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Westlake Legal Group > Nuclear Weapons

CNN: Did the Russians nuke themselves?

Westlake Legal Group cnn-skyfall CNN: Did the Russians nuke themselves? Vladimir Putin The Blog Russia Nuclear Weapons nuclear accident Chernobyl

Just what caused a mysterious explosion and the deaths of five key researchers in Russia’s equivalent of Los Alamos? The accident last week caused a spike in background radiation levels and prompted a scramble of nuclear-related support to Sarov, a secret city in northern Russia known for research and development on nuclear weapons. Western intelligence suspects that the new Russian nuclear cruise missile is under development in Sarov — or was, anyway.

The Russians finally broke their silence today, but didn’t actually offer any specific denials, CNN notes:

The Kremlin broke its silence Tuesday on the apparent explosion of a nuclear-powered cruise missile during a test, saying that accidents “happen” but that Russia remained “far ahead” in the development of advanced weaponry.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to confirm widespread international speculation that the accident — which claimed the lives of at least five nuclear specialists last Thursday — involved a nuclear-powered cruise missile known as the Burevestnik or Skyfall.

But in a conference call with reporters, Peskov denied that such mishaps would set back Russian efforts to develop advanced military capabilities.

The spokesperson said that only experts could speak with authority on such matters, but added: “Accidents, unfortunately, happen. They are tragedies. But in this particular case, it is important for us to remember those heroes who lost their lives in this accident.”

Russia had ordered the nearby village of Nyonoksa to evacuate, but then inexplicably canceled the order:

The Russian military on Tuesday told residents of a village near a navy testing range to evacuate, but cancelled the order hours later, adding to the uncertainty and confusion fueled by a missile explosion at the range that led to a brief spike in radiation that frightened residents and raised new questions about the military’s weapons program.

The initial notice from the military told residents of Nyonoksa, a village of about 500, to move out temporarily, citing unspecified activities at the range. But a few hours later, the military said the planned activities were cancelled and rescinded the request to leave, said Ksenia Yudina, a spokeswoman for the Severodvinsk regional administration.

The Associated Press suggests in the same report that this might have been a routine request:

Local media in Severodvinsk said residents of Nyonoksa regularly received similar temporary evacuation orders usually timed to tests at the range.

Even that seems significant, however. If they had a test planned and then canceled it, it might be because their nuclear facilities can no longer conduct tests. Or, alternately, the Putin regime figures they can sacrifice 500 of their citizens in order to maintain the Chip Diller routine.

That would be a long-term mistake. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 didn’t lead immediately to the collapse of the Soviet system, but it certainly contributed to the erosion of its credibility and hastened its end. The Washington Post’s editorial board offered Russia a reminder of that this afternoon and told Vladimir Putin to ‘fess up:

Initially, Russia’s defense ministry said two people died in the explosion, three were injured and there was no radiation release. Then officials in Severodvinsk, a larger city some 19 miles away, posted on its website a statement that sensors recorded a short-term spike in radiation, without saying how much. The report was subsequently taken down. Residents rushed to stockpile iodine against possible radiation exposure. Ambulances carrying the injured appeared to be sealed by some kind of plastic film, and personnel were wearing hazmat suits. On Aug. 10, the Russian state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said five of its employees had died in the accident, bringing the total to seven. Moreover, Rosatom said the blast resulted from the test of a jet engine “propulsion system involving isotopes,” or nuclear materials. On Aug. 13, residents of the small village of Nyonoksa were told they would be evacuated temporarily.

If this slow dribble of facts sounds familiar, it is — the same parade of misdirection happened during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. This accident is nothing like Chernobyl in scale, but the government response looks familiar, including a lack of transparency about radiation release. As the recent television series “Chernobyl” vividly illustrated, that accident, the worst in the nuclear age, was characterized by lies and deception. At the very least, Russia should immediately clear up what occurred at Nyonoksa.

They also raise the warning for the rest of us:

If the Nyonoksa blast was a test of the Burevestnik engine, Russia may be further along than previously thought. Mr. Putin has taken pains to brag that Russian can develop weapons with an asymmetric threat to the United States. Test failures are to be expected. But at a time when nuclear arms control is falling apart, this test raises a question: If successful, what kind of new nuclear threat will Russia possess?

Maybe it wasn’t so successful, which might be why Putin’s not talking much about it.

The post CNN: Did the Russians nuke themselves? appeared first on Hot Air.

Westlake Legal Group cnn-skyfall-300x162 CNN: Did the Russians nuke themselves? Vladimir Putin The Blog Russia Nuclear Weapons nuclear accident Chernobyl   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

U.S. Officials Suspect New Nuclear Missile in Explosion That Killed 7 Russians

American intelligence officials are racing to understand a mysterious explosion that released radiation off the coast of northern Russia last week, apparently during the test of a new type of nuclear-propelled cruise missile hailed by President Vladimir V. Putin as the centerpiece of Moscow’s arms race with the United States.

American officials have said nothing publicly about the blast on Thursday, possibly one of the worst nuclear accidents in Russia since Chernobyl, although apparently on a far smaller scale, with at least seven people, including scientists, confirmed dead. But the Russian government’s slow and secretive response has set off anxiety in nearby cities and towns — and attracted the attention of analysts in Washington and Europe who believe the explosion may offer a glimpse of technological weaknesses in Russia’s new arms program.

Thursday’s accident happened offshore of the Nenoksa Missile Test Site and was followed by what nearby local officials initially reported was a spike in radiation in the atmosphere.

Late Sunday night, officials at a research institute that had employed five of the scientists who died confirmed for the first time that a small nuclear reactor had exploded during an experiment in the White Sea, and that the authorities were investigating the cause.

Vyacheslav Solovyov, the scientific director of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center, said in a video interview with a local newspaper that the institute had been studying “small-scale sources of energy with the use of fissile materials.”

But United States intelligence officials have said they suspect the blast involved a prototype of what NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. That is a cruise missile that Mr. Putin has boasted can reach any corner of the earth because it is partially powered by a small nuclear reactor, eliminating the usual distance limitations of conventionally fueled missiles.

As envisioned by Mr. Putin, who played animated video of the missile at a state-of-the-union speech in 2018, the Skyfall is part of a new class of weapons designed to evade American missile defenses.

In several recent Pentagon and other government reports, the prospect of a Russian nuclear-powered cruise missiles has been frequently cited as a potential new kind of threat. They are launched into the air and able to weave an unpredictable path at relatively low altitudes.

That makes them virtually unstoppable for the existing American antimissile systems in Alaska and California, which are designed to intercept intercontinental ballistic missile warheads in space, traveling a largely predictable path.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_159009294_6bdc9df6-8057-4581-bfa6-3406a4aedb3a-articleLarge U.S. Officials Suspect New Nuclear Missile in Explosion That Killed 7 Russians United States International Relations Russia Putin, Vladimir V Nuclear Weapons Arms Control and Limitation and Disarmament

A 2011 photo of the military base near Nenoksa, Russia, where the explosion occurred.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

Yet for all the hype, Russia’s early tests of the cruise missile appeared to fail, even before last week’s disaster. And Russia’s story about what happened Thursday in the sea off one of its major missile test sites has changed over the past four days as the body count has risen.

Beyond the human toll, American intelligence officials are questioning whether Mr. Putin’s grand dream of a revived arsenal evaporated in that mysterious explosion, or whether it was just an embarrassing setback in Moscow’s effort to build a new class of long-range and undersea weapons that the United States cannot intercept.

Many outside arms experts have long regarded his effort as part fantasy, using a technology the United States tried and failed to make work in the 1950s and 1960s. If so, it may call into question one of the Trump administration’s justifications for major new spending on American nuclear weapons to counter the Russian buildup — though the United States also cites a parallel program underway in China.

The accident came at a critical moment in the revived United States-Russia nuclear competition. This month, the United States withdrew from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement, citing long-running Russian violations, and there are doubts that New START, the one remaining major treaty limiting nuclear forces, will be renewed before it runs out in less than two years.

To Russian military officials, one of the appeals of the new class of hypersonic and undersea nuclear weapons is that they are not prohibited by any existing treaties — giving them free run to test and deploy them.

Russia’s military, in statements carried by state news agencies, first said that a fire broke out when a liquid-fueled rocket engine exploded at a testing site, but that radiation remained at normal background levels.

That contradicted a report from local authorities in the city of Severodvinsk, about 25 miles away. An official in charge of civil defense said two radiation meters registered a spike. Russian news media later reported radiation briefly rose to 200 times normal background levels.

The reports were quickly taken off the city’s websites, but not in time to stop a run by city residents for iodine, a way of protecting the thyroid gland against absorbing radiation.

“This information should be open” to inform those who might be exposed or wish to take precautions, said Aleksandr K. Nikitin, a former Russian naval officer and researcher with the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. “But in Russia it is done differently.”

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in May 1986.CreditLaski Diffusion/Getty Images

The Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom on Saturday said the failure occurred in an “isotope power source for a liquid fueled rocket engine.” While the wording was confusing, it was the first official acknowledgment that the accident was nuclear in nature.

The change in Russia’s account, along with separate American intelligence reporting and satellite imagery, got the attention of American intelligence officials. They are now exploring whether the small nuclear reactor that Mr. Putin talked about when promoting the weapon failed, or exploded.

While the scale of the accident appeared vastly smaller than the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986, which killed thousands, the slow release of muddied information, the public confusion and distrust of official accounts, and the race for some limited form of protection, seemed to have echoes of the reaction to that disaster.

It has never been clear just how far along Mr. Putin’s grand plans for the cruise missile — called the 9M730 Burevestnick by the Russians — had gotten.

A missile-defense review published by the Pentagon — after careful scrubbing to avoid signaling to Moscow what American intelligence officials think they know — notes that “Russian leaders also claim that Russia possesses a new class of missile” that travels five times faster than the speed of sound and moves “just above the atmosphere,” in an evasive pattern that would defeat American antimissile technology. But the report made no assessment of whether they would work.

“I’ve generally been of the belief that this attempt at developing an unlimited-range nuclear-powered cruise missile is folly,’’ said Ankit Panda, a nuclear expert at the Federation of American Scientists. “It’s unclear if someone in the Russian defense industrial bureaucracy may have managed to convince a less technically informed leadership that this is a good idea, but the United States tried this, quickly discovered the limitations and risks, and abandoned it with good reason.”

Ivan Konovalov, director of the Center for Strategic Trends in Moscow and a military analyst, characterized the experiments underway now as “pioneering” work on a new technology and fraught with danger.

“When there are tests, anything can happen,” he said in a telephone interview.

But for Mr. Putin, facing protests that reveal some public restiveness with his long rule, the weapons programs have been part of his argument that he is restoring Russia to the position the Soviet Union held as a great power.

When Mr. Putin first spoke about the new weapons in 2018, most of the attention fell on his description of an undersea drone, called the Poseidon, that could operate autonomously and, American officials feared, hit the West Coast in a nuclear “second strike” after an initial exchange. Mr. Putin seemed to be seeking attention for the new arsenal.

An undated video frame provided by the Russian Defense Ministry shows an undersea drone, called the Poseidon.CreditDefense Ministry Press Service, via Associated Press

“Nobody wanted to talk to us,” Mr. Putin complained in the speech. “Now listen to us.”

He and others have talked about Russia’s plans for the “Poseidon” in a nod to the Doomsday Machine parodied in the 1964 classic “Dr. Strangelove,” which could hit the West Coast even if Moscow and Russia’s military centers were already destroyed in a nuclear strike. While fictional, the movie was based on a real Soviet plan, a demonstration of how long Soviet and Russian leaders have entertained the idea.

The “Poseidon” undersea drone still appears to be years away. But for Mr. Putin, the most promising weapon has been the nuclear-propelled cruise missile, which he advertised to be able to fly an unlimited range — an answer to American “global strike” weapons that are designed to reach any corner of the earth, with a non-nuclear warhead.

A little more than a year ago, Russia’s Ministry of Defense produced a carefully edited YouTube video that showed the missile heading aloft, and left the impression, wrongly, that it was already working.

The Russian admission that the accident centered on an “isotope power source” followed a series of anonymous statements, run on Tass and other Russian news sites, that seemed to mix fact, rumor and some disinformation. But satellite images offer some clues.

An Aug. 8 image released by Planet Labs, a firm that launches small satellites, appears to show the Serebryanka, a ship that carries nuclear fuel and waste, offshore from the Nenoksa Missile Test Site. Its presence, Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute, wrote on Twitter, “may be related to the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile.”

That vessel, which can safely collect nuclear waste, was also seen at another test of the 9M730 Burevestnick. Other facilities examined by Mr. Lewis’ experts seemed to show testing facilities consistent with those previously shown in Russian reports on past tests.

On Sunday, Mr. Lewis said that given the string of other suspected failures in tests of the missile’s propulsion system, “we think they are having troubles getting the reactor to light” and create the heat to fuel the missile. The images on the Russian YouTube video “doesn’t show you enough to prove it’s working,’’ he said.

“Maybe Putin will make it happen,’’ he added. “Maybe it will never work.”

Nuclear arms races are partly about the weapons, but they are also about leaving the impression that systems work, even if they don’t. Both sides engaged in propaganda and lies about the capability and size of their arsenals during the Cold War. They also covered up accidents.

The United States lost a nuclear weapon at sea off the coast of Japan, and didn’t acknowledge it for years, one of many cover-ups.

And this would hardly be the first time the Russian military, and its Soviet predecessors, covered up a testing disaster. A 1960 explosion at the Baikonur Cosmodrome was not acknowledged for nearly three decades. The official death toll then was 78; now there are some estimates that range into the hundreds.

With the passage of nearly 60 years, the truth may never be known.

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U.S. Ends Cold War Missile Treaty, With Aim of Countering China

Westlake Legal Group 01dc-missiles1-facebookJumbo U.S. Ends Cold War Missile Treaty, With Aim of Countering China United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Treaties Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty Russia Nuclear Weapons China Arms Control and Limitation and Disarmament

WASHINGTON — The United States on Friday terminated a major treaty of the Cold War, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement, and it is already planning to start testing a new class of missiles later this summer.

But the new missiles are unlikely to be deployed to counter the treaty’s other nuclear power, Russia, which the United States has said for years was in violation of the accord. Instead, the first deployments are likely to be intended to counter China, which has amassed an imposing missile arsenal and is now seen as a much more formidable long-term strategic rival than Russia.

The moves by Washington have elicited concern that the United States may be on the precipice of a new arms race, especially because the one major remaining arms control treaty with Russia, a far larger one called New START, appears on life support, unlikely to be renewed when it expires in less than two years.

At a moment when the potential for nuclear confrontations with North Korea and Iran is rising, the American decision to abandon the 32-year-old treaty has prompted new worries in Europe and Asia, and warnings that echo an era that once seemed banished to the history books. The resurgence of nuclear geopolitics was evident in the Democratic debate on Tuesday night, when presidential hopefuls grappled with whether the United States should renounce “first use” of nuclear weapons in any future conflict.

“The United States and Russia are now in a state of strategic instability,” Ernest J. Moniz, the former energy secretary, and Sam Nunn, the former Georgia senator who helped draft the legislation that funded the drastic reduction in former Soviet nuclear forces, write in a coming article in Foreign Affairs ominously titled “The Return to Doomsday.” “Not since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis has the risk of a U.S.-Russian confrontation involving the use of nuclear weapons been as high as it is today. Yet unlike during the Cold War, both sides seem willfully blind to the peril.”

Others are less concerned about the implications with Russia, noting that the treaty is limited, covering only a narrow class of missiles.

President Barack Obama considered terminating the treaty when Moscow was first accused of violating its terms. On Thursday, just as his aides were confirming the American withdrawal and blaming Russia for the breakdown, President Trump told reporters that Russia “would like to do something on a nuclear treaty” and added later, “So would I.” But he appeared to be discussing a broader treaty that would involve China — which has said it has no intention of negotiating a limit on its arsenal.

In fact, the administration has argued that China is one reason Mr. Trump decided to exit the I.N.F. treaty. Most experts now assess that China has the most advanced conventional missile arsenal in the world, based throughout the mainland. When the treaty went into effect in 1987, China’s missile fleet was judged so rudimentary that it was not even a consideration.

Today hundreds of missiles in southeast China are within range of Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island supported by the United States. Missiles at other sites can hit Japan and India, and there are Chinese missiles that can strike the United States territory of Guam and other potential targets in what American strategists call the second-island chain.

“Unilateral constraint was a losing proposition: China developed the world’s foremost force of missiles precisely within the ranges that I.N.F. would prohibit,” said Andrew Erickson, a professor of strategy at the United States Naval War College. “So this increasingly antiquated treaty had no future.”

Until now, the Trump administration has held off on testing new missiles that would violate the treaty; under its terms, even testing is prohibited. But that stricture lifts on Friday, and the first test of new American intermediate-range missiles is likely to begin within weeks, according to American officials familiar with the Pentagon’s plans.

The first, perhaps as early as this month, is expected to be a test of a version of a common, sea-launched cruise missile, the Tomahawk. It would be modified to be fired from the ground. (The treaty prohibited intermediate-range ground-launched missiles, but not missiles launched from ships or airplanes.) If successful, officials say, the first ground-launched cruise missiles could be deployed within 18 months or so — if the United States can find a country willing to house them.

That would be followed by a test of a new mobile, ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of 1,800 to 2,500 miles, before the end of the year. But that would be an entirely new missile, and it is not likely to be deployed for another five years or so — meaning the very end of the Trump presidency, if he is re-elected.

But the question is where to deploy them. “I don’t think the Europeans want to host them,” Gary Samore, the director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University and the chief nuclear strategist at the National Security Council under Mr. Obama, said on Thursday. In Asia, he noted, the two countries where it would make most sense to deploy the missiles would be Japan and South Korea, though any move to put the missiles there could infuriate China.

“The real question is where and whether or not there would be pushback,” said Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The most obvious place is someplace in Japan.”

Mr. Samore noted that the fate of New START, which governs the strategic weapons the United States and Russia have deployed, “is much more important than I.N.F.” Senior military officials agree, but have added that once the I.N.F. treaty dies, it is hard to imagine a negotiation to renew New START, which expires in February 2021, right after the next presidential inauguration.

Even if it is renewed, Mr. Samore noted that in coming years, the source of strategic instability may not come just from nuclear weapons but also “from space weapons, artificial intelligence and cyber — and there we have no restraints.”

But it is China’s rocket forces that have focused the attention of the Pentagon and the Trump administration. In 2017, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., then the head of United States Pacific Command, said in congressional testimony that the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force controls the “largest and most diverse missile force in the world, with an inventory of more than 2,000 ballistic and cruise missiles.” He pointed out that the United States capability lagged because of its adherence to the treaty with Russia, and that if China were a signatory, 95 percent of its missiles would be in violation.

But deploying a counterforce to Taiwan would be too provocative, officials say, and Japan may have hesitations: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would have to consider the blow that would result to relations between Beijing and Tokyo, which have been improving.

China’s fury at deployment of American ground-based missiles in an Asian nation probably would be even greater than its reaction in 2016 and 2017 to plans to install an American antimissile system in South Korea.

For more than a year after the announcement of the deployment, Beijing denounced the move and called for a wide boycott of products from South Korea, whose companies then suffered. The Americans began deploying the system, commonly known as THAAD, in March 2017, and Beijing did not relent on its actions against South Korea until that October. Communist Party leaders feared the United States was laying the groundwork for an expansive antimissile system across Asia.

Chinese officials have also balked at any attempt to limit their missiles with a new treaty, arguing that the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia are much larger and deadlier.

“The Trump idea of a trilateral arms control agreement is not realistic,” Mr. Samore said. “The Chinese are not going to codify an inferior number of weapons compared to the United States and Russia. And Russia and the U.S. won’t give China equal status.”

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In Escalation, Iran Tests Medium-Range Missile, U.S. Official Says

Westlake Legal Group shabab3-1-facebookJumbo In Escalation, Iran Tests Medium-Range Missile, U.S. Official Says Zarif, Mohammad Javad United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces United Nations Trump, Donald J Pompeo, Mike Nuclear Weapons Iran Defense Department

WASHINGTON — Iran fired a Shahab-3 medium-range missile on Wednesday, a United States military official said, playing it down by saying that it did not pose a threat to American or other Western shipping or military bases in the region.

The missile was launched from the southern coast of Iran and landed east of Tehran, the official said on Thursday, adding that it flew about 1,100 kilometers, or about 680 miles, and stayed inside Iran for the entire flight.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence analyses, said that American officials had been closely monitoring the test site as Iran prepared the missile for launch.

Despite the Pentagon’s effort to minimize the strategic importance of the launch on Wednesday, it appears to be a political statement by Iran, acting both as a carefully calibrated effort at escalation — and as a message to Europe.

Missile launches are not forbidden under the 2015 nuclear accord reached between Washington and Tehran, which is one of President Trump’s complaints about the agreement he abandoned last year. But a United Nations Security Council resolution, passed just as the agreement was reached, says that “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has demanded that Iran cease all missile launches and testing and give up its arsenal of the weapons. Iran says it is under no obligation to do so, and notes that because it has no interest in nuclear weapons, it is not violating the wording of the United Nations prohibition.

Last week in New York, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that if the United States wanted to discuss missile limitations, it should begin by not supplying Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab states with missiles that threaten Iran. The test on Wednesday seemed meant to drive home the point that Iran had no intention on giving up on its own missile fleet.

The Shahab-3 is hardly a new weapon — it has been in the Iranian arsenal for two decades. Based on a North Korean design, called the No-Dong, it can fly about 1,000 kilometers. Variants can range farther, capable of striking the edge of Europe.

But more important, Israel and a number of Western experts say a nuclear weapon can be fashioned to fit in the missile’s nose cone. The test launch may also be meant to demonstrate that American efforts to sabotage the Iranian missile program, chiefly with bad parts, are not impeding its development.

The missile launch in Iran came within hours of North Korea’s launching of two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Thursday. The South Korean government said that the North was expanding its ability to deliver nuclear warheads as Mr. Trump’s efforts resume talks on ending the country’s nuclear weapons program remain stalled.

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Iran Announces New Breach of Nuclear Deal Limits, and Threatens Further Violations

Iran said on Sunday that within hours it would breach the limits on uranium enrichment set four years ago in an accord with the United States and other international powers that was designed to keep Tehran from producing a nuclear weapon.

The latest move inches Iran closer to where it was before the accord: on the path to being able to produce an atomic bomb.

In recent weeks, Tehran has been making deliberate but provocative violations of the accord, as part of a carefully calibrated campaign to pressure the West into eliminating sanctions that have slashed the country’s oil exports and crippled its economy.

Last week, Iranian officials broke through similar limits on how much nuclear fuel the country could stockpile. The steps Tehran has taken are all easily reversible. Yet the new move Iran vowed to take — to increase enrichment levels beyond the 3.67 percent purity that is the ceiling under the deal — is the most threatening.

Speaking at a news conference on Sunday in Tehran, the deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, said Iran would take additional steps over the limits of the accord in 60-day intervals unless international powers provide sanctions relief as detailed in the deal. President Trump withdrew the United States from the accord last year.

In violating the limits on uranium enrichment, Tehran still remains far from producing a nuclear weapon. It would take a major production surge, and enrichment to far higher levels, for Iran to develop a bomb’s worth of highly enriched uranium, experts say. It would take even longer to manufacture that material into a nuclear weapon.

Westlake Legal Group iran-strait-of-hormuz-tankers-1562502231078-articleLarge Iran Announces New Breach of Nuclear Deal Limits, and Threatens Further Violations Uranium United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Rouhani, Hassan Nuclear Weapons Nuclear Energy Macron, Emmanuel (1977- ) Iran Embargoes and Sanctions

Why This Narrow Strait Next to Iran Is So Critical to the World’s Oil Supply

Twenty percent of the global oil supply flows past Iran through the Strait of Hormuz.

But for Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who signaled in May that he would order the country’s engineers to cross both thresholds if Europe did not compensate Iran for American sanctions, the breach of the enrichment limit would be a watershed. He is betting that the United States will back away from crushing sanctions or that he can split European nations from the Trump administration, which the Europeans blame for setting off the crisis.

If he is wrong, the prospect of military confrontation lurks over each escalation.

“It is a back-to-the-future moment,” said Sanam Vakil, who studies Iran at Chatham House, a research institute in London. It has revived a vexing question that policymakers have grappled with for more than a decade: Is there a permanent way to stop Iran from developing the capability to build a nuclear weapon?

In a phone conversation on Saturday seeking to head off a confrontation, President Emmanuel Macron of France asked Mr. Rouhani to explore by July 15 whether a new negotiation was possible. Mr. Rouhani agreed, according to news reports, but said that “lifting all sanctions can be the beginning of a move between Iran and the six major powers.”

So far, Mr. Trump and his top aides have vowed to continue using “maximum pressure” to force Iran to return to the negotiating table and to accept more stringent restrictions. But some of those who had negotiated the last deal say that reaching another one may now be much harder.

The Trump administration “has discredited the very concept of negotiations, and it has strengthened the hand of those inside Iran who would argue that it is no use talking to the Americans because you can never trust them,” said Rob Malley, a former National Security Council official who helped negotiate the 2015 accord.

“We have already gone through a period of sanctions, negotiations and a deal, and this time it will be harder because the distrust is even greater than it was,” added Mr. Malley, who is now president of the International Crisis Group, an independent organization that tries to defuse international conflict.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_157588539_adc38059-5a07-47f3-970b-c6c11af0d4b4-articleLarge Iran Announces New Breach of Nuclear Deal Limits, and Threatens Further Violations Uranium United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Rouhani, Hassan Nuclear Weapons Nuclear Energy Macron, Emmanuel (1977- ) Iran Embargoes and Sanctions

The water facility at Arak. Iran poured cement into the core of the plutonium reactor there, preventing it from taking another path to a bomb. In recent days, however, Iranian leaders have threatened to reverse those steps.CreditHamid Foroutan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For a year after Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from what he called a “terrible” deal negotiated by his predecessor, Iran stayed within the accord’s limits. It pressed Britain, France and Germany to make good on their promises to compensate the country for oil revenues and other losses resulting from American sanctions.

There were many meetings on the design of a barter system that might allow Iran to swap oil for other goods, evading American sanctions. But progress was slow; as of last week, not a single barter transaction has been completed, and European officials said the system would never fully compensate for billions of dollars in lost oil sales.

Two months ago, when the United States accelerated the sanctions and moved to cut Iran’s oil revenues to near zero, Tehran decided to begin step-by-step violations of the accord, saying the United States had taken the first move to dissolve it.

Iran has not said how far beyond the enrichment limit it plans to go. Historically, although it has never been known to have approached the 90-percent enrichment required for weapons-grade material, its move raises the prospect of a race toward that goal.

Even a move to 20 percent enrichment — the top level it hit before the deal was reached, in what Iran called an effort to make medical isotopes at a small reactor that the United States gave to Tehran more than 40 years ago — would put it within months of being able to produce weapons-grade fuel.

At first glance, Iran is much further away from that goal than it was before it agreed to the 2015 deal, which set its nuclear efforts back by a matter of years.

In a phone conversation on Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran was asked by President Emmanuel Macron of France to explore by July 15 whether a new negotiation was possible.Credit-/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Under the deal, Iran exported 98 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, chiefly to Russia, leaving it with a minimal amount. It dismantled more than two-thirds of the 19,000 centrifuges it was operating. It poured cement into the core of its Arak plutonium reactor, preventing it from taking another path to a bomb. (In recent days, however, Iranian leaders have threatened to reverse those steps.)

Perhaps most important, Iran agreed to comprehensive inspections by international monitors, who continue their work. They report relatively few troubles.

Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies who is among the most vociferous critics of the 2015 deal, argued that despite the accord’s shortcomings, in some ways United States policy toward Iran was now working out better than anyone could have planned.

Although he faulted the 2015 deal for weaknesses such as its planned sunset over the next five to 10 years, he conceded that in the short term the Obama administration had persuaded Iran to dismantle so much of its nuclear infrastructure that it has drastically prolonged the amount of time Iran would need to develop a bomb.

That has reduced Iran’s leverage — and helps explain Mr. Rouhani’s drive to break out of some of the accord’s restrictions.

But because the Trump administration is hammering Iran with economic sanctions that are more painful than ever before, the country does not have the kind of money it once did to pour into the nuclear effort or other military activities.

So far, President Trump and his top aides have vowed to continue using “maximum pressure” to force Iran to return to the negotiating table and accept more stringent restrictions.CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

Crude oil exports have reportedly fallen to about 300,000 barrels a day, compared with about a million a day at the time Iran agreed to the 2015 deal. And the result has brought on a severe crisis in the Iranian economy.

“If you were a Martian who landed on the Washington Mall yesterday and you were given a briefing on Iran policy, you would think, wow, those Americans are really smart when they work together,” Mr. Dubowitz said. “The net result is that Iran is a lot worse off today in terms of nuclear infrastructure and worse off in its economic pain.”

Yet paradoxically, some analysts and former officials argue, the experience of that deal falling apart may also increase the challenge of once again thwarting Iran’s nuclear progress.

Aided in part by sanctions relief provided under the deal, Tehran has fortified itself. Its nuclear facilities, especially a centrifuge center at Natanz, are surrounded by antiaircraft guns. Its missile program has far more reach than it did previously, in part because a side agreement, negotiated at the time of the 2015 deal, weakened the wording on United Nations restrictions on Iran’s missile program.

And the country’s reach is greater: It has helped allied militias build up and dig in around the region, including in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and those militias may in turn help Iran retaliate against the United States.

Its cybercorps, built after an American-Israeli cyberattack on the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in the years before the 2015 accord, is capable of hitting American infrastructure — and has proved it with attacks on American banks.

Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility in 2007. Aided in part by sanctions relief provided under the deal, Tehran has fortified itself. Its nuclear facilities, especially a centrifuge center at Natanz, are surrounded by anti-aircraft guns.CreditHasan Sarbakhshian/Associated Press

Because of the stronger position of Iranian allies around the region and the significant advances in Iran’s conventional missile program, “repercussion across the region could be far bigger” from the escalating conflict with the United States, said Ellie Geranmayeh, who studies Iran at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“You are probably going to see a few things go pop in the region over the summer weeks — like oil facilities being targeted,” she said, “to try to raise the cost not only for the Saudis and Emiratis, but also to try to raise the cost for Trump personally in the run up to his election.”

Mr. Trump, often caught between his desire to flex muscles and his aversion to another Middle East war, must now decide whether to negotiate, lower the sanctions pressure or consider military options.

For now, the Iranians appear to be speaking primarily to the Europeans. The European Union, Britain, France and Germany all signed the 2015 deal and, in defiance of the Trump administration, continue to support it.

Persuading the Europeans to join another American-led campaign to pressure Iran “is going to be a much harder sell,” Ms. Geranmayeh said. “The Europeans are pointing the blame for the failure of this agreement directly at the U.S. rather than Iran.”

At the same time, if the Europeans conclude that Iran has gone too far beyond the deal, they could ask the United Nations Security Council to reimpose “snapback” sanctions — swift and sweeping penalties set out under the 2015 deal that would add to Iran’s pain.

Iran appears to be emphasizing a desire to return to compliance if the United States does as well, in a bet that it can persuade the Europeans to drag their feet about imposing any penalties. But each step Iran takes makes that bet more risky.

“At some point the Europeans, too, will start wanting to show the Iranians that there is a price to be paid for their behavior, just as Iranians are now showing the U.S.,” Mr. Malley said. “If there is a cycle that emerges, then sooner or later you are heading to the unraveling of the deal.”

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NATO Considers Missile Defense Upgrade, Risking Further Tensions With Russia

BRUSSELS — NATO military officials are exploring whether to upgrade their defenses to make them capable of shooting down newly deployed Russian intermediate-range nuclear missiles after a landmark arms treaty dissolves next month, according to three European officials.

Any change to the stated mission of NATO’s current missile defense system — aimed at threats from outside the region, like Iran — would probably divide the alliance’s member countries and enrage Russia, which has long said it views NATO’s missile defense site in Romania and one under construction in Poland as a threat to its nuclear arsenal and a source of instability in Europe.

“It would be a point of no return with the Russians,” said Jim Townsend, a former Pentagon official and expert on the alliance. “It would be a real escalation.”

The United States announced in February its intention to withdraw from the 31-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 in the waning years of the Cold War, citing Moscow’s years of violations, a step the NATO alliance supported.

The treaty, which prohibits missiles with a range of 310 to 3,420 miles from Europe, will be terminated on Aug. 2 unless Moscow and Washington come to agreement to revive it in the next few weeks.

NATO ambassadors will make one last attempt to push Russia to withdraw its new cruise missiles and revive the treaty on Friday in Brussels.

Discussions about new missile defense measures are at their earliest stages, officials cautioned. NATO’s chief spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, denied that any studies of the feasibility of upgrading the ballistic missile defenses were underway. She said the alliance had repeatedly made clear that the existing ballistic missile defense system “is neither designed nor directed against Russia.”

But the alliance is considering new air and missile defenses, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced last week without revealing details. And given the rising threat of the Russian cruise missiles, NATO members are expected to order the alliance to study defense options, either after the October defense ministers’ meeting or the December leaders’ summit, a senior alliance official said.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_157431471_e2f75b17-e6b1-46f5-8e59-e1012d158b25-articleLarge NATO Considers Missile Defense Upgrade, Risking Further Tensions With Russia United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Treaties Russia Nuclear Weapons North Atlantic Treaty Organization Missiles and Missile Defense Systems Europe Eastern Europe Arms Control and Limitation and Disarmament

The NATO Aegis defense system in Romania in 2016. The systems there and in Poland are currently incapable of firing the interceptor used to strike intermediate-range missiles.CreditKay Nietfeld/Picture-Alliance, via Associated Press

Such an order would require all 29 allies to agree to it. But some officials think that if the treaty ends, the allies will at least be willing to examine the options. The senior official said that if the allies ultimately could not agree on shifting the mission of the ballistic missile defense sites, they may be open to a compromise that would introduce new systems to defend against Russian cruise missiles.

The push for improved defenses is fueled by Russia’s fielding of a new class of missiles as well as the expected demise of the treaty — a casualty of deteriorating relations between Russia and the United States. Eastern European countries, particularly Poland and the Baltic states, believe they are under growing threat of nuclear bullying by Moscow and have been eager to see the alliance develop new defenses.

Based on intelligence from multiple allied agencies, NATO countries have forged a consensus that the new Russian nuclear-capable cruise missiles pose a threat. The missiles, some American and European analysts fear, could give Moscow significant leverage, using the threat of attack to force other countries to de-escalate or give in to Russian demands during a crisis.

The relationship between Russia and the West has spiraled downward since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine forced the alliance to reinforce its eastern flank with new troop deployments and military exercises. Moscow responded with its own military upgrades, ultimately including the deployment of a new class of ground-based cruise missiles that the West said violated the I.N.F. treaty. Russia’s election interference, its intervention in Syria and the attempted poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer in Britain further heightened tensions.

Any move by NATO to redirect its missile defenses or expand its system with new capabilities could be a tipping point. Russians have never believed the alliance’s denials that its interceptor system would not eventually be used to shoot down Russian missiles. The system has remained a persistent irritant for Moscow, which questioned why the alliance still needed it after Iran agreed in 2015 to pause its nuclear enrichment program and threatened to direct missiles at the alliance interceptor sites.

Officials at Russia’s NATO embassy did not return requests for comment.

Last week, allied defense ministers approved an examination of potential responses to the Russian deployment of so-called SSC-8 cruise missiles, the weapon NATO accuses Moscow of deploying in violation of the treaty, according to three NATO officials. They include expanding existing deterrence exercises and publicizing the alliance’s nuclear exercises, which are highly secretive. Drawing more attention to the allied nuclear exercises and arsenal would help deter Moscow’s use of its own weapons, some officials think.

NATO will probably need to examine more broadly what defenses it needs against the cruise missiles. Such work, if approved this year, would include exploring whether it can upgrade its Aegis Ashore radar and interceptor sites in Romania and Poland and looking at new radar or air defense capabilities against the cruise missiles.

Upgrading existing ballistic missile defense capabilities, including its two Aegis Ashore sites, would be complex. The NATO Aegis systems in Romania and Poland are incapable of firing the interceptor used to strike intermediate-range missiles. And given their close positions to Russia, the systems have significantly less time to detect, lock onto and attempt to intercept the missiles.

The United States Missile Defense Agency has examined how existing Aegis Ashore missile defense systems could be upgrade with new radar, software and interceptors to allow them to strike intermediate ballistic missiles and potentially cruise missiles, according to current and former officials briefed on the discussions.

Newer technologies like high-velocity projectiles and directed-energy lasers are likely to provide a far better defense long term, experts said. Ballistic missile defenses intercept missiles high in the atmosphere, while cruise missiles fly relatively low to the ground.

Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, has said the alliance is considering new air and missile defenses.CreditVirginia Mayo/Associated Press

Fielding new systems to defend against a cruise missile threat, rather than upgrading the existing ballistic missile defense, may also prove more politically palatable. “If NATO is to update its systems, it may undermine its yearslong claim that the launchers were never meant to counter Russia,” said Bruno Lété, a defense analyst in the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

But many Europeans see themselves as in the line of fire with the new Russian cruise missile deployments, he said. “There is a clear incentive for NATO to see if they can upgrade the existing systems to counter Russian intermediary missiles,” Mr. Lété said. “From a military perspective, this would be a relatively simple, decisive and cost-effective step.”

Russian military doctrine, according to American and European military strategists, is increasingly focused on using limited nuclear strikes to quickly end a potential conflict in Moscow’s favor. Such a use of nuclear weapons for a battlefield effect is unthinkable to European politicians and has made some allied officials more open to examining the practicality of using the existing missile defense system to defend against Russia.

“We want to make sure the Russians don’t want to exercise nuclear blackmail, and missile defense is the way to take away that intimidation, to deter that intimidation,” Mr. Townsend said.

American officials have focused on trying to deter Russian intermediate-range missiles by quickly developing their own ground-launched cruise missile, a class the I.N.F. treaty has banned. Many in the alliance oppose deploying new offensive weapons. NATO planners are not expecting a directive to add offensive capabilities, only to expand defensive measures, the senior allied official said.

Since April, the Aegis site in Romania has been undergoing an upgrade. Officials said it was long planned and did not involve recalibrating the system.

If the alliance wants to counter Russian cruise missiles, it may make more sense to deploy new technologies like directed-energy lasers, microwaves or electronic warfare measures, said Mark Gunzinger, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“We have invested in ballistic missile defenses, but frankly the cruise missile threat is a growing threat and we just haven’t fielded the capabilities to deal with it,” Mr. Gunzinger said.

Even if the alliance opts not to upgrade its Aegis Ashore sites, Mr. Gunzinger said, Russia’s new weapons will force it to field new air and missile defenses. Without them, it would be difficult to reinforce its front-line troops during a conflict, he said.

“Deterring Russia is going to take a different posture in Europe,” Mr. Gunzinger said. “It will take air and missile defenses to counter their salvos, it will take electronic warfare capabilities, it will take long-range precision strike.”

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He Enjoys American Coffee and Restaurants. Is He a Credible Negotiator for Iran?

Iranian hard-liners have long mocked their foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as the make-believe American, after a character in a comic Iranian movie who puts on an accent, wardrobe and lifestyle to live out a fantasy of American life.

A resident of the United States on and off for nearly 30 years, Mr. Zarif was the Iranian most closely associated with the negotiation of the 2015 deal that limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from sweeping economic sanctions.

To ordinary Iranians and reformists, that made him a hero. To hard-liners, though, he was a dupe, seduced by the West into a deal that the Americans would never live up to.

Now, with the nuclear deal on the brink of collapse, with the Trump administration reimposing crushing sanctions on Iran, and Tehran threatening to restart elements of its nuclear program, Mr. Zarif is coming under renewed fire not only from hard-liners in Tehran but also from Washington. White House officials say that President Trump has requested sanctions specifically against the Iranian foreign minister, stirring debate in both countries about the administration’s intentions.

Hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, argue that Mr. Zarif’s American affectations are what make him dangerous. Mr. Zarif and his patron, President Hassan Rouhani, are “polished front men for the ayatollah’s international con artistry,” Mr. Pompeo has said, suggesting that the foreign minister uses his flawless, idiomatic American English as a ruse to mask his allegiance to the hard-line agenda of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But critics shoot back that threatening Iran’s top diplomat makes no sense, given Mr. Trump’s repeated insistence that his ultimate goal is to restart negotiations with Iran. Cutting off the intermediary for any such talks, the critics say, may ultimately leave the administration no choice other than confrontation.

“It just makes it harder or impossible for the Iranians to choose some kind of diplomacy,” said Jeff Prescott, a former senior director for Iran on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama.

In an extensive email exchange, Mr. Zarif said he felt little personal risk from American sanctions. “Everyone who knows me knows that I or my family do not own any property outside Iran,” he wrote. “I personally do not even have a bank account outside Iran. Iran is my entire life and my sole commitment. So I have no personal problem with possible sanctions.”

Washington, Mr. Zarif argued, would only be hurting itself by cutting him off.

“The only impact — and possibly the sole objective — of a possible designation would be to limit my ability to communicate. And I doubt that would serve anyone,” he wrote. “Certainly it would limit the possibility of informed decision-making in Washington.”

As for the allegation of “con artistry,” Mr. Zarif said that he never asked the Americans to trust him and he never trusted them either, least of all during the negotiations of the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_157458888_eee3e2ce-a8e3-4a13-be22-3ef67330ed89-articleLarge He Enjoys American Coffee and Restaurants. Is He a Credible Negotiator for Iran? Zarif, Mohammad Javad United States International Relations United States Trump, Donald J Tehran (Iran) Pompeo, Mike Nuclear Weapons Khamenei, Ali Gerecht, Reuel Marc Embargoes and Sanctions Bolton, John R

Mr. Zarif with John Kerry, the secretary of state at the time, in New York in 2016. Mr. Zarif was an on-and-off resident of the United States for nearly 30 years.CreditBryan R. Smith/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Contrary to public statements by its detractors on all sides, JCPOA was not built on trust,” Mr. Zarif wrote in the email, referring to the agreement. “It was indeed based on explicit recognition of mutual mistrust. That is why it is so long and detailed.”

Mr. Zarif’s status in Tehran has already suffered severely with the waning fortunes of the nuclear deal. After pulling out of the agreement last year, the Trump administration in May tightened its sanctions to penalize anyone in the world who seeks to buy Iranian oil, slashing Iranian exports and plunging the economy into a tailspin.

Mr. Khamenei has said without naming Mr. Zarif or Mr. Rouhani that those who persuaded him to negotiate with Washington had made a grave mistake.

Other hard-liners have argued that Mr. Zarif should now resign, face impeachment, or be put on trial for the crime of leading Iran into an agreement that dismantled years of nuclear research and investment for no ultimate benefit.

“Mr. Zarif and his government put all their eggs in the basket of foreign policy and the nuclear deal,” Abdul Reza Davari, a conservative adviser to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former Iranian president, said in a telephone interview from Tehran. “It has been a spectacular failure, and now they are hanging on life support, hoping a change of administration in the U.S. would save them.”

Iranian officials have often said that they have sought only peaceful uses of nuclear power, not a nuclear weapon — a claim widely disputed in the West. But with the 2015 deal now all but dead, many conservatives in Tehran are pushing for Iran to resume its programs for the enrichment of nuclear material “as a sign of strength,” Mr. Davari said.

Some in his hard-line faction remain open to negotiations with Mr. Trump, Mr. Davari said, but no longer through Mr. Zarif.

Mr. Zarif briefly resigned in February after conservatives in the Iranian military failed to include him in a visit to Tehran by the president of Syria. (Mr. Khamenei interceded to keep Mr. Zarif at work.)

[By email, Mohammad Javad Zarif discusses his hopes for the nuclear deal, as well as his own future.]

Iranian moderates, while defending Mr. Zarif, are also preparing political eulogies. “We have never had a foreign minister like Zarif in the history of Iran,” said Mostafa Tajzadeh, a prominent reformist politician. “What he achieved with the nuclear deal — gaining the trust of both Americans and Mr. Khamenei — was nothing short of a miracle.”

At the top echelons of the Iranian political system, where knowledge of the United States is generally shallow and suspicions run deep, Mr. Zarif stands out for his ease among Americans. He came to the United States at 17 to attend college, and was an undergraduate at San Francisco State University in 1979 when the Islamic revolution broke out in Tehran. (He pitched in by helping lead a group of student revolutionaries who took over the Iranian consulate in San Francisco.)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called Mr. Zarif a “polished front man” for the hard-line policies of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.CreditPool photo by Jacquelyn Martin

He remained in the United States, first as a student and then as a diplomat, for much of his adult life. With his command of American English, he comes off to Westerners as urbane and at times even wry.

“Seriously?” he quipped this week by Twitter, quoting a White House news release claiming that “even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.”

His friends say he prefers American coffee to the typical Iranian tea, and he also enjoys dining out in American restaurants — although he is careful never to allow himself to be photographed in a setting where alcohol is visible, which the hard-liners could use against him at home in Tehran.

American supporters of imposing sanctions on Mr. Zarif argue that his effectiveness at passing for one of their countrymen is what makes him so dangerous. It helps him hide the fundamentally anti-American and expansionist character of the government he serves, they say.

“I would call him the whitewasher-in-chief,” said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a former C.I.A. official who studies Iran. “Zarif has gotten away, almost, with murder, because he has been depicted as something he is not — a moderate — when he is totally loyal to the Supreme Leader and totally loyal to the revolution.”

Mr. Gerecht added that the sanctions would send a message to the American public about Mr. Zarif and his patron, Mr. Rouhani.

“It is important to the narrative, to dispatch the notion that Zarif or Rouhani is part of this ‘moderate’ wing that will bring about normalcy,” Mr. Gerecht said.

But Mr. Zarif, in an email, said that the issue of the moment was not about him or the Iranian government, but about the nuclear deal, which he said was never intended to “resolve all our differences.”

“It was negotiated by all with open eyes about what as possible and what was not,” he wrote, and it “remains the best POSSIBLE agreement on the nuclear issue.”

As for the hard-liners who deride him as “Mamal Amricayi”— the make-believe American — Mr. Zarif said he had never seen the movie.

“But I do not mind if people have a good laugh about me,” he added. “That is another way of making myself useful!”

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In His Own Words: Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif

Westlake Legal Group 04zarifqna-facebookJumbo In His Own Words: Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif Zarif, Mohammad Javad United States International Relations Nuclear Weapons Iran Embargoes and Sanctions

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian most closely associated with the 2015 nuclear agreement, has come under fire in Tehran and Washington as the deal approaches collapse. Hard-liners in Tehran accuse him of falling for false promises from the Americans. Trump administration officials call him a trickster who acts like a moderate while remaining steadfastly loyal to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

Trump administration officials have talked of imposing economic sanctions on Mr. Zarif, even though he remains essential to any negotiated settlement of the current standoff between the countries.

In an exclusive interview conducted by email, Mr. Zarif talked about these issues at length. His remarks are reproduced here, edited slightly for length and clarity.

The nuclear deal you negotiated, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is now in jeopardy. Do you regret trusting the United States and the West?

I believe JCPOA was and remains the best POSSIBLE agreement on the nuclear issue. None of the participants were happy with all elements of the deal, but it addressed the major concerns of all. It was negotiated by all with open eyes about what was possible and what was not. We did not neglect anything. We accepted the reality that we could not resolve all our differences in this deal and we agreed to leave them out.

It is also important to note that, contrary to public statements by its detractors on all sides, JCPOA was not built on trust. It was indeed based on explicit recognition of mutual mistrust. That is why it is so long and detailed. Paragraph 36 of JCPOA is a clear example that we negotiated this deal with the full understanding that we could not trust the commitment of the West. We are exercising that option within the deal right now, which can indeed prevent the deal from total collapse, which will be detrimental to the interest of all including the United States.

(Paragraph 36 provided a mechanism to resolve disputes and allows one side, under certain circumstances, to stop complying with the deal if the other side is out of compliance.)

Do you think that the nuclear deal can be salvaged? Or do you anticipate continued erosion since President Trump withdrew from the agreement?

We will remain committed to the deal as long as the remaining participants (E.U., France, Germany, U.K., Russia and China) observe the deal. Survival or collapse of the JCPOA depends on the ability and willingness of all parties to invest in this undertaking. In a nutshell, a multilateral agreement cannot be implemented unilaterally.

Has this turn of events jeopardized your career as Iran’s top diplomat?

My preferred career has always been teaching. I will resume that sooner or later, with more to share with my students.

[Mohammad Javad Zarif finds himself mistrusted by both sides as the nuclear deal appears ready to collapse.]

Have you seen hard-liners tweeting and joking and comparing you to the 1970s movie about an Iranian who tries live out a fantasy of American life? What do you say to this?

I did not see that movie, so I do not know. But I do not mind if people have a good laugh about me. That is another way of making myself useful!

Officials of the Trump administration have talked about designating you as a target of economic sanctions. What will it mean if Washington sanctions you?

Everyone who knows me knows that I, or my family, do not own any property outside Iran. I personally do not even have a bank account outside Iran. Iran is my entire life and my sole commitment. So I have no personal problem with possible sanctions.

The only impact — and possibly the sole objective — of a possible designation would be to limit my ability to communicate. And I doubt that would serve anyone. Certainly, it would limit the possibility of informed decision making in Washington.

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As the Nuclear Deal Totters, So Do the Fortunes of Iran’s Foreign Minister

Iranian hard-liners have long mocked their foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as the make-believe American, after a character in a comic Iranian movie who puts on an accent, wardrobe and lifestyle to live out a fantasy of American life.

A resident of the United States on and off for nearly 30 years, Mr. Zarif was the Iranian most closely associated with the negotiation of the 2015 deal that limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from sweeping economic sanctions.

To ordinary Iranians and reformists, that made him a hero. To hard-liners, though, he was a dupe, seduced by the West into a deal that the Americans would never live up to.

Now, with the nuclear deal on the brink of collapse, with the Trump administration reimposing crushing sanctions on Iran, and Tehran threatening to restart elements of its nuclear program, Mr. Zarif is coming under renewed fire not only from hard-liners in Tehran but also from Washington. White House officials say that President Trump has requested sanctions specifically against the Iranian foreign minister, stirring debate in both countries about the administration’s intentions.

Hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, argue that Mr. Zarif’s American affectations are what make him dangerous. Mr. Zarif and his patron, President Hassan Rouhani, are “polished front men for the ayatollah’s international con artistry,” Mr. Pompeo has said, suggesting that the foreign minister uses his flawless, idiomatic American English as a ruse to mask his allegiance to the hard-line agenda of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But critics shoot back that threatening Iran’s top diplomat makes no sense, given Mr. Trump’s repeated insistence that his ultimate goal is to restart negotiations with Iran. Cutting off the intermediary for any such talks, the critics say, may ultimately leave the administration no choice other than confrontation.

“It just makes it harder or impossible for the Iranians to choose some kind of diplomacy,” said Jeff Prescott, a former senior director for Iran on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama.

In an extensive email exchange, Mr. Zarif said he felt little personal risk from American sanctions. “Everyone who knows me knows that I or my family do not own any property outside Iran,” he wrote. “I personally do not even have a bank account outside Iran. Iran is my entire life and my sole commitment. So I have no personal problem with possible sanctions.”

Washington, Mr. Zarif argued, would only be hurting itself by cutting him off.

“The only impact — and possibly the sole objective — of a possible designation would be to limit my ability to communicate. And I doubt that would serve anyone,” he wrote. “Certainly it would limit the possibility of informed decision-making in Washington.”

As for the allegation of “con artistry,” Mr. Zarif said that he never asked the Americans to trust him and he never trusted them either, least of all during the negotiations of the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_157458888_eee3e2ce-a8e3-4a13-be22-3ef67330ed89-articleLarge As the Nuclear Deal Totters, So Do the Fortunes of Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif, Mohammad Javad United States International Relations United States Trump, Donald J Tehran (Iran) Pompeo, Mike Nuclear Weapons Khamenei, Ali Gerecht, Reuel Marc Embargoes and Sanctions Bolton, John R

Mr. Zarif with John Kerry, the secretary of state at the time, in New York in 2016. Mr. Zarif was an on-and-off resident of the United States for nearly 30 years.CreditBryan R. Smith/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Contrary to public statements by its detractors on all sides, JCPOA was not built on trust,” Mr. Zarif wrote in the email, referring to the agreement. “It was indeed based on explicit recognition of mutual mistrust. That is why it is so long and detailed.”

Mr. Zarif’s status in Tehran has already suffered severely with the waning fortunes of the nuclear deal. After pulling out of the agreement last year, the Trump administration in May tightened its sanctions to penalize anyone in the world who seeks to buy Iranian oil, slashing Iranian exports and plunging the economy into a tailspin.

Mr. Khamenei has said without naming Mr. Zarif or Mr. Rouhani that those who persuaded him to negotiate with Washington had made a grave mistake.

Other hard-liners have argued that Mr. Zarif should now resign, face impeachment, or be put on trial for the crime of leading Iran into an agreement that dismantled years of nuclear research and investment for no ultimate benefit.

“Mr. Zarif and his government put all their eggs in the basket of foreign policy and the nuclear deal,” Abdul Reza Davari, a conservative adviser to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former Iranian president, said in a telephone interview from Tehran. “It has been a spectacular failure, and now they are hanging on life support, hoping a change of administration in the U.S. would save them.”

Iranian officials have often said that they have sought only peaceful uses of nuclear power, not a nuclear weapon — a claim widely disputed in the West. But with the 2015 deal now all but dead, many conservatives in Tehran are pushing for Iran to resume its programs for the enrichment of nuclear material “as a sign of strength,” Mr. Davari said.

Some in his hard-line faction remain open to negotiations with Mr. Trump, Mr. Davari said, but no longer through Mr. Zarif.

Mr. Zarif briefly resigned in February after conservatives in the Iranian military failed to include him in a visit to Tehran by the president of Syria. (Mr. Khamenei interceded to keep Mr. Zarif at work.)

[By email, Mohammad Javad Zarif discusses his hopes for the nuclear deal, as well as his own future.]

Iranian moderates, while defending Mr. Zarif, are also preparing political eulogies. “We have never had a foreign minister like Zarif in the history of Iran,” said Mostafa Tajzadeh, a prominent reformist politician. “What he achieved with the nuclear deal — gaining the trust of both Americans and Mr. Khamenei — was nothing short of a miracle.”

At the top echelons of the Iranian political system, where knowledge of the United States is generally shallow and suspicions run deep, Mr. Zarif stands out for his ease among Americans. He came to the United States at 17 to attend college, and was an undergraduate at San Francisco State University in 1979 when the Islamic revolution broke out in Tehran. (He pitched in by helping lead a group of student revolutionaries who took over the Iranian consulate in San Francisco.)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called Mr. Zarif a “polished front man” for the hard-line policies of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.CreditPool photo by Jacquelyn Martin

He remained in the United States, first as a student and then as a diplomat, for much of his adult life. With his command of American English, he comes off to Westerners as urbane and at times even wry.

“Seriously?” he quipped this week by Twitter, quoting a White House news release claiming that “even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.”

His friends say he prefers American coffee to the typical Iranian tea, and he also enjoys dining out in American restaurants — although he is careful never to allow himself to be photographed in a setting where alcohol is visible, which the hard-liners could use against him at home in Tehran.

American supporters of imposing sanctions on Mr. Zarif argue that his effectiveness at passing for one of their countrymen is what makes him so dangerous. It helps him hide the fundamentally anti-American and expansionist character of the government he serves, they say.

“I would call him the whitewasher-in-chief,” said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a former C.I.A. official who studies Iran. “Zarif has gotten away, almost, with murder, because he has been depicted as something he is not — a moderate — when he is totally loyal to the Supreme Leader and totally loyal to the revolution.”

Mr. Gerecht added that the sanctions would send a message to the American public about Mr. Zarif and his patron, Mr. Rouhani.

“It is important to the narrative, to dispatch the notion that Zarif or Rouhani is part of this ‘moderate’ wing that will bring about normalcy,” Mr. Gerecht said.

But Mr. Zarif, in an email, said that the issue of the moment was not about him or the Iranian government, but about the nuclear deal, which he said was never intended to “resolve all our differences.”

“It was negotiated by all with open eyes about what as possible and what was not,” he wrote, and it “remains the best POSSIBLE agreement on the nuclear issue.”

As for the hard-liners who deride him as “Mamal Amricayi”— the make-believe American — Mr. Zarif said he had never seen the movie.

“But I do not mind if people have a good laugh about me,” he added. “That is another way of making myself useful!”

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He Enjoys American Coffee and Restaurants. Is He a Credible Negotiator for Iran?

Iranian hard-liners have long mocked their foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as the make-believe American, after a character in a comic Iranian movie who puts on an accent, wardrobe and lifestyle to live out a fantasy of American life.

A resident of the United States on and off for nearly 30 years, Mr. Zarif was the Iranian most closely associated with the negotiation of the 2015 deal that limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from sweeping economic sanctions.

To ordinary Iranians and reformists, that made him a hero. To hard-liners, though, he was a dupe, seduced by the West into a deal that the Americans would never live up to.

Now, with the nuclear deal on the brink of collapse, with the Trump administration reimposing crushing sanctions on Iran, and Tehran threatening to restart elements of its nuclear program, Mr. Zarif is coming under renewed fire not only from hard-liners in Tehran but also from Washington. White House officials say that President Trump has requested sanctions specifically against the Iranian foreign minister, stirring debate in both countries about the administration’s intentions.

Hawks like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, argue that Mr. Zarif’s American affectations are what make him dangerous. Mr. Zarif and his patron, President Hassan Rouhani, are “polished front men for the ayatollah’s international con artistry,” Mr. Pompeo has said, suggesting that the foreign minister uses his flawless, idiomatic American English as a ruse to mask his allegiance to the hard-line agenda of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But critics shoot back that threatening Iran’s top diplomat makes no sense, given Mr. Trump’s repeated insistence that his ultimate goal is to restart negotiations with Iran. Cutting off the intermediary for any such talks, the critics say, may ultimately leave the administration no choice other than confrontation.

“It just makes it harder or impossible for the Iranians to choose some kind of diplomacy,” said Jeff Prescott, a former senior director for Iran on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama.

In an extensive email exchange, Mr. Zarif said he felt little personal risk from American sanctions. “Everyone who knows me knows that I or my family do not own any property outside Iran,” he wrote. “I personally do not even have a bank account outside Iran. Iran is my entire life and my sole commitment. So I have no personal problem with possible sanctions.”

Washington, Mr. Zarif argued, would only be hurting itself by cutting him off.

“The only impact — and possibly the sole objective — of a possible designation would be to limit my ability to communicate. And I doubt that would serve anyone,” he wrote. “Certainly it would limit the possibility of informed decision-making in Washington.”

As for the allegation of “con artistry,” Mr. Zarif said that he never asked the Americans to trust him and he never trusted them either, least of all during the negotiations of the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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Mr. Zarif with John Kerry, the secretary of state at the time, in New York in 2016. Mr. Zarif was an on-and-off resident of the United States for nearly 30 years.CreditBryan R. Smith/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Contrary to public statements by its detractors on all sides, JCPOA was not built on trust,” Mr. Zarif wrote in the email, referring to the agreement. “It was indeed based on explicit recognition of mutual mistrust. That is why it is so long and detailed.”

Mr. Zarif’s status in Tehran has already suffered severely with the waning fortunes of the nuclear deal. After pulling out of the agreement last year, the Trump administration in May tightened its sanctions to penalize anyone in the world who seeks to buy Iranian oil, slashing Iranian exports and plunging the economy into a tailspin.

Mr. Khamenei has said without naming Mr. Zarif or Mr. Rouhani that those who persuaded him to negotiate with Washington had made a grave mistake.

Other hard-liners have argued that Mr. Zarif should now resign, face impeachment, or be put on trial for the crime of leading Iran into an agreement that dismantled years of nuclear research and investment for no ultimate benefit.

“Mr. Zarif and his government put all their eggs in the basket of foreign policy and the nuclear deal,” Abdul Reza Davari, a conservative adviser to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former Iranian president, said in a telephone interview from Tehran. “It has been a spectacular failure, and now they are hanging on life support, hoping a change of administration in the U.S. would save them.”

Iranian officials have often said that they have sought only peaceful uses of nuclear power, not a nuclear weapon — a claim widely disputed in the West. But with the 2015 deal now all but dead, many conservatives in Tehran are pushing for Iran to resume its programs for the enrichment of nuclear material “as a sign of strength,” Mr. Davari said.

Some in his hard-line faction remain open to negotiations with Mr. Trump, Mr. Davari said, but no longer through Mr. Zarif.

Mr. Zarif briefly resigned in February after conservatives in the Iranian military failed to include him in a visit to Tehran by the president of Syria. (Mr. Khamenei interceded to keep Mr. Zarif at work.)

[By email, Mohammad Javad Zarif discusses his hopes for the nuclear deal, as well as his own future.]

Iranian moderates, while defending Mr. Zarif, are also preparing political eulogies. “We have never had a foreign minister like Zarif in the history of Iran,” said Mostafa Tajzadeh, a prominent reformist politician. “What he achieved with the nuclear deal — gaining the trust of both Americans and Mr. Khamenei — was nothing short of a miracle.”

At the top echelons of the Iranian political system, where knowledge of the United States is generally shallow and suspicions run deep, Mr. Zarif stands out for his ease among Americans. He came to the United States at 17 to attend college, and was an undergraduate at San Francisco State University in 1979 when the Islamic revolution broke out in Tehran. (He pitched in by helping lead a group of student revolutionaries who took over the Iranian consulate in San Francisco.)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called Mr. Zarif a “polished front man” for the hard-line policies of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.CreditPool photo by Jacquelyn Martin

He remained in the United States, first as a student and then as a diplomat, for much of his adult life. With his command of American English, he comes off to Westerners as urbane and at times even wry.

“Seriously?” he quipped this week by Twitter, quoting a White House news release claiming that “even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.”

His friends say he prefers American coffee to the typical Iranian tea, and he also enjoys dining out in American restaurants — although he is careful never to allow himself to be photographed in a setting where alcohol is visible, which the hard-liners could use against him at home in Tehran.

American supporters of imposing sanctions on Mr. Zarif argue that his effectiveness at passing for one of their countrymen is what makes him so dangerous. It helps him hide the fundamentally anti-American and expansionist character of the government he serves, they say.

“I would call him the whitewasher-in-chief,” said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a former C.I.A. official who studies Iran. “Zarif has gotten away, almost, with murder, because he has been depicted as something he is not — a moderate — when he is totally loyal to the Supreme Leader and totally loyal to the revolution.”

Mr. Gerecht added that the sanctions would send a message to the American public about Mr. Zarif and his patron, Mr. Rouhani.

“It is important to the narrative, to dispatch the notion that Zarif or Rouhani is part of this ‘moderate’ wing that will bring about normalcy,” Mr. Gerecht said.

But Mr. Zarif, in an email, said that the issue of the moment was not about him or the Iranian government, but about the nuclear deal, which he said was never intended to “resolve all our differences.”

“It was negotiated by all with open eyes about what as possible and what was not,” he wrote, and it “remains the best POSSIBLE agreement on the nuclear issue.”

As for the hard-liners who deride him as “Mamal Amricayi”— the make-believe American — Mr. Zarif said he had never seen the movie.

“But I do not mind if people have a good laugh about me,” he added. “That is another way of making myself useful!”

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