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Facing Intensifying Confrontation With Iran, Trump Has Few Appealing Options

A decade ago, facing the same dilemma about Natanz that Mr. Trump faces now, the Obama administration, along with Israel, stepped up a covert operation, known as Olympic Games. The attack on Iran’s centrifuges used computer code that sped up and slowed down their nuclear centrifuges until they spun out of control.

The Iranians did not see it coming. They spent more than a year trying to determine why their centrifuges were exploding, and spreading radioactive material inside the plant’s giant underground enrichment hall. They learned the answer when the code was accidentally released.

While the National Security Agency and United States Cyber Command have looked at other cyberoptions — including Nitro Zeus, a plan to shut down the country’s power grid and communications systems in the opening days of a war — they concluded the effects on Iran’s population could be huge. The operation against the Iranian intelligence group on Thursday night was a narrower attack, but going after critical targets — like missile launches and nuclear research centers — is more difficult now that the Iranians are looking for a second wave.

More worrisome, the Iranians have built their own online corps, and have been increasingly effective breaching American banks and power systems, and have even experimented, in small ways, with influence operations during the midterm elections, the government reported.

Mr. Trump’s other option would be to reverse course, as he did with North Korea, and move from threats to a diplomatic embrace. He has regularly telegraphed his desire to open a channel for negotiation, and many countries and politicians have volunteered to act as intermediaries, most recently Prime Minister Abe of Japan, whose entreaties were rejected by Iran’s supreme leader.

But Iran is not like North Korea. There is not one power center, no figure like Kim Jong-un to meet. The military and the clerics have a role. The 2015 agreement was negotiated between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, over a period of years; President Obama never met President Hassan Rouhani.

Moreover, the Iranians have said that Mr. Trump must first re-enter the old deal before negotiating a new one. Mr. Trump has refused, and Mr. Pompeo has said that to come to an accord, the Iranians must comply with his demands for 12 huge changes in their behavior, like ceasing support of terrorism and giving up all things nuclear.

“I can imagine talks,” Mr. Gordon said. “What’s harder to imagine is the deal would come anywhere close to what the Trump administration says is an absolute minimum.”

Source: NYT > World

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