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International Atomic Energy Agency

Tag Archives | International Atomic Energy Agency

Is the Iran Nuclear Deal Doomed?

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State Dept. Photo
State Dept. Photo

State Dept. Photo

On Nov. 24, 2013, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 reached a historical agreement known as the ‘Joint Plan of Action’ in Geneva. After numerous dead ends during intense diplomatic negotiations with the previous government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the interim agreement signed with the newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, relieved many countries. The United Arab Emirates was the first Gulf state to welcome the Iranian nuclear deal by sending their minister of foreign affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, to Tehran on Nov. 28, just a few days after the signing of the nuclear deal.

Positive remarks on the agreement were also issued by India, Japan, Spain and Austria. On Nov. 24, Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, welcomed the agreement as the “first significant step.” Spain’s government praised the deal as an important milestone towards achieving a general agreement that fosters stability and security in the region. German media, while appreciating the significance of the nuclear deal, emphasized that the bulk of sanctions on Iran must remain in place. However, several nations such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, along with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), continued to express concerns and scepticism towards a final agreement.

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Radiation and the USS Ronald Reagan

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DoD Photo
DoD Photo

DoD Photo

The USS Ronald Reagan is in the news because several dozen crewmembers of the Reagan are trying to sue TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Corporation, for concealing the radiation release and thereby damaging their health (unsurprisingly, members of the armed services are precluded from suing the US military for damage to their health, so redress must be sought elsewhere). I try to tiptoe between the two extremes of radiation alarmism and, I guess, radio-blasé-ism, but in the end I come down on the side that the contamination was pretty serious. The Ronald Reagan was caught in a washout. As the Fukushima plume was passing overhead, a snowstorm brought radioactive nasties down to the ship, and the water surrounding the ship.

The “nothing to see here” position is that the Reagan was exposed to the equivalent of an extra few weeks of background radiation. Trouble is, washed-out fallout isn’t distributed in a neat, uniform radioactive haze. It’s lumpy, sticky, filled with hot particles, and prone to “hot spots.” It is not terribly reassuring to Sailor A that measured radioactive contamination is averaging out to a gentle buzz if he or she is worried about standing on or next to a hot spot. The USS Ronald Reagan spent a couple months at sea after contamination trying to clean itself up; then, according to a lawyer for the sailors claiming injury, it was decontaminated at a port in Washington state for another year and a half before returning to service.

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Iran’s Case against Stuxnet

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Speculation has it that Iran wants to pursue legal action against the US-Israeli led Stuxnet cyberattack.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

If the rumors prove to be true, Iran’s case against the United States could give the international community a great opportunity to use the case as needed momentum towards setting official international regulations on cyberwarfare. Arguably, the Stuxnet cyberattack is an illegal act of force that violated the Charter of the United Nations, the IAEA safeguards regime, and Iranian sovereignty as well.

After the U.S.-Israeli cyberattack, Tehran took a relatively passive posture and never officially complained to international legal channels. Shortly before President Rouhani took office in Tehran, an anonymous Iranian diplomat made public that Iran’s Foreign Ministry had enough evidence to take legal steps against the United States for the Stuxnet cyberattack. If Iran takes legal action against Washington it can demand that it receive compensations for damages caused and having its sovereignty violated by an illegal act of war. A lot is at stake as Iran’s determination against the cyberattack could set boundaries for future illegal cyber behavior.

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Iran is Driving the Bus, so Why is the West Celebrating?

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Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva for the P5+1 talks

Supreme Iranian leader Khameini spent much of last week lambasting the U.S. and Israel, as the Iranian negotiating team worked their magic in Geneva.

Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva for the P5+1 talks

Given the rhetoric spewing from Tehran, it was hard to tell that Ahmadinejad was no longer president. The P5+1 negotiating team didn’t seem too concerned, however, being hell bent on sealing a deal with Tehran — even one that required only cosmetic concessions from Tehran.

It is hard to understand what all the celebrating in the West is about. Simply that there is an agreement where there had been none? The Iranians should be doing the celebrating — and they are.

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Foreign Direct Investment in Myanmar will Increase Stability

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Monk U Wirathu acknowledges that he is a Buddhist nationalist but says he has tried to prevent fighting. He is pictured here in Mandalay, Myanmar. Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

Tensions in Myanmar are expected to ease over the next several weeks. In the past months, a series of violent conflicts between various ethnic groups in the country drew a concerned response from international observers.

Monk U Wirathu acknowledges that he is a Buddhist nationalist but says he has tried to prevent fighting. He is pictured here in Mandalay, Myanmar. Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

A number of positive events this week, however, may lead us to consider that a period of calm is likely to follow. In particular, we are likely to see an increase in the level of trust between Myanmar’s leadership and the international community. An agreement was signed this week by Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This agreement will allow international inspectors wider access to facilities thought to have the potential to develop nuclear technology. According to the IAEA, this move will help clear lingering suspicions that Myanmar had been trying to develop nuclear weapons during the country’s long military rule that ended last year.

The World Bank also announced the approval of a 140 million dollar loan to upgrade the country’s power supply. France’s newspaper, Les Echos, reports that the loan will double the capacity of Myanmar’s main power plant, while reducing its overall CO2 emissions. International companies have been taking note of these types of events. The Asahi Shimbun reports that five Japanese companies have just concluded agreements with Myanmar’s aviation authority to modernize equipment for all of the country’s major airports. Incidentally, this agreement follows Shinzo Abe’s visit to Myanmar last June, when the Japanese prime minister canceled the country’s $1.74 billion debt.

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Phone Diplomacy: Obama and Rouhani Speak by Phone

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President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

US President Barack Obama has spoken by phone to Iran’s Hassan Rouhani - the first such top-level conversation in more than 30 years.

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

Mr. Obama spoke of a “unique opportunity” to make progress with Iran’s new leadership, amid a flurry of diplomacy over its nuclear programme. Earlier, Mr Rouhani said Iran was keen to reach a deal soon. He also asserted that Iran did not seek a nuclear bomb, as Western powers have long suspected. Describing meetings at the UN this week as a “first step”, he said he believed the nuclear issue could be settled “within the not too distant future”. Mr. Rouhani said initial discussions had taken place in an environment that was “quite different” from the past. The call with Mr. Obama was made just before Mr. Rouhani left New York, where he has been attending the annual summit of the UN General Assembly, Iranian news agency Irna said. White House officials described the 15 minute conversation - apparently initiated by Mr. Rouhani - as cordial, the BBC’s Bridget Kendall reports from New York.

Mr. Obama raised concerns about American prisoners in Iran, but the bulk of the call was about efforts to reach a solution on the nuclear issue, she says. Afterwards, Mr. Obama said: “While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution.” Mr. Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate and was elected in June, has said he wants to reach a deal over the nuclear issue in three to six months. He says he is fully empowered by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to negotiate. On Friday, he told a press conference at the UN: “Whatever result we achieve through negotiations my government will have the full backing of all the main branches of power in Iran as well as the support of the people of Iran.” And he said he wanted a deal “within a very short period of time”.

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Time to Reset the Reset in U.S.-Russian Relations

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President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at the Esperanza Resort in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico. Pete Souza/White House

“The relationship between Russia and the United States has suffered from a sense of drift. We resolved to reset U.S.-Russian relations, so that we can cooperate more effectively in areas of common interest.” – Barack Obama

President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at the Esperanza Resort in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico. Pete Souza/White House

Regardless of which political party occupies the White House, American presidents are allowed a certain degree of latitude on foreign policy, where initiatives are not as constrained by Congressional oversight in comparison to the nation’s domestic issues. The absence of comprehensive oversight does not provide any Commander-in-Chief a blank check, however. Given the current chill between Moscow and Washington, we expect to see limited progress on the issues that confront both nations during Obama’s second term.

The Obama administration needs to find a way to refocus both nations’ policy interests, but it remains unclear how the United States will be able to achieve this objective. Should Washington create security guarantees with Moscow in order to diminish uncertainty? Or should the missile defense shield continue as planned to protect its European allies? Can common ground be found with NATO’s objectives, on Iran and on Syria? Or is it the responsibility of the Obama administration to plot a new course - sans Russia - without completely alienating the Kremlin from possible cooperation?

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Can a Nuclear Armed Iran Be Contained?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly.  J Carrier/UN

During his address at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held up a diagram of a bomb to urge international action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly. J Carrier/UN

He emphasized that soon Iran will have enough enriched uranium to become a threat to the existence of Israel, and said the world has until next summer at the latest to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The debate on Iran’s nuclear facilities has been going on for several years now, with arguments both for and against letting Iran enrich uranium. Not so long ago Kenneth Waltz wrote an article for Foreign Affairs in which he expressed his view that a nuclear-armed Iran could even be beneficial by providing stability in the Middle East, Netanyahu however argued that one cannot expect rational acts from the Islamic Republic and urged for the threat (or use) of force.

To shed light on the issue, we turned to Richard K. Betts of Columbia University, Sadegh Zibakalam of the University of Tehran, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Insitute, Gary G. Sick of Columbia University, Ze’ev Maghen of Bar Ilan University, M.J. Rosenberg a foreign policy commentator, David Menashri of the Academic Center of Law and Business in Israel, renowned author Robert Jervis of Columbia University, Gerald M. Steinberg of Bar Ilan University, Austin Long of Columbia University, Ran Rovner of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Keenan Mahoney of Columbia University to ask: Can a nuclear Iran be contained?

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Iran Sanctions: War by Other Means

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Now that the talks with Iran on its nuclear program appear to be on the ropes, are we on the road to war? The Israelis threaten it almost weekly, and the Obama administration has reportedly drawn up an attack plan. But in a sense, we are already at war with Iran. Carl von Clausewitz, the great theoretician of modern warfare, defined war as the continuation of politics by other means. In the case of Iran, international politics has become a de-facto state of war.

According to reports, the annual inflation rate in Iran is 22.2 percent, although many economists estimate it at double that. In the last week of June, the price of chicken rose 30 percent, grains were up 55.8 percent, fruits up 66.6 percent, and vegetables up 99.5 percent. Iran’s Central Bank estimates unemployment among the young is 22.5 percent, although the Financial Times says “the official figures are vastly underestimated.” The production sector is working at half its capacity. The value of the Iranian rial has fallen 40 percent since last year, and there is a wave of business closings and bankruptcies due to rising energy costs and imports made expensive by the sanctions.

Oil exports, Iran’s major source of income, have fallen 40 percent in 2012, according to the International Energy Agency, costing the country just under $32 billion over the past year. The 27-member European Union (EU) ban on buying Iranian oil will further depress sales, and a EU withdrawal of shipping insurance will make it difficult for Teheran to ship oil and gas to its diminishing number of customers. Loss of insurance coverage could reduce Iran’s oil exports by 1/5 million barrels a day, or $4.5 billion a month. Energy accounts for about 80 percent of Iran’s public revenues.

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Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Why This Time is Different

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours the Natanz enrichment facility

The latest P5+1 talks in Istanbul rejuvenated the diplomatic track between Iran and the West, paving the way for a new chapter in Iranian nuclear negotiations. Yet if the recently concluded talks were a test of intentions, the upcoming negotiations in Baghdad are going to be a real test of wills.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours the Natanz enrichment facility

Both sides will have to overcome huge obstacles if they want to establish a “sustained process of serious dialogue” to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse. The only way the Baghdad nuclear talks can work is if both sides confine their demands to a mutually acceptable deal. This means that the Iranians need to concretely demonstrate their openness to greater transparency — subjecting not only their (increasing) stockpile of highly enriched uranium to real-time, verifiable, and comprehensive inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but also opening up their more controversial facilities in Fordo and Parchin.

Simultaneously, the West should refrain from imposing further sanctions, conditionally reverse unilateral sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and central bank, and patiently lay down the groundwork for a nuclear swap deal, whereby Iran will cap its enrichment levels at around 3.5-5 percent and exchange its 20-percent enriched uranium stockpile for guaranteed amounts of medical isotopes from the West.

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Coming Up: A Tehran Communiqué?

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announcing new economic sanctions targeting Iran as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner listens on, at the State Department in Washington

Arguably, growing tensions over Iran’s nuclear impasse represent today’s greatest international security challenge.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announcing new economic sanctions targeting Iran as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner listens on, at the State Department in Washington

Current Western sanctions against Iran are biting hard, but they are also hurting both the Iranian population and global consumers. With rising concerns over a possible “supply shock” — as Iran struggles to sell its oil and alternative producers such as Saudi Arabia and Libya scramble over dwindling spare capacity — energy prices are inching closer to their staggering 2008 levels. While commodity markets are already feeling the shockwaves, global consumers are struggling to keep pace with rising energy costs.

Economists are seriously concerned that growing tensions in the Persian Gulf are undermining global recovery. In the event of a direct conflict, the world economy could slip into the abyss of a double-dip recession. The last thing the world needs is a major conflict at the heart of a democratizing region so vital to global economic stability. A U.S. or Israeli war with Iran would not only lead to a humanitarian tragedy but would put the entire Middle East on the precipice of conflagration — possibly dragging other great powers such as China and Russia into the picture.

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Netanyahu’s and Obama’s Unsavory Choices on Iran

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President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pete Souza/White House

Whether Iran’s goal is ultimately to produce a nuclear weapon is unknown, but as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said last weekend during his meetings in Washington, if it looks, walks and talks like a duck, it is usually a duck. He also asked a simple question – Would Iran be producing its missile program simply to place medical isotopes on top of their missiles?

President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pete Souza/White House

At least one world leader is asking the right questions and looking this issue squarely in the face. The others, including President Obama, seem to believe that if the West is patient enough, Iran will buckle under the weight of sanctions, and the breakthrough (if that is what it really is) recently achieved with North Korea will prove to be achievable with Iran.

Well, in the event that time was not limited and the potential consequences of an Iranian bomb were not so frightening, he might have an argument – but we do not believe he does. The Obama administration faces limited options in addressing its dilemma with Iran. While each choice carries its own risks and rewards, the fact that this is an election year in the United States, Israel and Iran taints any option. In short, what was an unsavory range of alternatives is now a question of which is the best looking horse in the glue factory.

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Review of the BBC’s This World: Inside the Meltdown

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Associated Press
Associated Press

Associated Press

The BBC documentary, Inside the Meltdown, on the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant is oddly powerful in its depiction of the savage destructive nature of the environment as it battered and subsequently caused the meltdown of the Fukushima plant. Other depictions from the documentary worth noting are a chaotic and near criminal power company TEPCO (not hyperbole—TEPCO employs many yakuza), and a prime minister faced with terrifying choices all of which may lead to disaster, while having to depend on the advice of TEPCO. I should note that even if you think you’ve seen this story, you haven’t. Much of the footage and dialogue is unique and revealed for the first time.

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Africa, Nuclear Security and the 2012 Summit

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The first plenary session of the Nuclear Security Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., April 13, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

Many hold a view that the terms Africa and nuclear security have no correlation. This is a false and dangerous perception.

The first plenary session of the Nuclear Security Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., April 13, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

South Africa’s Energy Minister Dipuo Peters announced on Tuesday 28 February 2012 that her country plans to use nuclear energy as part of diversified mix to help cure South Africa’s energy crisis and to take a step closer to cleaner energy. The plan – called the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2010) – places specific emphasis on various technologies including gas, imports, nuclear, biomass, renewables (wind, solar and hydro).

As it stands, about 90% of South Africa’s energy, like most African countries, is produced from burning coal, which in turn has a negative impact on the world’s climate. And like South Africa, most African countries are looking towards nuclear power as a potential alternative to fossil fuels. South Africa’s Koeberg nuclear power station, located 30km north of Cape Town, is the only nuclear power station in South Africa and the entire African continent. However, this will change in the coming years/decades.

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Iran and the West

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Perils of brinkmanship with Iran are now on open display. As Libyans struggle after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, and the conflict at least partly fuelled by Western powers continues in Syria, the campaign of sanctions against Iran has triggered events which echo the 1980s crisis between post-revolution Iran and the West. The recent International Atomic Energy Agency report, a controversial document that censured Iran, caused Britain to severe links with Iranian banks. Further straining relations between the West and Iran were sanctions imposed by France, Canada and the United States.

The Iranian parliament retaliated by downgrading relations with Britain and ordering the new British ambassador to leave. Following that action, angry protesters stormed two British embassy compounds in Tehran. Property was damaged and documents were reported to have been taken away. What secrets they may contain is a matter of speculation. If revealed, they are likely to fuel Iranian anger and embarrass the British government.

Aware of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Iranian foreign ministry expressed regret and promised to protect the British diplomatic staff. But Ali Larijani, speaker of Iran’s parliament, said that the student protesters’ action reflected anti-British sentiment in Iran. Other Iranian MPs expressed similar views. Within 48 hours, the British government had little choice but to withdraw its staff and order the closure of the Iranian embassy in London. Britain’s announcement falls short of a complete break, but relations between the two countries have surely sunk to the lowest point in more than three decades. The British Foreign Secretary William Hague says that he wants to remain engaged with Tehran on the nuclear issue and on human rights, an astonishingly hypocritical position to take.

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