As hopes for the nuclear deal fade, Iran rebuilds and risks grow

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Robert Malley, the State Department’s Iran envoy, recently said that although “it is up to Iran to choose” which path to take, the United States and other allies must be prepared for whatever choice Tehran makes.

He noted that Mr Biden and Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken “both have said that if diplomacy fails, we will have other tools – and we will use other tools to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

But inside the White House, there has been a struggle in recent days to investigate whether any kind of interim agreement could be possible to freeze Iran’s production of more enriched uranium and its conversion of that fuel into metallic form – a necessary step in manufacturing a warhead. In return, the United States can ease a limited number of sanctions, including humanitarian aid. That would not solve the problem. But it may take time for negotiations, while at the same time deterring Israeli threats to bomb Iranian facilities.

Buying time, perhaps a lot of it, may prove necessary. Many of Mr. Biden’s advisers are hesitant to impose new sanctions on Iran’s leadership, its military or its oil trade – on top of the 1,500 Mr. Trump introduced – would be more successful than previous attempts to pressure Iran to change course.

And more aggressive steps that were successful years ago may not yield the kind of results they have in mind. Within the National Security Agency and the US Cyber ​​Command, there is agreement that it is now much more difficult to carry out the type of cyber attack that the US and Israel carried out more than a decade ago, when a secret operation, codenamed “Olympic Games”, paralyzed centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear power plant for more than a year.

Current and former US and Israeli officials note that the Iranians have since improved their defenses and built their own cyber forces, which the administration warned last week were increasingly active inside the United States.

The Iranians have also continued to block inspectors from key sites, despite a series of agreements with Rafael M. Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN watchdog, to preserve data from the agency’s sensors at key sites. The inspectors’ cameras and sensors that were destroyed in the plant explosion in late spring have not been replaced.

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