In what amounts to an 11th hour "gift" by the outgoing Obama administration to Tehran's leadership to keep the country, which on Sunday was involved in yet another shooting incident with a US destroyer, content and compliant with Obama's landmark "Nuclear deal", the AP reported that Iran is to receive a huge shipment of natural uranium from Russia to compensate it for exporting tons of reactor coolant. The move was approved by the outgoing U.S. administration and other governments "seeking to keep Tehran committed to a landmark nuclear pact."
AP cites two senior diplomats who said that the transfer which was recently agreed by the U.S. and five other world powers that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran, foresees delivery of 116 metric tons (nearly 130 tons) of natural uranium. U.N. Security Council approval is needed but a formality, considering five of those powers are permanent Security Council members, they said.
The swap is in compensation for the approximately 40 metric tons (44 tons) of heavy water exported by Iran to Russia since the nuclear agreement went into effect. Another 30 metric tons have gone to the U.S. and Oman.
While Uranium can be enriched to levels ranging from reactor fuel or medical and research purposes to the core of an atomic bomb, Iran has claimed it has no interest in such weapons and its activities are being closely monitored under the nuclear pact to make sure they remain peaceful. As we reported at the time, Tehran previously received a similar amount of natural uranium in 2015 as part of negotiations leading up to the nuclear deal, in a swap for enriched uranium it sent to Russia. But the new shipment will be the first such consignment since the deal came into force a year ago.
The news comes ahead of a meeting in Vienna, where of representatives of Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany will review Iranian complaints that the U.S. was reneging on sanctions relief pledges included in the nuclear deal.
As AP adds, "the uranium agreement comes at a sensitive time. With the incoming U.S. administration and many U.S. lawmakers already skeptical of how effective the nuclear deal is in keeping Iran's nuclear program peaceful over the long term, they might view it as further evidence that Tehran is being given too many concessions."
The diplomats said any natural uranium transferred to Iran after the deal came into effect would be under strict surveillance by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency for 25 years after implementation of the deal.
They said Tehran has not said what it would do with the uranium but could choose to store it or turn it into low-enriched uranium and then export it for use as reactor fuel.
Despite present restrictions on its enrichment program, the amount of natural uranium is significant should Iran decide to keep it in storage, considering its potential uses once some limits on
Tehran's nuclear activities start to expire in less than a decade.
The troubling part, if only for those who see Iran as hell bent on creating nucleaar weapons was noted by David Albright, whose Institute of Science and International Security often briefs U.S. lawmakers on Iran's nuclear program, says the shipment could be enriched to enough weapons-grade uranium for more than 10 simple nuclear bombs, "depending on the efficiency of the enrichment process and the design of the nuclear weapon."
While it remains to be seen if Trump will comment on the unexpected delivery, we are certain that Israel, and especially its embattled prime minister Netanyahu, will raise a substantial fuss over the renewed possibility of a nuclear-armed neighbor. Heavy water is used to cool a type of reactor that produces more plutonium than reactors cooled by light water. Like enriched uranium, plutonium can be turned into the fissile core of a nuclear weapon
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Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Iranian lawmakers, far from demilitarizing, approved plans on Monday to expand military spending to five percent of the budget, including developing the country's long-range missile program which U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to halt. The vote is a boost to Iran's military establishment – the regular army, the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and defense ministry - which was allocated almost 2 percent of the 2015-16 budget.
But it could put the Islamic Republic on a collision course with the incoming Trump administration, and fuel criticism from other Western states which say Tehran's recent ballistic missile tests are inconsistent with a U.N. resolution on Iran. The resolution, adopted last year as part of the deal to curb Iran's nuclear activities, calls on Iran to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons. Tehran says it has not carried out any work on missiles specifically designed to carry such payloads.
Tasnim news agency said 173 lawmakers voted in favor of an article in Iran's five-year development plan that "requires government to increase Iran's defense capabilities as a regional power and preserve the country's national security and interests by allocating at least five percent of annual budget" to military affairs. Only 10 lawmakers voted against the plan, which includes developing long range missiles, armed drones and cyber-war capabilities.
The Obama administration says Iran's ballistic missile tests have not violated the nuclear agreement with Tehran, but Trump, who criticized the accord as "the worst deal ever negotiated", has said he would stop Iran's missile program.
"Those ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,250 miles, were designed to intimidate not only Israel ... but also intended to frighten Europe and someday maybe hit even the United States," he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee AIPAC in March. "We're not going to let that happen."
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So one hand, we have Obama desperate to salvage his diplomatic legacy (having already seen TPP implode and Obamacare starting the repeal proess), appeasing Iran in every possible way, even if it means further antagonizing Israel; on the other we have Iran taking advantage of Obama's weakness, and accelerating the ballistic weapons program which has been banned per the same treasury that Obama wants to see continue. Finally, throw in Trump and Netanyahu in the mix, and the future for US-Iranian relations after January 20 suddenly looks rather volatile.