This was a foregone conclusion, but Iran has officially breached a key element of the 2015 nuclear accord.
On June 17, a spokesman for the country’s atomic energy agency warned that unless Europe steps in to help Tehran sell its oil or otherwise compels the Trump administration to back off the sanctions, Iran will not live up to its commitments.
“Today the countdown to pass the 300 kilograms reserve of enriched uranium has started and in 10 days time we will pass this limit”, Behrouz Kamalvandi told reporters. At the time, Trump simply tweeted a quote from a wire story he read.
It took a little more than 10 days, but, on Monday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (who Steve Mnuchin threatened to sanction last week) said Iran has in fact exceeded the limit.
“Our inspectors are on the ground and they will report to headquarters as soon as the LEU (low-enriched uranium) stockpile has been verified”, a spokesman for the IAEA said.
On Friday, European leaders failed to impress Iranian negotiators at a meeting in Vienna where diplomats gathered in a last-ditch effort to convince Tehran not to violate the accord. The European powers announced that Instex (the special purpose vehicle set up to facilitate trade with Iran) is operational, but Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said it will only be effective to the extent it helps the country sell crude.
FARS reported the breaching of the 300kg limit earlier in the day and Tasnim said the country would begin suspending more of its commitments going forward.
This of course comes a week after Trump took the largely meaningless step of imposing sanctions on Khamenei, prompting an incredulous response from Tehran, which in turn elicited a threat of “obliteration” from the White House.
It’s unclear how the US will respond to the Iranians breaching their commitments under the accord, but Monday’s news is stone, cold proof that the Trump administration’s “tough on Iran” stance has failed. Trump continues to insist that his goal is to ensure the country never possesses a nuclear weapon, and, just as experts warned when he pulled the US out of the landmark deal, Iran is now moving back in that direction as a result of the US president’s policy choices.
“The breach of the limitation, which restricted Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium to about 660 pounds, does not by itself give the country enough to produce a nuclear weapon. But it is the strongest signal yet that Iran is moving to abandon the limits and restore the far larger stockpile that took the United States and five other nations years to persuade Tehran to send abroad”, The New York Times writes, underscoring what it is Trump has managed to blow up (figuratively, for now).
You’re reminded that everyone – France, the UK, Germany, Russia and China – warned Trump that pulling out of the deal was a bad idea. Consider the following foreboding passage from a May 20 article penned by former Obama national security official and Philip Gordon, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations:
When President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal last May, many critics argued that he risked setting off a chain of events that could lead to war. The nuclear deal wasn’t perfect, supporters of the deal acknowledged, but if the United States precipitously walked away and the deal collapsed, Iran might resume its nuclear enrichment program, and to stop it, the United States would end up with no option but to use force. This in turn could ignite a wider conflagration. But administration officials and other opponents of the deal dismissed such concerns—even as they insisted that in the agreement’s absence, the best way to block Iran’s nuclear program was with the “credible military option.”
Now the inevitable escalation cycle seems well under way.
Trump’s excuse for withdrawing from the accord was that Iran was engaged in “nuclear blackmail” when, in fact, there was zero evidence to support the conclusion that the country was pursuing a weapon. Even Netanyahu’s exceedingly ridiculous “Iran lied” Powerpoint presentation was more history lesson than intelligence briefing, something Tehran dryly noted at the time.
The irony, then, is that while Iran was not engaged in any “nuclear blackmail” when Trump exited the accord, they most assuredly are now.
And for what? What has been gained from this 14-month effort to squeeze Iran? Nothing. Nothing at all.