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The Farda Briefing: Iran Ups Nuclear Ante In Hope Of Winning Concessions From West

Officials and media visit the heavy-water reactor's secondary circuit near Arak, Iran, in 2019.
Officials and media visit the heavy-water reactor's secondary circuit near Arak, Iran, in 2019.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, a new RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following and what I'm watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

In a dramatic move, Iran has removed 27 surveillance cameras installed at its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It came after the UN nuclear watchdog adopted a resolution submitted by the West that criticized Iran for failing to fully cooperate with the body. The censure angered Tehran, which warned of retaliation. The monitoring equipment was installed after Iran and world powers signed a nuclear deal in 2015 that significantly limited Tehran’s sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. But the accord has been on life support since then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. In response, Iran has reduced its commitments and expanded its nuclear activities.

Why It Matters: Talks began in April last year to bring the United States back into the nuclear deal. But the indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington in Vienna have been deadlocked for months. The IAEA chief has warned that Iran’s decision to remove the surveillance cameras at its nuclear sites could deal a “fatal blow” to the protracted, complex negotiations. Without the cameras, the IAEA is unable to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear activities, which will heighten fears in the West, where there are concerns Tehran is close to amassing enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. The longer the cameras remain offline, the harder it will be to revive the deal.

What's Next: Iran’s escalation appears to be aimed at gaining leverage in the nuclear talks. There is the risk that the move could torpedo the negotiations, but it could also create the urgency needed to finally ink a deal. A draft deal to restore the agreement has been on the table for months, but unrelated issues have prevented the sides from pulling the trigger. Experts believe the 2015 accord is still the best solution to limit Iran’s nuclear activities.

Stories You May Have Missed

Water shortages in the central Iranian province of Isfahan led to mass protests in November 2021 and a violent government response. Farmers in the province told Radio Farda that the situation has not improved despite pledges by the government to increase water supplies. Iran has been facing water scarcity due to reduced rainfall, drought, and years of mismanagement.

Radio Farda has produced a video about the thousands of young women and girls in Iran who continue to be subjected to "virginity tests" ahead of marriage despite there being no medical basis for such examinations. Those who fail the tests could be forced to undergo hymen reconstruction, or, in some cases, have been the subject of "honor killings." The World Health Organization says seeking proof of virginity is an inhumane manifestation of violence against women with no medical justification.

What We’re Watching

Two Iranian aerospace officials have been "martyred” while on duty in separate incidents in the country, according to state media, suggesting both had been killed. Ali Kamani, a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) aerospace division, was killed in a “car accident” in the city of Khomein on June 12. On the same day, state media reported that Mohammad Abdus, an employee of the Defense Ministry who worked in the field of aerospace, was “martyred" during a mission in the northern province of Semnan. The IRGC's aerospace program oversees Iran's ballistic missile program, as well as some of the country's air defenses.

Why It Matters: They are part of a series of recent assassinations and suspicious deaths of engineers and IRGC members in the Islamic republic, some of which Tehran has blamed on Israel. On May 31, Iranian aerospace engineer Ayoob Entezari died under unclear circumstances. His death came days after the mysterious passing of Ali Esmailzadeh, a senior officer in the Quds Force, the overseas arm of the IRGC, the elite branch of the country’s armed forces. State media reported that Esmailzadeh died after falling off his balcony. Another IRGC colonel, Hassan Sayad Khodaei, was killed by gunmen outside his home in Tehran on May 22, an attack blamed on Israel. Observers have said that the recent killings and unexplained deaths appear to reflect a change in Israeli policy toward Iran.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

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Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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