Israel tries to blow up US-Iran nuclear talks. What happens now?

Israel tries to blow up US-Iran nuclear talks. What happens now?

Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.


What happened? Natanz, one of Iran's most important sites for uranium enrichment, was hit by an explosion that affected the power system that supplies the centrifuges. The damage will likely set back the country's efforts to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels by some time. So far it's unclear whether it was a cyberattack similar to the Stuxnet malicious worm jointly developed by Israel and the US that destroyed one-fifth of Iran's centrifuges in 2010, or a bomb like the one that caused a July 2020 fire in the same facility.

Why now? The timing of the attack as US-Iran nuclear talks are ongoing is no coincidence. Israel fiercely opposed the original agreement championed six years ago by the Obama administration and was delighted when Donald Trump walked out of the deal in 2018 and later slapped crippling economic sanctions on Iran. To move talks forward, President Biden is willing to lift some of those sanctions, but Tehran, cautious about looking desperate so early in the discussions, has been playing hard to get.

The Israelis now worry that Iran has restarted enriching uranium at higher levels and that many of the deal's so-called "sunset clauses" expire in 2026, so Iran could begin to significantly expand its nuclear program while (technically) adhering to the terms of the agreement. Tel Aviv feels it's urgent to stop version 2.0 of the nuclear deal before Iran comes even close to getting the bomb.

How does it affect the US-Iran nuclear talks? It's too soon to ascertain whether the attack will diminish Iran's key bargaining chip: threatening to enrich uranium faster. What is virtually guaranteed, however, is that its aftermath will poison the domestic political environment in Iran, where any concession to "Great Satan" is always a hard sell, even more so now with a presidential election coming up in two months.

While the Americans' negotiating hand has strengthened, Natanz will further erode a mutual willingness to compromise — which is already very low after Iran stopped complying with the deal's terms on uranium enrichment in May 2019, and the high-profile assassination of a top Iranian general ordered by Trump in early 2020.

Who benefits? Clearly, Israel, for two reasons. First, whatever the full extent of the damage, it has physically undermined Iran's nuclear program, in the near term at least. Second, it has complicated a diplomatic process the Israelis would like to stop. Iran is now left to choose between a forceful retaliation that would delay any lifting of sanctions and an easing of economic hardship inside Iran, or a muted response that could make Iran's leaders appear weak just at the moment they'd like to be driving a hard bargain.

What happens next? The fallout from Natanz will put immense pressure on the Vienna talks, likely hardening Iran's position and reducing the odds of reaching an agreement before the presidential vote in June. Regardless of the election outcome, the decision on whether to rejoin the nuclear deal will be made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Negotiations will continue. Iran's sanction-plagued economy suffered mightily last year due to the pandemic and low prices for the oil it's still able to export. Doing whatever it takes to get an agreement may not be popular for many conservatives at home, but US sanctions relief is too big an economic incentive for Iran to ignore.

In short, both the US and Iran still want to return to the original deal. That's why, unfortunately for Israel's government, the question is not if but when a new nuclear agreement will be signed.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

In 2019, Ethiopia's fresh Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering a peace treaty with neighbor and longtime foe Eritrea. At the time, Abiy was hailed by the Western media as a reformist who was steering Ethiopia, long dominated by ethnic strife and dictatorial rule, into a new democratic era.

But barely two years later, Abiy stands accused of overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the northern Tigray region, putting the country on the brink of civil war.

It's against this backdrop that Ethiopians will head to the polls on June 21 for a parliamentary election now regarded as a referendum on Abiy's leadership. But will the vote be free and fair, and will the outcome actually reflect the will of the people? Most analysts say the answer is a resounding "no" on both fronts.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Cyber issues took center stage at the G7 summit. Is there a consensus among world leaders on how to handle cyberweapons?

Well, depending on who is included, there is a growing consensus that the escalations of conflict in cyberspace must stop. And G7 leaders that are now all representing democracies did call on Russia to hold perpetrators of cybercrime that operate from within its borders to account. So, I guess hope dies last because laws in Russia prevents the extradition of suspects to the US, even if Vladimir Putin answered positively when Joe Biden asked for cooperation on that front. And when it comes to limiting the spread of tools that are used for hacking, surveillance and infiltration, the EU has just moved ahead and adopted new dual use regulations which reflect the concerns for human rights violations when journalists are targeted the way that Jamal Khashoggi was. So ending the proliferation of systems that are used to attack would be an urgent but also obvious step for democratic nations to agree on.

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Frequently called Europe's last dictator, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Lukashenko has sailed smoothly to victory in all six elections he's stood in, despite widespread corruption and fraud in each one. But in 2020 the biggest threat so far to Lukashenko's tight grip on government came in an unlikely package—a former schoolteacher and stay at home mom, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. After the election result was finalized, Lukashenko claimed victory, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, and Tsikhanouskaya leads the opposition in exile. Lukashenko recently took his boldest move yet, diverting a plane en route from Greece to Lithuania to arrest another Belarusian dissident. Ian Bremmer discusses whether a democratic transition is remotely possible in Belarus on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The fight for democracy in Europe's last dictatorship

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