By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript
For over a year now, the American administration and its partners have attempted to lure Iran back into the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Recent reports indicate talks may resume.
But Iran wants President Joe Biden to drop sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and to guarantee that future presidents won’t back out of the deal. The result has been deadlock, and one that favours Tehran.
The mullahs have used the time well. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has placed radicals in top positions, including the presidency. His proxy forces have spread violence in Iraq, Lebanon Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East. And he has built up his stockpile of nuclear fuel.
“Our nuclear program is advancing as planned and time is on our side,” an unnamed Iranian official told Reuters on May 5. “Oil sales have doubled,” noted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi May 16, with a flow of new revenue resulting from soaring oil prices. In short, Tehran has not only made impressive strides toward a nuclear weapons capability but repaired much of the financial damage done by U.S. sanctions.
Iran has enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on May 30 said that Iran hasn’t offered credible answers to its probe into nuclear material found in the country. It reported that Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium has grown to roughly enough material for a nuclear bomb.
The IAEA watchdog estimated that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to more than 18 times the limit laid down in Tehran’s 2015 deal with world powers.
Iran is violating its safeguards agreement under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, continued the IAEA report. Moreover, it shows no sign of being willing to rectify these violations or provide assurance to the IAEA that its nuclear weapons program has ended.
Indeed, Iran disconnected security cameras from one of its declared nuclear sites and began taking down IAEA cameras throughout its territory. “When we lose this,” IAEA director Rafael Mariano Grossi told reporters, “then it's anybody’s guess” what Iran is doing.
David Albright and Sarah Burkhard of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington wrote on June 1 that “Iran’s breakout timeline is now at zero. It has enough 60 per cent enriched uranium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) to be assured it could fashion a nuclear explosive. If Iran wanted to further enrich its 60 per cent HEU up to weapon-grade HEU, or 90 percent, it could do so within a few weeks with only a few of its advanced centrifuge cascades.”
What was Washington’s response? On June 9, Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed that Iran’s moves against the IAEA are “counterproductive and further complicate our efforts to return to full implementation of the JCPOA.” But what’s Blinken going to do about it? “We continue to press Iran to choose diplomacy and de-escalation instead,” he remarked.
Robert Malley, the Special Envoy to Iran and America’s chief negotiator at the nuclear talks in Vienna, knows it is not looking good. Nonetheless, he and his team have repeatedly assured Congressional committees and the U.S. media that a revived deal is within reach.
And, what makes things even more difficult is the current American proxy war with Russia over Ukraine. Moscow, one of the 2015 JCPOA signatories, is not going to go out of its way to help seal a new deal.
Joe Biden is almost 80 years old and receives little respect. Meanwhile, inflation, crime, the crisis at the southern border, guns, abortion, and the Ukraine war command the American public’s attention. The growing danger from Iran does not.
Thus, all the necessary elements have aligned for the Islamic Republic to move for nuclear weapons: reduced international monitoring, substantially improved atomic assets that are increasingly hardened against aerial strikes, an absence of international penalties, a reviving economy, and hard-liners in charge of the government who might be eager to go nuclear.
If the Iranian regime ever intended to submit to a revived nuclear treaty that doesn’t meet all their demands, they have little incentive to do so now, and Biden knows it.