Iran Update: New Nuclear Proposal, Tanker Swap, a Busted Spy Ring… and Rand Paul to the Rescue?
“I think there is a possible opening that Iran would sign an agreement saying that they won’t develop a nuclear weapon, ever.”
Last week, Iran announced its readiness to defuse ongoing tensions with the U.S. and further comply with the nuclear pact in exchange for Washington lifting economic sanctions imposed on Tehran. The announcement came from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during his visit to New York on Thursday, July,18.
Zarif said Iran was willing to ratify a document known as the Additional Protocol which would allow for more massive inspections of its nuclear program and give more tools to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify that Tehran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
“If Trump wants more for more, we can ratify the Additional Protocol, and he can lift the sanctions he set,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Guardian.
Iran has faced tightened oil embargoes triggered by U.S. sanctions since May last year when Washington pulled out from the 2015 nuclear deal formerly known as the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA)
Under the JCPOA, the Iranian parliament must ratify the additional protocol from the IAEA in 2023. The agreement gives the organization’s inspectors expanded access to make sure that Iran does not have secretive nuclear arsenals, as Zarif noted.
However, as part of Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA, Iran has already been in compliance with the Additional Protocol. Ratification by the country’s parliament would make it a more permanent commitment.
US Mixed Response to Iranian Offer
An anonymous U.S. official expressed skepticism to Reuters over Iran’s true intentions.
“Their whole game is to try to get any sanctions relief they can while maintaining the ability to get a nuclear weapon in the future,” said the official, adding that Iran was “trying to spin a small action into” something bigger.
The official added that Zarif’s proposal would allow Iran to keep enriching uranium and would do nothing to address Iran’s support of proxies in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
However, a former official who worked under Barack Obama told Reuters Zarif’s offer represented a serious effort to sooth tensions between the two countries.
“If the foreign minister has suggested that the Majlis (the Iranian parliament) would ratify the additional protocol now, that is a serious step,” said Wendy Sherman, a former official who was involved in the 2015 nuclear deal negotiations.
In response to U.S.’ sanctions and the U.S.’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, Iran announced it would enrich uranium exceeding the 3.67% limit allowed in the deal, enriching uranium now to 4.5%. Weapons-grade uranium must be enriched to at least 80%.
The conflict between the U.S. and Iran has escalated in recent weeks following the seizure of an Iranian and British tanker.
The Stena Bulk, a British-flagged oil tanker, was seized by Iran last Friday in Omani waters according to British officials. The seizure prompted outgoing U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to call the seizure “unacceptable and highly escalatory.”
U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt released the following statement after he spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif about the tanker situation:
“I had a fairly long conversation with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, this afternoon. And it’s clear from talking to him and also statements made by Iran that they see this as a tit-for-tat situation, following Grace 1 being detained in Gibraltar. Nothing could be further from the truth. Grace 1 was detained legally in Gibraltarian waters because it was carrying oil against E.U. sanctions, to Syria, and that’s why Gibraltarian authorities acted totally with respect to due process and totally within the law.”
An Iranian tanker was first seized by the Royal British Navy off the coast of Gibraltar on July 5, accusing it of carrying oil to the Syrian government in violation of E.U. sanctions. Iran had warned it would seize a British tanker in response.
“If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities’ duty to seize a British oil tanker,” said Mohsen Rezai, a senior IRGC commander.
Following the seizure of the Iranian tanker, Dorsa Jabbari, an Iranian based reporter for Al Jazeera, explained that the Iranian government considers the E.U. sanctions illegitimate.
“They don’t recognize the E.U. sanctions on the Syrian government as legitimate because they have not been endorsed by the United Nations,” wrote Jabbari. “They say that this act by the British government on behalf of Americans is tantamount to piracy.”
Rand Paul to the Rescue?
Last Thursday also saw U.S. Senator Rand Paul step into the ring of Iranian discussions as he met with Zarif in New York City.
According to Politico, Paul did so with the blessing of U.S. President Donald Trump. Reportedly, Paul and Trump discussed the issue over a round of golf where Paul offered to meet with Zarif and “to extend a fresh olive branch on the president’s behalf.”
Paul told Fox News on Thursday that he backed diplomacy and thought that a new agreement was possible to make sure Iran would not produce nuclear weapons.
“I think there is a possible opening that Iran would sign an agreement saying that they won’t develop a nuclear weapon, ever. That would be a huge breakthrough,” Paul told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on Thursday.
Paul has previously spoken out against the idea of a U.S. war with Iran. Speaking earlier in the year to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Paul warned Pompeo against starting a war with Iran without congressional approval.
“You do not have the permission of Congress to go to war with Iran,” Paul told Pompeo during the April hearing on Capitol Hill. “Only Congress can declare war.”
Iran Claims it Busted CIA Spy Ring
On Monday, Iran announced it had arrested 17 Iranian nationals believed to be working to provide intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.). Iran also claimed some of the nationals had already been sentenced to death.
Iranian-based Tasim News Agency published pictures of the arrested spies along with various documents seized by Iranian officials.
Iran’s director of the Intelligence Ministry’s counterespionage department said that the C.I.A. spy ring was busted on June 18 and that they were employed in sensitive private sectors including the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military and cyber areas.
Tasim reported that the spies had no links to one another and each one was separately linked to a C.I.A. officer, according to the official. The official also added that some of the spies were lured into working for the C.I.A. by offering them U.S. visas.
The U.S. has responded by denying that the arrested individuals had any connection to the C.I.A. or the U.S.
“The Iranian regime has a long history of lying,” said former C.I.A. director and current Secretary or State Mike Pompeo in response to Iran’s announcement.
U.S. President Donald Trump had a similar response to Iran’s news as Pompeo.
The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth. Just more lies and propaganda (like their shot down drone) put out by a Religious Regime that is Badly Failing and has no idea what to do. Their Economy is dead, and will get much worse. Iran is a total mess!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2019
A CBS News report claimed that announcements like Iran’s on Monday were “common” and said that last June Iran announced it executed a former staff member of the Defense Ministry who was convicted of spying for the CIA.
In April, CBS added, Iran said it uncovered 290 CIA spies both inside and outside the country over the past years.