in the public domain among experts.

The International Panel on Fissile Material (Ipfm), which the Guardian defines as a group of independent experts, demonstrates the work in progress, which would last for a couple of years. The IPFM “does not know the purpose of the construction and the prime minister’s office has not answered questions from journalists,” the Jerusalem Post said.

The images, he adds, show excavations measuring about 140×50 meters southwest of the “iconic” dome of the building that houses the nuclear reactor. It could be a new radioactive waste dump, an expert told the Israeli newspaper. But there would also be another possibility, linked to defense reasons. “Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas have all at different times explicitly or implicitly made it known that in the event of a wider conflict they could target Dimona.”

“According to foreign sources – the article continues – the material for what is estimated between 80 and 200 nuclear weapons in Israel’s possession were produced in Dimona and if the nuclear reactor were no longer operational, the country could no longer produce new plutonium for new weapons “. In fact, the Dimona reactor is now of a certain age: built to last 40 years, until 2003, its closure was postponed to 2023 thanks to the new technologies available. Between 2017 and 2018, the government, adds the JP, confirmed that it was looking for a way to make it last until 2043.

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Moving away now from these opaque scenarios, let’s go back to Tehran, where instead the transparency of Iranian nuclear activity is the subject of a ten-year dispute. And where the Foreign Minister Javad Zarif did not miss the opportunity for a dig on Twitter, precisely regarding the works in the Negev desert. “Israel is expanding Dimona, the only nuclear weapons factory in the region,” wrote US President Biden, the heads of state and government of the United Kingdom, Germany and France, and IAEA itself. “Very worried? Worried? A bit? Want to comment? “.

Beyond the irony, it is a fact that just in the same hours in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that returning to the old understanding “paves the way for Iran to a nuclear arsenal”, the Iranian government was reaching a compromise with the Director General of the IAEA Raphael Grossi, who came in person to Tehran, precisely on the transparency of his nuclear activities.

As is known, by today 23 February Iran should have reduced the IAEA’s inspection powers – in particular by stopping the surprise inspections at its plants which from 2015 to today were supervised through the voluntary application of an additional Protocol to the Proliferation Treaty nuclear power – which Israel does not adhere to – in compliance with a law passed by parliament, in the hands of conservatives, at the beginning of December.

The agreement reached provides that some checks and monitoring will take place anyway, even without surprise inspections, over the next three months. A “good and reasonable result”, according to Grossi. The Iranian Atomic Agency has specified that the additional protocol and the accesses of the AIEA inspectors provided for by the 2015 agreement, that is, those that go “beyond the safeguards of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”, are suspended.

However, Iran will continue to record information on some of its nuclear activities and will leave surveillance cameras in operation for three months. “If the sanctions are fully lifted within three months, Iran will pass this information on to the agency. If not, the information will be deleted forever ”. In short, the inspectors remain in Iran but with reduced control powers. A compromise that seems to have sent parliament president Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf into a rage, according to which the government “should apologize for having circumvented the law of the new parliament”.

In short, the party game starts again. With US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken declaring that if Iran abides by the terms of the JCPO, the US will do the same. “Working with allies and partners – he confirmed -, we will also seek to extend and strengthen the JCPOA and to address other areas of concern, including Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region and the development and proliferation of ballistic missiles”.

Premises from a guaranteed impasse, were it not for other positive signals coming from other fronts. Like the release of the 9 billion Iranian dollars frozen by North Korean banks as a result of US sanctions, or the fact that Washington and Tehran have begun to talk about a possible release of American citizens detained in Iran. The past teaches that diplomacy can pass or begin with the liberation of hostages. In short, apparently yes: something is moving.

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