The Western signatories of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal recently proposed informal talks among all participants as a starting point for the restoration of both American and Iranian commitments. Iranian regime promptly rejected that proposal in the latest sign of its unwillingness to compromise. This should be recognized as perhaps the clearest sign yet that efforts to achieve such compromise are without value, and that Western powers need to adopt a more assertive approach.
Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union as a whole have remained obsessively committed to preserving the agreement as written. Although Tehran was never satisfied with any measures that the Europeans took to stand in the way of US sanctions, those measures clearly signaled that the regime would have international support as it tried to wait out the former US administration’s term. More than that, they demonstrated such Western devotion to the JCPOA as to make it possible for Tehran to issue unilateral demands and expect much stronger nations to fulfill them.
This is exactly what is happening right now, and Iran’s rejection of the proposal for open-ended talks is just the latest example of the regime trying to strong arm Western authorities into disregarding its own escalations. The negotiations would have no doubt focused on the highly reasonable demand that Iran either take the first steps toward restoration of the JCPOA or else work together with the US administration to move in tandem toward that goal.
This sort of behavior is the very reason why the Iranian regime should never be the beneficiary of an offer of compromise. And that in turn is a reminder of the fundamental weaknesses of the JCPOA. The entire nuclear deal was an exercise in unearned concessions from the Western side, which were sold as compromise but were more akin to capitulation and appeasement of a regime that consistently refused to be upfront about its own intentions.
The JCPOA all but endorsed Iran’s assertion of its “right” to the enrichment of nuclear material, abandoning the longstanding goal of halting that activity in favor of the much more modest and ultimately ineffectual goal of slowing it down enough to push back Iran’s “breakout” time for a nuclear weapon. The agreement’s critics rightly portrayed this as giving Iran a clear pathway to nuclear weapons capability – a pathway that consisted of abiding by a small set of restrictions at publicly-disclosed nuclear sites while pushing forward with its advancements in other areas of development, or at locations that had not been identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) February 28, 2021
In time, Iranian regime’s officials revealed that their strategy was even bolder than this and involved avoiding the supposedly agreed-upon restrictions wherever possible. In January 2019, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran boasted to Iranian state media about how they had merely pretended to deactivate the core of a heavy water plant at Arak that represented a potential plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon. Ali Akbar Salehi detailed the structure of that reactor and explained that the AEOI was meant to fill a series of tubes with cement, but instead purchased identical components as decoys, and poured the cement through those.
Salehi went on to say that the regime orchestrated other deceptions with regard to its supposed commitments to a reduction in uranium enrichment capacity. “I could not explain this at that time, but we had a countermeasure, and while we proceeded with the case, they didn’t achieve what they planned for, and we did not become trapped in the enrichment deadlock,” he said in November 2019, by which time Tehran had put its deceptions on prominent display through the speedy resumption and expansion of its pre-JCPOA enrichment activities.
While apologists for Iran’s position might argue that the regime was justified in scaling back, then abandoning, its commitments in retaliation against the US withdrawal, they cannot justify or explain the pace at which those commitments were reversed. Countless critics of the agreement have attempted to highlight Iran’s instantaneous and systematic violations as evidence that the JCPOA had never really placed meaningful restrictions on the regime’s nuclear activity in the first place.
A key difference between these two groups of commentators is that Iran’s supporters believed the mullahs when they said they’d never had any ambition to obtain a nuclear weapon, whereas its opponents understood that that claim was just the start of a long line of deceptions. Because the latter recognized the pre-existing military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, they also recognized that the regime would eagerly lie to defend it while also exerting pressure on their adversaries in hopes of securing concessions that would help clear the way.
Last month, Iran’s serious opponents and the JCPOA’s critics were proven correct in their understanding of the situation, when Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi acknowledged that the regime’s declared aversion to nuclear weapons was only so much hot air. He made reference to the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s edict declaring such weapons to be against Islam, only to immediately make it clear that the fatwa could be revoked and contradicted at a moment’s notice. “The fatwa forbids the production of nuclear weapons, but if they push Iran in those directions, it is not Iran’s fault,” he said. “Those who pushed Iran in that direction will be to blame [for development of an Iranian nuclear weapon].”
There is simply no excuse for the US or any of its allies to fall for this transparent ploy for one-sided concessions, in absence of any compromise. Iran has flatly rejected that compromise while also exposing its own malign ambitions. Theirs is no reason for Western powers to offer anything more than they already have.