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Another Attack On the Iranian Nuclear Site – Will The Vienna JCPOA Negotiations Fall Apart?

Iranian nuclear plant has continued to disturb international peace on various grounds. It is definitely a violation of the international norms. Yet, Iran continues to develop the programme despite the efforts taken by the superpowers of the world. The United States imposed sanctions on Iran to pressurise it to follow the order and come back to the negotiating table. However, the growing affinity between China and Iran have resulted in a worrisome attitude in the world. There is uneasiness about the recent 25 year agreement signed between China and Iran. The US fears that Iran will use the deal as a saviour and continue to disregard international rules and obligations. Iran continues to demand lifting of all the sanctions as a pre-condition to resume talks with the western powers. 

The Iranian negotiating team arrived in Vienna to continue the nuclear talks with the remaining countries of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.However, the situation is heated up due to the recent developments between Iran and Israel.

Recently, the inauguration of new centrifuge facilities by the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Natanz site was another step taken against the international order. This was a breach of the deal that was signed by Iran in 2015 that did not allow enrichment of uranium beyond limited quantities. A day after the inauguration, the site faced a major power cut which resulted in a breakdown of the entire facility. 

The power cut is believed to be the result of a cyber attack orchestrated by the Israeli agency Mossad. Irani officials have raised voices and urged the international community to take steps against the “nuclear terrorism” that they experienced. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has time and again clarified his opinion about the need to check the rise of Iranian nuclear programme. Earlier there have been attacks on the Iranian nuclear programme in the form of fire at the facility or the cyber attack my means of the virus Stuxnet.

A look at the incidents puts forwards two possibilities. It is possible that a technical breakdown caused the power cut at the Natanz nuclear site in Iran. However, due to the tensions that have built up in the past, Iran blames external entities to be responsible for the same. The second possibility is along the lines reported by the Israeli radio channel Kan radio. The relationship between Israel and Iran have continued to be bitter especially after Iran’s decision to go ahead with its nuclear weapons programme. Israel has voiced its concern about the need for firmer steps and sanctions to be imposed on Iran.

After US President Biden took charge, Israel displayed difference of opinion with regard to the policy with Iran. There were reports of Israel considering military options to check the rise of Iran. This incident thus does not seem far fetched. However it does lead one to infer some conclusions. One, it shows how states are losing confidence in the international world order and institutions to take strict steps. Second, it also displays how countries are resorting to back channel methods and alternate routes to achieve their goals. Third, if Israel did attack the Iranian nuclear site, it also proves the different strategies that the American allies too are willing to adopt to ensure their interests. Fourth and most importantly, it proves that coercive measures are gaining popularity among countries.

The Iranian government condemned the act and called it nuclear terrorism. It also resolved to take further stronger steps to strengthen the nuclear programme in response to the sabotage. It called it as nothing less than an unlawful act and stated that their programme was peaceful and Israel had historically missed no chance in the past too to “torpedo the negotiations”. 

All these factors are problematic especially since the world is going through a crisis. This further widens the gap between the two groups – US and China. This also proves that US allies too are willing to disregard the international law in order to gain control of the situation. The way forward thus looks difficult. It is now even more important that international institutions like the United Nations and International Atomic Energy Agency take firm measures to re-gain confidence from other countries. The responsibility lies on the super powers as well as on countries like India to make sure that morality prevails above self interests and make negotiations possible. Iran is a tricky actor in the world dynamics. It is important that it participates and engages productively instead of moving towards the Chinese ideology of selective regard for international law.