The past week has seen the regime announce the beginning of work on the enrichment of Uranium to 60% fissile purity. Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araqchi said “Another 1,000 centrifuges with 50 percent more capacity will be added to the existing machines in Natanz.” The announcement underlines that Tehran is continuing and accelerating its violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) simultaneously with the European negotiations, where signatories are doing everything in their power to re-establish the 2015 nuclear deal, reports The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI / MEK Iran).
The threat of 60% enrichment is the latest confirmation of Iran not taking the JCPOA seriously. Since the US return to the JCPOA, Iranian officials have insisted on the U.S. lifting the sanctions in their entirety, regardless of the extensive violations of the agreement by the regime itself.
The regime’s refusal to take a tiny, lateral step away from its position attests to the fact that the provisions of the JCPOA were always the maximum Tehran would accept. This is cause for alarm, as the US withdrawal from the agreement in May 2018 was supported by commentators and policymakers in the US and its allies in the Middle East.
Some of the main commentators insisted that the JCPOA, as written would not block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons and could even lead the way. This is due to concerns over the agreement’s omissions and how the regime would behave in the face of these weak enforcements and limited consequences. The regime can stop and start its nuclear program as necessary when the JCPOA’s sunset clauses kicked in.
This was a justified concern. Secrecy has always been an essential aspect of the Iranian nuclear program. Its program and Fordo and Arak facilities were unknown until the NCRI revealed the information in 2002. Since this reveal, the regime and the western world have been deadlocked.
Outgoing President Hassan Rouhani boasted that by maintaining a “calm environment,” the regime was able to extend the timeframe of discussions and remove itself from international scrutiny. This allowed the nuclear program to advance quietly which officials publicly agreed to restrictions.
Lately, developments represent the challenge to the regime’s posture, demonstrating that Tehran remains insistent on proliferating its nuclear capabilities. The 20% enrichment already performed at Iranian nuclear facilities is enough to satisfy the peaceful objectives, insisted on by Tehran, say nuclear experts. There is no remaining practical benefit to further escalation, aside from intimidating western signatories.
This was confirmed in February by Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi. He spoke to the fatwa from the Supreme leader on state media, which supposedly proves the peacefulness of the Iranian Nuclear Program. He then promptly undercut this by saying “If they [the West] push Iran in those directions, it is not Iran’s fault. Those who pushed Iran in that direction will be to blame.”
The US and Europe should seek to intensify the pressure on the regime, demonstrating that the more Iran provokes, the more consequences it will face for its actions. The internal community has a chance to make up for past mistakes and ignorance before the regime is released from sanctions and enhances its nuclear might.