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Helicopter crash increases pressure as US, Iran face crises

Helicopter crash increases pressure as US, Iran face crises

 


Even before Monday's announcement that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had died in a helicopter crash, relations between Tehran and the United States were dangerously close to open conflict. What happens in the coming days, including what Iran says was the cause of the crash, may well determine whether the two countries will be able to claw their way out of multiple simultaneous crises.

In the long term, the fight that matters most is the one centered on Iran's nuclear program. The program had been largely contained after the Obama administration negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015. But President Donald J. Trump denounced and abandoned the deal six years ago, and Iran eventually resumed production of enriched nuclear fuel at a level just below that planned. several bombs would have to be produced.

The exact role played by Mr. Raisi in critical decision-making in Tehran regarding Iran's nuclear strategy has always been a matter of controversy; the program is under the control of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a power center in itself. But U.S. officials say that after coming close to reaching a deal with Iran through European intermediaries two years ago, negotiating efforts have all but collapsed.

Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who also died in the helicopter crash, met with International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi, who demanded better access to the facilities Iran's sprawling nuclear weapons.

The nuclear program and the question of whether Iran will seek to acquire a weapon or whether it will take advantage of its status as a threshold power capable of producing one quickly, threaten other, more regional clashes. When Iran fired 300 missiles and drones at Israel last month, the United States coordinated with Israeli and other regional forces to shoot them down. But the entire exchange, which calmed after a relatively modest Israeli response, was a reminder that the country has greatly expanded its missile program and range under Mr. Raisi and is turning to techniques intended to overwhelm Israeli defenses, likely a lesson from the war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Iran is arming Shiite Houthi militants who have taken control of most of northern Yemen and attacking shipping in the Red Sea and providing them with intelligence from at least one Iranian ship. It supplies weapons and technology to Hamas and Hezbollah, efforts that also grew under Mr. Raisis's rule. And U.S. officials recently warned that as the presidential election approaches, they expect an increase in Iranian hacking attempts.

Iran is becoming increasingly aggressive in its efforts, Avril D. Haines, director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. He seeks to stoke discord and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions, as we have seen him do in previous election cycles.

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