The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran has decided to commence escalating her uranium enrichment program at the Fordow Nuclear Facility.
The IR-6 advanced centrifuges can rapidly enrich, or de-enrich, uranium hexafluoride gas from 5% to 20%, far below the levels already reached by Iran and which have been determined as escalatory (60%) and still farther from weapons-grade (at least 90%).
Nevertheless the confirmation, coming whole months after officials on all sides of the Iran Nuclear Deal negotiations (JCPOA) were indicating a new deal was imminent, indicates just how far the negotiations have fallen off, and how fast.
Now, negotiation teams from the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the US Dept. of State, are receiving pressure from their legislatures to back away from the table.
How did the nations come so close only to break away yet again?
As recently as June 20th, spokesmen continued playing the reel that they are “ready” to sign an agreement, if only the other party were to decide to do so; or that “the ball is in__ court”. This has been going on since negotiations were commenced under a Biden Administration that campaigned on a return to the JCPOA. A major hiccup now is the current designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the nation’s army, as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” by the United States.
Iran would like the designation removed, while the United States has rejected that as a demand unless Iran cedes ground on non-nuclear issues.
An Iranian official who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, said of the stalemate, “The US and Iran indirectly have exchanged [dozens] of messages, but it’s very obvious that we are talking two different languages”.
Anti-government protests sparked over economic problems, including a rise in gas and food prices, broke out in Iran in May, and the U.S. may believe that the years of “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iranian oil and banking sectors are beginning to seriously take their toll at long last.
However, in the history of US sanctions campaigns, they have never achieved the desired effect of either changing governments, or the opinions and policies of those governments. One of the reasons for this is that the sanctions exist in a global economy, and there are ways to get around them if those sanctioned can find an ally.
Believing that India, one of the world’s largest economies and oil markets, is on the verge of a new era of cooperation with Iran, Rajeev Agarwal, assistant director at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies, recently wrote that “if India comes on board with Iran, it will create a huge bloc of countries, [China, Russia, Oman] money, population, and power, which could then make it very difficult to keep Iran locked away and duly sanctioned by the West”.
This would include the Iran-Oman-India gas pipeline. Trade between Iran and Oman, according to Agarwal, has greatly increased after the signing of a May 23rd trade agreement and state media reported it was 57% more year on year, and 145% over the last two months compared to the same months in 2021. Trade values were in excess of $1.336 billion.
A gas pipeline would be incredibly valuable for all countries involved, but particularly India, which would then rely on Iran to guarantee the delivery of natural gas from Oman. Also in the energy markets, India has increased its importation of Russian crude by 1,000% since the sanctions were placed on Russia by the West, which demonstrates their enormous capacity for importation, but also the willingness to conduct major business with heavily sanctioned countries.
Who needs it more?
It’s clear then that Iran in the next five years has the potential to stay afloat even under some of the harshest sanctions in the world. It’s not clear what the US hopes to gain by holding out on the terror designation of the IRGC.
Whether State Dept. negotiators are trying to get something valuable in the areas where the US and Iran are at other ends of gun barrels, such as through their respective proxies in Yemen, or regarding Israel’s repeated assassinations of Iranian civilians, they risk losing something major, and that is not only the restriction of Iran’s nuclear program to a civilian one, but also the political capital of any further nuclear escalations which would inevitably happen under the end of the agreement.
Kelsey Davenport, Director for the Nonproliferation Policy at the Arms Control Association, wrote recently that regarding Iran’s old, and fully-canceled pre-2004 nuclear weapons program, the country’s officials had lied about it, and continue to be vague about the details of the program which the IAEA have since confirmed no longer exists.
“It is precisely because Iran had a nuclear weapons program, lied about it, and continues to obfuscate when pressed about activities from that period that the JCPOA is necessary,” Davenport wrote in Responsible Statecraft.
It’s very easy for an American politician to score points by insulting, or attempting to antagonize Iran, for their treatment of women, for their judicial system, and a variety of other socio-cultural aspects of that society.
But there’s uncontroversially more to lose for the United States from an Iranian exit of the JCPOA, than for Iran. While it may play in the media as strong and resolute in the face of authoritarianism and terrorism to break the agreement rather than comply with Iranian demands, that would pale in the face of an announcement that, for example, the country was to begin massively developing its nuclear energy capacity.
“To allow Iran’s nuclear program to inch closer toward a bomb than ever before while a single, albeit complicated and politically charged, non-nuclear issue, holds up closing an agreement to restore the accord is inexcusable,” Davenport writes.
“Iran complied with all IAEA protocols, had even offered additional protocols and was never found violating them before Tehran voluntarily broke away from them after the United States revoked the nuclear deal in May 2018,” wrote Agarwal.
“Also, the reasoning that economic sanctions can prevent Iran from weaponizing its nuclear program too has been proven wrong as Iran, despite sanctions, has stockpiled enough highly enriched uranium to cross the threshold and develop nuclear weapons, if and when it wants”. WaL
PICTURED ABOVE: A map of Iran’s major nuclear energy sites based on coordinates suggesting their locations. PC: Yagasi, translation of the original work by Sémhur. CC 3.0.