Senior US official says JCPOA highly unlikely to be revived 

What happened: White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk told a group of experts it’s “highly unlikely” that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran will be revived in the near future.

  • According to Axios, McGurk was believed to have stressed that the Iranian’s inability to make a final decision is preventing a return to the JCPOA.
  • Earlier this week, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell appealed to both sides by writing in the Financial Times that after more than a year of negotiations, “the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted” and the talks have reached “the best possible deal that I, as facilitator of the negotiations, see as feasible”.
  • He urged the parties to accept it or “risk a dangerous nuclear crisis”.

Developments inside Iran: Iran is building a new nuclear research reactor at the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center, one of the country’s largest nuclear facilities, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) head Mohammad Eslami announced on Wednesday.

  • On Monday Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, that it will continue to prevent IAEA cameras from monitoring key nuclear facilities until the JCPOA is restored.
  • IAEA chief Grossi described Iran’s nuclear programme as “galloping ahead” and his agency has very limited visibility on what is happening.
  • Yesterday Iran claimed to have arrested the alleged leader and four other members of a Mossad spy network in the country.
  • According to a statement released by the intelligence unit of Iran’s law enforcement agency, the network’s members had received training for armed operations and sabotage and were captured before they could carry out their plot

Context: Despite the most recent round of talks in Qatar between the US and Iran a month ago ended with no progress, neither side is yet to call an end to negotiations.

  • Israeli officials are concerned the original nuclear deal is very close to becoming irrelevant, as Iran has taken steps to advance its nuclear programme, but they have yet to convince their US counterparts on the need to adopt a new plan of economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure or present a credible military option.IAEO head Eslami stated that the new research project is “completely indigenous and Iranian”. He stressed that the main issue regarding the advancement of Iran’s nuclear programme is to increase the capacity of domestic power plants.
  • Last week a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei admitted publicly that their nuclear programme could be used for military purposes.
  • The IAEA reported last month that 90 per cent of Iran’s uranium enriched to 60 per cent fissile purity had been moved to Isfahan, where it maintains a capability to make enriched uranium metal.
  • Iran’s work on enriched uranium metal and knowledge of how to produce it is a serious concern for the international community as the metal is needed in order to make the core of a nuclear bomb.
  • Israeli analysts are concerned that with Iran now enriching uranium to 60 per cent, a close step to weapons-grade uranium, is on the cusp of achieving nuclear threshold status.
  • Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote this week: “Both Israel and (for sure) the US can operate over the skies of Iran against this or that site or installation and destroy it. But once Iran is a de-facto threshold nuclear state this kind of attack simply cannot delay the Iranians from turning nuclear. Indeed, under certain circumstances it might accelerate their rush toward assembling that bomb, and provide them a measure of legitimacy on grounds of self-defence.”
  • Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in the US last week, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: “Should we be able to conduct military operations to prevent a nuclear Iran if needed, the answer is ‘yes.’ Are we building the ability to strike? Yes. Should we use it as a last case? Yes – and I hope that we will get US support.”

Looking ahead: There are no current plans for a new round of talks with the US or Iran.

  • Shortly after Borell published his op-ed, Iran said it has new ideas to restore the JCPOA in an apparent attempt to keep talks open whilst continue with its nuclear programme.

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