In case it’s not clear by now, the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign designed to squeeze Tehran into renegotiating the nuclear deal isn’t working. Or at least not if “working” means compelling the Iranians to come, hat in hand, to the US president begging to cut a new deal.
Instead, round after round of sanctions have prompted Iran to steadily roll back its commitments under the landmark accord. Earlier this month, IAEA inspectors confirmed that Iran “accumulated more enriched uranium and purified it to a higher level than allowed under the country’s 2015 agreement with world powers”.
That wasn’t a surprise. Iran made its intentions to violate the deal clear over the past three months and had previously warned that it breached the stockpile limit and exceeded the enrichment ceiling.
On Saturday, at a news conference, Iranian nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said the country has “started lifting limitations on our Research and Development imposed by the deal [and] it will include development of more rapid and advanced centrifuges”.
He also said Iran has started injecting the centrifuges with gas, something that, under the deal, wouldn’t have happened for more than a decade, apparently. Here’s the direct quote from Kamalvandi:
This includes IR-6 machines which have now been fed gas. A chain of 20 IR-4 centrifuges has also been started. The IR-6 has also started as a chain of 20 since yesterday. We will soon test our IR-8 centrifuge cascade by injecting gas into 3 IR-8 machines.
So, Iran will now start enriching more rapidly, but Kamalvandi stressed two things at the press conference: 1) Although Tehran is no longer abiding by limits on uranium enrichment, Iran sees no need to enrich beyond 20% currently, and 2) IAEA inspectors still have complete access to the country’s nuclear installations. Acting IAEA boss Cornel Feruta will meet with Iranian officials on Sunday.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday he’s “not surprised that Iran has announced it’s going to violate” the deal.
That’s good that Mark isn’t surprised, considering this is all the direct result of his boss’s extraordinarily ill-advised decision to pull the US out of the deal unilaterally.
Esper was meeting with France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, in Paris.
Emmanuel Macron is spearheading efforts to salvage the deal, initially by convincing Trump to agree to a $15 billion line of credit for Iran backed by oil. Although Trump did indicate he’s open to the idea, the administration continues to sanction Iran and its affiliates. Over the past two weeks alone, the US has sanctioned the oil tanker which was detained in July off Gibraltar, the Iranian space program (and several related entities) and a complex shipping network linked to the Quds Force.
Suffice to say that although the sanctions are obviously painful for the theocracy, Iran is proving to be far more resilient than Trump perhaps figured. Saturday’s announcement from Kamalvandi marks yet another escalation along the road to Iran rekindling its nuclear ambitions.
It is certainly possible that Trump can eventually force Tehran to the table if the Iranian economy completely collapses, prompting enough social unrest to threaten the regime, but that seems some ways off. In the meantime, the decision to pull out of the deal has most assuredly made the world a more dangerous place. There is no doubt about that.