Iran took another giant step toward gaining nuclear weapons by admitting it is now using arrays of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium. This is its latest violation of the 2015 nuclear deal and puts more pressure on Europe to decide whether it wants to keep subsidizing this nuclear breakout.
According to the accord, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. Last year, the US withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions. Iran responded by abandoning two other key nuclear commitments in July.
The acting head of the UN nuclear watchdog on Monday called on Iran to “respond promptly” to the agency’s questions regarding Tehran’s nuclear programme. Cornel Feruta was addressing the quarterly board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a day after meeting high-level Iranian officials in Tehran.
He said that in his meetings he “stressed the need for Iran to respond promptly to Agency questions related to the completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations”, adding: “Time is of the essence.” Earlier Monday, the IAEA confirmed that Iran was installing advanced centrifuges, a move that puts further pressure on the troubled 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran has deliberately violated its terms by producing more low-enriched uranium than the agreement permits. This is what raises suspicion – more so because Iran has not come out with any explanations sought by the IAEA about the origin of the particles in question.
While both the diplomats insist that the traces were of uranium, one of them says the uranium was not enriched to a level anywhere close to what is needed for weapons. The questionable traces may well be the remnants of activities that predate the nuclear deal reached between Iran and P5+1 together with the EU, but Iran’s quiet over the matter is likely to stoke tensions with Washington.
The deal has been dead, in practical terms, since President Trump pulled out of it May 2018, leading to US sanctions causing cut in Iranian oil sales. The other parties to the deal are, however, reluctant to follow the US, in their bid to keep the country engaged. The division between the European Union and the U.S. over Iran has been one of the most pressing security challenges since Trump decided last year to abandon the deal that was struck in 2015.
The European nations want to preserve the deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), even if they seem worried about a growing list of violations by Iran of the deal. The Iran crisis and the debate it has fuelled reflect the strains between the U.S. and Europe over the maximalist political approaches of the U.S.
President. However, if recent statements from the US and Iran are taken on face value, no side wants a military conflict. The US wants a better nuclear deal that requires Iran to abandon its enrichment programme completely. No country wants to trigger a military confrontation with Iran, one which would draw in other regional states and non-state actors.
But if Iran refuses to accept the US demands and continues to expand its nuclear programme, the Trump administration will only be left with two options to accept the growing risk of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability, or to use military force to stop it.
The situation is at a deadlock. It appears that the Trump administration will need to make its own calculations, without the advice of its partners, in light of the costly setbacks that some of its recent policies have experienced in the region.