Nuclear Iran: Tehran is closer than ever to a nuke as Biden runs out of options
Tehran has accelerated uranium enrichment at a pace not seen since signing a historic deal in 2015, which saw Iran limit uranium enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief, before the Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018.
Analysts believe Tehran may have already obtained the materials needed to build a nuclear weapon.
The lack of images of nuclear sites deprives negotiators of the nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – of data, making it “technically impossible to reach an agreement”, a IAEA chief Raphael Grossi told CNN. Thursday.
“Or you could have (a deal) based on no information, which I guess won’t happen,” Grossi said. “That’s why we say it’s a very serious thing. It has consequences. Of course it does.”
Iran has also started installing advanced centrifuges in a cluster of an underground enrichment plant, according to Reuters, which reported seeing an IAEA report outlining escalating nuclear activity in Iran. The reported incident came after the IAEA’s governing body passed a resolution for failing to explain traces of uranium found at three undeclared sites.
The acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program comes amid growing tensions between Iran and the United States. Talks around the JCPOA have stalled due to growing pressure from Tehran to have the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – the elite wing of Iran’s armed forces – removed from the list of terrorist organizations. . It is believed to be the latest sticking point in nearly a year and a half of negotiations between the two countries.
Both sides have so far refused to budge on the issue, thanks to domestic political pressure in their respective countries.
Trump listed the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization during his final weeks in office. The decision was called a “poison pill” by critics, who accused Trump of throwing a wrench in the wheels of future talks on restoring the JCPOA.
Dangerous days ahead
The stalled negotiations have dangerous implications for the region.
“While the United States and Iran have settled most of the technical aspects of returning to the nuclear deal, differences remain on largely symbolic areas,” said Dina Esfandiary, senior adviser for the Middle East. and North Africa at Crisis Group.
“As a result, Iran is now going after it by increasing the pressure,” she added.
When Trump pulled out of the JCPOA in 2018, he unleashed a wave of crushing sanctions against Iran’s economy. The US government found at the time that Tehran continued to comply with the agreement. But as with many Obama-era policies, Trump intended to undo the landmark nuclear deal, citing Iran’s continued interference in the Middle East through Tehran-aligned paramilitary groups.
A fervent opponent of Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran, US President Joe Biden relaunched negotiations as soon as he took office. But Biden’s policies have so far failed to resurrect the deal, and Iran has routinely upped the ante by violating its part of the deal.
“Iranians haven’t seen any benefit from the JCPOA since 2018,” Quincy Institute executive vice president Trita Parsi said. “The IAEA has seen the benefits. Others have seen the benefits because the Iranians have generally complied.”
“It was only a matter of time before this ended, during which the Iranians would say ‘well, if we don’t get anything in return, why should you? “,” Parsi added.
Iran remains about a year away from producing a nuclear weapon, analysts say, who say the region could now be heading inexorably for further escalation.
Meanwhile, Biden is running out of options, given that the United States has already sanctioned Iran under the Trump administration.
The sanctions have dealt a blow to its economy but not destroyed it, and Iran is likely to be desensitized to further economic sanctions. Israel’s assassinations in recent years of senior officials – including a prominent nuclear scientist – have also failed to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment.
This could cause the United States and its allies to consider pursuing a military option.
A war against Iran could crush its nuclear program, but would wreak untold havoc across the region, in addition to dragging the United States into a region from which it has been trying to disengage.
“Some of the most aggressive escalations by Iran in terms of stepping up the program happened on Biden’s watch, not Trump’s watch,” Parsi said. “It’s because Biden continued Trump’s policies.”
CNN’s Mostafa Salem and Becky Anderson contributed to this report.