The Iranian regime has announced that it is now enriching uranium to 60 percent purity. This is a dramatic escalation over the level it had established prior to the negotiations that yielded the 2015 nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). When the regime restored 20 percent enrichment last year, it was widely reported that this placed Tehran only a short technical step away from weapons-grade uranium.
The lesson from this latest act of nuclear extortion, as well as all those that preceded it, ought to be that the JCPOA, as originally conceived, was full of flaws and failed to stop the regime from advancing its nuclear program. Although the benchmark of 60 percent enrichment was reached more than a year after the regime halted compliance with all the deal’s provisions, the regime’s early violations cast new suspicions on the extent of its prior commitment. The rapid announcement of reaching the 60 percent uranium enrichment, also suggests that the clerical regime had never abided by the JCPOA restrictions.
When Tehran first decided to return to the enrichment levels it had established before 2015, authorities were able to re-install advanced centrifuges and resume full-scale operations practically overnight.
What did the JCPOA really accomplish in terms of restricting Iran’s uranium enrichment if it left the regime with the ability to reverse its commitments at the drop of a hat? To put it another way, does it really count as extending the regime’s breakout period to more than a year if it takes much less time than that for the regime to restore the shorter breakout time it was used to?
These questions need to be raised at a high level among the signatories to the JCPOA. Up to this point, the European signatories seem to be exerting pressure almost entirely in one direction: removing sanctions imposed on the regime by the United States.
But given the regime’s nuclear extortion, the EU and U.S. should increase pressure on the regime. If the earlier pace and severity of the clerical regime’s violations were not sufficient to motivate the Western powers toward this outcome, then 60 percent enrichment certainly should have been the tipping point. There is simply no reason for the regime to possess uranium with this level of fissile purity, other than as a stepping stone on the way to nuclear weapons capability.
With this in mind, the regime’s latest boastful announcement should have brought much greater attention to other admissions of malign intent that regime officials have made more privately. The statements in question date back to well before Tehran ceased compliance with all of its obligations under the JCPOA, and they reveal that the regime had always been planning to violate the agreement in significant ways, whether secretly or openly.
In November 2019, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, spoke to state media about the “issue of uranium enrichment in nuclear talks with the P5+1,” the collective name for the six other parties to the JCPOA. Salehi mocked the Western members of that collective – the US, UK, France, and Germany – for supposedly coming to the false conclusion that they had “won the negotiation.” Salehi went on to say that while the regime agreed to restrictions in writing, it also puts “countermeasures” in place that would allow enrichment facilities to continue or quickly resume their operations.
Salehi’s remarks go a long way toward explaining why the clerical regime was able to resume 20 percent enrichment so much more quickly than many anticipated. It should have also served as a warning to those policymakers about how quickly the regime would be able to push its enrichment even further, to 60 percent and ultimately to weapons-grade. But once again, if the European signatories had honestly assessed the situation, they would have already been well aware of the prospect for escalating violations. After all, several months Salehi spoke about uranium countermeasures, he had already boasted of deceiving the International Atomic Energy Agency into the false belief that Tehran had deactivated the core of its heavy water plant at Arak, which could provide a plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon.
Of course, even without confessions from Salehi or other regime officials, there were plenty of voices warning about the potential for severe violations of the JCPOA even before it had been implemented. The Iranian opposition president, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi said in 2015, “Circumventing the six UN Security Council resolutions and [adopting] an unsigned agreement, which lacks the requirements of an official international treaty, would block neither the mullahs’ pathways to deception nor their access to a nuclear bomb.”
The Iranian opposition movement led by Mrs. Rajavi has been working consistently since that time to bring international attention to the growing need for stricter demands and harsher penalties regarding the clerical regime’s nuclear program, among other malign activities. Earlier in April, the chairman of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) Foreign Affairs Committee, Mohammad Mohaddessin declared that six years’ experience has led inexorably to the conclusion that “the JCPOA did not dissuade the regime from obtaining a nuclear bomb,” much less from its other objectives.
“The mullahs spent the financial windfall resulting from lifting the sanctions to arm, train, and finance their proxies in the Middle East, renew their terrorist plots on European soil, advance and expand their ballistic missile program, continue their nuclear program, and suppress the Iranian people,” Mr. Mohaddessin explained. “If the past is prologue, no amount of political or economic concessions under any pretext will moderate this regime’s behavior. Denial, deception, and duplicity are part of its DNA.”
These remarks were offered even before the Iranian regime redoubled its provocation with the threat of 60 percent enrichment. There is simply no denying that the regime has continued its nuclear program.
The international community should immediately act and increase pressure on the regime. This is the only solution to end the regime’s nuclear threat.