Geopolitics

Weakened Iran v. Appeasing West - The Puzzle Of New Nuclear Talks

Sanctions have shrunk Islamic Iran's regional and nuclear ambitions, but it retains a trump card in current talks with the Powers: the determination of the Western camp to appease its regime in return for a bit of peace

President Rouhani visits Tehran's Nuclear Technology exhibition in April
President Rouhani visits Tehran's Nuclear Technology exhibition in April
Hamed Mohammadi

-Analysis-

There are conflicting reports on the state of talks in Vienna between Tehran and Western powers on reviving the pact to keep Iran's nuclear program in check. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) fears that if talks carry on through May, at the end of its agreement with Iran on inspections, it will be unable to verify ongoing activities at Iranian installations.

The current negotiations follow the decision by the Donald Trump Administration in 2018 to pull out of the breakthrough agreement in 2015. Timing is crucial, and France's ambassador to Iran recently told the Tehran-based newspaper Kar-va-Kargar that Western powers wanted the pact fully revived before Iran's presidential elections, scheduled for late June.

It's undeniable that an international current is mobilizing in line with the Islamic Republic's interests, and is determined to work with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's team to revive the pact with approval from Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. This despite the fact that states are aware of the nuclear threat posed by the clerical regime and its Revolutionary Guards. They know the regime has been sending arms and money to regional terrorists and militias. Prominent Western media and Persian-language outlets based abroad promote and echo the lobby's collaborationist positions.

German intelligence officials observed in 2020 that Iran was in contact with German firms in its bid to access nuclear-related know-how and equipment. Iran's security agencies were also spying on and restricting exiled opponents in Germany and elsewhere, they stated. Swedish security agencies backed that report with similar findings on Iran.

For decades now, Western powers have known of the regime's pernicious activities abroad and rights violations inside Iran, but persist in their efforts to find an agreement with it. The FDD, a rights and democracy think-tank, believes Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is giving priority to trade over the security warnings given about Tehran's rulers.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting on talks in Vienna and nuclear deal in Tehran, Iran on April 20, 2021 — Photo : Iranian Presidency

The presence in Vienna of the Iranian deputy-foreign minister Abbas Araqchi for indirect talks with the United States, confirms Khamenei's approval. Khamenei had already said officials should not "wait so much as an hour" to have sanctions on Iran lifted, though stressing that talks with the West must be "honorable." He believes a piecemeal removal of sanctions will not help the regime, and wants them lifted altogether if Iran is to resume its commitments in the nuclear pact. Western powers have yet to agree to his conditions and rather want a pact to include Iran's ballistic and regional activities.

The Islamic Republic is mired in an economic crisis and sees the removal of oil and banking sanctions as vital. Against a background of mounting discontent, the regime wants sanctions removed almost immediately. But there are some with close relations to the Iranian military who like to accuse the diplomats of succumbing to the West and harming national interests. While the diplomats negotiate with Khamenei's backing, they lambast the government and deride talks — also with Khamenei's backing! It is a phony war that has lasted through several Iranian governments, or a theater whose cast refuses to abandon the stage — season after season — until one of the actors dies or is struck down!

Iran's regime may feel its only option is to intensify its blustering.

Opponents of a pact in Iran appear to be several powerful groups, including those who do not want President Hassan Rouhani and his reformist allies to be the protagonists of talks with the West, like former Revolutionary Guards to Commander Mohsen Rezai who do not oppose talks with the U.S., but emphasize the Leader's condition on sanctions. Others insist at least one member of Parliament must attend the talks. One legislator reputedly close to the Guards, Mojtaba Zolnuri, head of the parliamentary National Security Commission, says "I claim and I can back my claim, that Rouhani and his followers want sanctions to stay, and are working to prevent their removal."

Hossein Dehqan, a military affairs adviser to Khamenei, insists the United States must recognize the Islamic regime, provide "guarantees' for its survival and stop meddling with its regional policies. This sector supports its ideas with a single big idea: using military force to push foreign policy goals. Iran's regime may feel its only option is to intensify its blustering and threaten the United States and its regional allies with rockets and proxy militias. This may win immediate concessions, but such tactics will bring it bigger problems down the line.

But ultimately, Tehran's negotiators will have to yield in Vienna. If the Biden administration and European powers stand firm on ending Iran's ballistic strikes and backing for militias, its officials must either give in or face a military response. They may of course feign acceptance to buy themselves time; for this regime has shown that pact or no pact, it will not abandon its plans. Are we returning to the cat-and-mouse games of the 1990s and 2000s? Or will the West stop playing? Can it ignore the clear warnings from Israel that it will act alone in the face of threats?

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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