On Wednesday, the Iranian regime and world power concluded their fifth round of informal talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The regime began systematically violating the provisions of that agreement in 2019 as a part of its nuclear extortion campaign. It officially halted all compliance with the deal in January 2020 and has since advanced aspects of its nuclear program beyond the level it had achieved before the JCPOA was negotiated.
Key details of that advancement were revealed to participants in the agreement on Monday, via the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The content of that report should have had an impact on European negotiators’ approach to Wednesday’s talks in Vienna. But unfortunately, this does not appear to have occurred. Far from seeing those talks as having been further complicated by the IAEA’s revelations, the coordinating envoy for the European Union told reporters this week that he expects the deal’s revival to be finalized at the next round of talks.
It was not clear what vision the EU had for the content of any agreement that might emerge next week, but it is difficult to imagine it involving meaningful new concessions from the regime, given the Iranian regime’s initial negotiating position. The regime officials in that regime have repeatedly declared that they will take no steps toward resumption of compliance with the JCPOA’s restrictions on their nuclear program unless the US first removes all sanctions re-implemented or newly implemented by the previous US administration.
The US administration does not seem to have wavered in its rejection of Tehran’s insistence upon unearned and non-reciprocal sanctions relief. Wednesday’s talks in Vienna should have reinforced that position, especially in the context of Monday’s IAEA report.
The EU’s eagerness to return to the highly flawed JCPOA during the Vienna talks, so soon after the IAEA confirmed that Tehran’s violations are more comprehensive than was previously known, is a testament to appeasement policy.
The regime boasted of initiating 60 percent uranium enrichment last month, thereby dramatically shortening the step it would have to take to reach weapons-grade enrichment of around 90 percent. The IAEA report clarified that at least 2.4 kg of the material has been produced in Iran so far – more than one percent of the total amount of uranium that the regime is permitted to stockpile under the terms of the JCPOA. But in the more than two years that the regime has violated those terms, its total uranium stockpile has grown to about 16 times that limit. Earlier this year, it also came to include stores of uranium metal, a substance with little to no purpose other than as part of the core of a nuclear weapon.
The IAEA report estimates that Tehran’s supply of uranium metal has also exceeded 2.4 kg, up from just 3.6 grams three months ago. This is just one of many examples of the alarming speed with which the regime has completed each of its violations.
This trend of the regime’s violations of the JCPOA underlines that the original agreement never enforced sufficient restrictions on the mullahs’ nuclear program. Had it really lengthened Tehan’s “breakout period” for a nuclear weapon to well over a year, it wouldn’t have been possible for the regime to abandon the agreement and then almost instantly return to the levels of enrichment and stockpile that placed it only several weeks to a couple of months away from a nuclear bomb before the JCPOA was signed.
The new IAEA report also underscores the fact that a precise account of Tehran’s earlier progress toward nuclear weapons capability had never been established before negotiations concluded in 2015. Originally, Western powers envisioned the discussions as a means of establishing these details once and for all, but in the face of never-ending pushback from the Iranian regime, the issue was ultimately dropped on the questionable understanding that “past military dimensions” of the nuclear program would be rendered irrelevant by the new restrictions.
Of course, this argument would have only made sense – and might still not have been convincing – if the restrictions were comprehensive and the enforcement mechanisms were sufficient to guarantee that earlier clandestine work was not continuing anywhere in the country. Instead, the JCPOA only provided the IAEA with access to previously disclosed nuclear sites. The problem with this arrangement was made clear soon after its implementation, and several times thereafter, with the discovery of at least three undisclosed sites where nuclear work took place at some point in the past.
In each case, Tehran was free to obstruct inspectors from investigating the site. Meanwhile, authorities destroyed buildings and removed topsoil as part of an effort to sanitize those sites and remove evidence of work that would open them to broader scrutiny from the international community. These efforts predictably failed to remove all traces of nuclear material, but the IAEA’s confirmation of that material’s presence did not translate into enforceable consequences from the European participants in the JCPOA.
Monday’s report emphasized that Tehran’s rejection of transparency persists in the midst of the Vienna talks. Separate comments from IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi made the same point.
Grossi’s statement about the outcome of future negotiations obviously depends upon the stance that the EU decides to take at next week’s talks in Vienna and at any other talks that follow. Up to this point, European negotiators have been content to overlook all of the regime’s violations and lies, to pursue a return to the status quo, and to pressure the US to do the same. But if they continue along this path, they will inevitably embolden the regime toward more deception, more violations, and more ultimatums in their dealings with the international community.
The regime’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi made the purpose of those ultimatums plain in February when discussing an oft-cited religious edict from the supreme leader. “The fatwa forbids the production of nuclear weapons,” he said, “but if they push Iran in those directions, it is not Iran’s fault. Those who pushed Iran in that direction will be to blame.” In other words, the regime is fully prepared and willing to obtain a nuclear warhead. And if the EU’s posture in Vienna does not change, it may do so with the help of European appeasement.