There are a dozen countries in the world who have access to the manufacture of nuclear bombs, why the focus only on Iran? That is the first question to understand the current crisis. The answer lies in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Vicente Garrido, a professor at the Rey Juan Carlos University and disarmament advisor to the UN Secretary General between 2014 and 2017, described the agreement to elDiario.es as “the most successful and discriminatory treaty in history.”
The most successful because it has been signed by practically everyone (190 countries) and the most discriminatory because since 1970 it prohibits the obtaining and use of nuclear weapons to all its members, except those who at that time already had nuclear weapons: the United States , Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The treaty gives five members the right to have nuclear weapons and the rest do not.RELATED
Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea also have nuclear weapons and have not been under the same pressure as Iran, which does not even have a nuclear bomb. The answer is that these countries, along with South Sudan, are the only states that are not party to the NPT. Iran is.
The objective of the United States, along with China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany – the EU as an institution was also present in the talks – was to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities so that, if at some point it decided to create the bomb, it would delay. at least a year, thus giving the other powers time to react. The way to limit these capacities is mainly through uranium enrichment.
Iran came to the negotiating table for the nuclear deal with the capacity and claims to reach 20% uranium enrichment, something that it has always claimed is part of a civil energy and not a military program. After the negotiation, Tehran agreed to limit the enrichment process to 3.67% – always in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. “The 3.67% was a surprise. Even during the negotiations, there was talk that they would allow 5%. 5% would be acceptable,” says Garrido.
For their part, the United States, the United Nations and the EU committed to lifting international sanctions that only between 2012 and 2014 deprived Iran of $ 100 billion. But only sanctions related to the nuclear program would be lifted and not those related, for example, to the missile program, support for terrorist groups or human rights abuses.
The United States and many European countries also thawed accounts and other assets of Iran that were frozen in their respective states worth approximately $ 100 billion.
The element most used to make a nuclear bomb is uranium. Extracted directly from nature, uranium has two isotopes: U238 and U235. Regarding the composition of this mineral, 99% is U238 and only 0.7% is U235. The problem is that the only isotope that is valid for making the bomb is uranium 235 and that is why it must be enriched by modifying its composition and increasing the percentage of this element.
“The optimal quantity to manufacture the bomb is to have an isotopic composition of 90% enrichment, what happens is that you cannot wait for a country to have 90% because that means that it already has the bomb,” explains Garrido. According Nuclear Threat Initiative, with a 20% enrichment, a critical mass of 143 kilos would be needed for the pump, while with a 93% enrichment only 12 kilos would be needed.
If 20% is so far from the 90% needed for the pump, why is this percentage so worrying? Going from 20 to 90 requires a minimal part of the effort and resources necessary to achieve the initial 20%. The more enriched the uranium is, the easier it is to continue enriching it. Approximately 83.5% of efforts are invested in reaching 4% enrichment. 8.5% of the efforts to reach 20% and 8% to reach the final 90%.
Trump applied a policy of “maximum pressure” to Iran and, claiming that the nuclear deal was a failure that had failed to stop the weapons program –Even though Iran was meeting the conditions– And that Tehran’s behavior in the region had not changed either, the former president removed the US from the treaty signed by Obama in May 2018. Immediately afterwards, Trump reimposed economic sanctions to continue to stifle the Iranian regime.
Iran remained in the agreement despite Washington’s departure and pressured the rest of the countries, especially Europeans, to reverse the situation. Dissatisfied, a year later he announced that he had exceeded the 3.67% enrichment limit established in the treaty and that it was 4.5%.
Following the US operation to kill Qasem Suleimani, the architect of Iran’s military operations abroad, in January 2020, Tehran denounced that it would no longer meet the requirements of the treaty. In November of the same year, following the assassination of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist, the Iranian Parliament passed a law to substantially increase enrichment.
Despite harsh criticism of Trump’s policy, President Biden has never promised to return quickly to the pre-2018 situation. “If Tehran meets the terms of the treaty again, Biden would re-enter the agreement.” said the program of the now president. Members of the Government have recently insisted on that position. Tehran, for its part, says that it should be the US that takes the first step by lifting sanctions.
“If the Americans return to multilateralism, fulfill their commitments and correct the wrong path of the past, Iran will also give an adequate response,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Monday.
Last month, Iran resumed enrichment to 20% and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced Monday that Tehran will limit international inspectors’ access to certain facilities starting next week, ending the ” voluntary transparency measures “.
Biden appointed in January Robert Malley as Special Envoy for Iran and his goal is to get Iran back at the negotiating table despite Tehran’s escalation. Malley was the president of the think tank International Crisis Group, participated in the negotiations of the agreement in 2015 and was foreign policy advisor to Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary.
“Trump imposed a series of sanctions against Iran with the little hidden aim of hampering efforts to recover the Iranian nuclear deal,” Malley wrote in an article in December before being appointed special envoy. “The new Administration could defuse one of the most dangerous clashes in the world by going back to the 2015 nuclear deal, but doing it quickly, managing relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel – both very at odds with Iran – and then moving on to negotiations on broader issues. regionally it would be a feat. “
“The sanctions have devastated Iran’s economy, but they have accomplished little more. During Trump’s presidency, the nuclear program has grown and Iran has more ballistic missiles than ever before,” Malley writes. “The governments of the United States and Iran will have to agree on a series of steps between easing sanctions and nuclear restrictions and which sanctions should be lifted.”
On the Iranian side, presidential elections are held in June this year and President Hasan Rouhaní, considered a moderate, has already served the two-term limit, so the US will have new interlocutors.