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Iran Nuclear Talks, Regimes’ Tactic of Blackmailing

 

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After their latest talks ended in Vienna on Wednesday, optimistic statements quickly began to be offered by delegates from the nations currently participating in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass seemed to acknowledge this situation at one point on Wednesday, telling reporters that “there is a fundamental willingness” on the American side regarding a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “But, of course,” Mass continued, “it depends, in turn, on Iran complying with the commitments it is clearly violating. And that is a very arduous process.” 

If that remark is read in the proper context, it goes a long way toward undercutting the optimism that Mass and his colleagues attempted to express with other remarks on Wednesday. 

When Tehran announced early last year that it would no longer comply with even the most basic provisions of the JCPOA, European policymakers moved to trigger a dispute resolution process that could have led to the automatic re-imposition of all the UN sanctions that remained suspended up to that point. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell soon undercut the process by declaring that the EU was prepared to stretch it out for much longer than its defined limits, perhaps even indefinitely. 

Borrell’s statement was emblematic of the extraordinary leeway that the Iranian regime was granted and is still granted by all current JCPOA participants. And in the face of that leeway, the Iranian regime entered into this year’s recurring Vienna talks with a plainly unreasonable starting position. Several leading Iranian regime officials have insisted that for the regime to come back into compliance with any of the agreement’s restrictions on its nuclear program, the US must first remove all economic sanctions, even those that target Iranian regime conduct outside of the nuclear sphere. 

The statement from Heiko Mass seems to confirm that no matter how much the European delegates want to believe they are on the verge of obtaining a compromise agreement, Iranian regime officials will never voluntarily accept that outcome. Their goal in these talks has clearly been to force the capitulation of the US and its allies, and toward that end, they have overseen further nuclear provocations all throughout the process. 

By the time Tehran announced that it would be abandoning the JCPOA’s terms in their entirety, the regime’s nuclear facilities had already returned to their prior high point in uranium enrichment: 20 percent fissile purity. The pace of that development cast serious doubt upon the extent to which the JCPOA had constrained the Iranian regime’s nuclear program in the first place, but somehow it did not convince European policymakers to reconsider their commitment to the agreement. 

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So it was shocking but not surprising when those same policymakers let Tehran continue without harassment as it raised its level of uranium enrichment even further after quickly re-installing centrifuge systems that had been barred from operating under the 2015 deal. While the 20-percent level was already widely recognized as being only a short technical step away from the 90 percent that is considered weapons-grade, that step is even shorter now that Iran is enriching uranium beyond 60 percent. 

There is virtually no civilian purpose for this level of enrichment, and the same can be said of the uranium metal that Iran has now been producing for weeks. That material is a key component in the core of a nuclear warhead – something that Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi explicitly said the regime might work toward developing if “pushed” by foreign adversaries. That comment, delivered via state media in February, was very nearly a confession of the fact that compromise is the furthest thing from the regime’s mind. It wants only to issue more and more explicit threats in hopes of compelling Western powers to acquiesce to its demands. 

While a restoration of the JCPOA may be what European leaders wish to achieve in the Vienna talks, it is certainly not worth emboldening Iranian ultimatums in order to secure that goal because the regime has been cheating the terms of the JCPOA from the beginning. 

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, acknowledged this fact as early as January 2019. In an interview with state media, Salehi said that the Arak heavy water facility remained fully operational despite the fact that the nuclear negotiations determined that its core was to be deactivated and filled with cement. Salehi explained that the regime evaded this requirement by obtaining duplicate tubing that was identical to that which led into the core of the facility and by providing faked photographs to the IAEA after pouring cement through the decoy system.  

As it was mentioned in one of our previous pieces, “If the Iranian regime was already cheating on the agreement when it was in full force and the US had not yet withdrawn, what basis could there be for believing that the regime will be more compliant the second time around? Surely, if sanctions are suspended again while Tehran offers nothing new in return, the regime will only be emboldened to flout the restrictions even more extensively, putting itself in a position to achieve weapons-grade enrichment levels by the funds provided from the sanction relief.”