On Tuesday, January 5, Tehran announced its new breach of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). A day earlier, government spokesperson, Ali Rabiei had declared President Hassan Rouhani has ordered enriching uranium to 20 percent purity in recent days.
According to a ‘law’—passed by the Parliament (Majlis) last month, Rouhani’s government started “producing and storing 120 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 20 percent per year.”
Tehran took this disputed step while its leaders acknowledged that it might destroy global attempts for reviving the flawed JCPOA agreement. In this respect, Rouhani had initially opposed the step, describing it as “detrimental to the course of diplomatic efforts.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also boasted and justified this illegal action. “We resumed 20 percent enrichment as legislated by our Parliament,” he tweeted, adding that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been “duly notified.”
While Zarif’s government had constantly breached the JCPOA, he blamed other JCPOA signatories for “years of non-compliance.” However, he could not veil his concern about the international consequences and wrote, “Our measures are fully reversible.”
Iranian officials attributed their unlawful decision to the West, particularly the U.S. government. However, they simultaneously hope that the incoming U.S. administration would return to the JCPOA. In other words, they made two mistakes, which put their establishment in a bottleneck.
First, if as they predict a Biden administration would return to the JCPOA and grant them economic reliefs, they must once again retreat from their recent ambitions. This action may look like a victory for Tehran. However, due to recent development and the Majlis’ density of radical elements, the government’s retraction—which needs Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s approval, would contribute to severe shockwaves inside Iran’s governing establishment.
Furthermore, if the ayatollahs refuse to negotiate, not only would they not gain economic and political privileges but also they would likely be confronted with a stronger policy toward Iran. In such a case, the European leaders would pressure Tehran to not just acquiesce to nuclear restrictions, but respect its people’s basic rights, limit its ballistic missile programs, and end its malign behavior in the region.
In this respect, as Zarif had forecasted, the ayatollahs’ new ‘nuclear extortion’ sparked international concern. In this respect, the European Commission also voiced its concerns over Iran’s plan to enrich its underground Fordow nuclear facility to 20 percent purity.
The Lead Spokesperson for the External Affairs of the European Union Peter Stano emphasized that “Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
“Iran’s decision to increase uranium enrichment has dire consequences. Iran must honor its nuclear pledges,” Stano said in an interview with alalrabiya.net, adding, “the European Union urges Iran to fulfill its nuclear obligations.”
The United States called Tehran’s new step a form of ‘nuclear extortion.’ “Iran enriching uranium to 20 percent at Fordow is a clear attempt to increase its campaign of nuclear extortion, an attempt that will continue to fail,” said a State Department spokesperson.
Even Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described the ayatollahs’ illegal enrichment as a critical juncture and “extremely complex and sensitive.”
Tehran had previously breached its nuclear obligations by enriching uranium to a level greater than the 3.67-percent limit provided for in the JCPOA. However, its recent violation, which puts the enrichment on the 20 percent threshold, is considered a critical step to achieving the 90-percent purity needed for weapons-grade proposes.
Furthermore, the government started the plan at the severely protected Fordow facilities, which are buried deep under the mountains. According to the JCPOA, Tehran was banned from enrichment at the Fordow facilities.
In this context, the Iranian government’s recent adventurism along with building new covert sites and working on warheads once again shows the ayatollahs’ intention for achieving nuclear weapons. Tehran persistently claims that its religious beliefs prohibit it from obtaining weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons.
However, the beliefs that allowed it to kill at least 1,500 peaceful protesters during only two days in November 2019 are not very reliable in such a status quo. The fact that the ayatollahs kept their nuclear sites a secret until they were exposed by their opposition is a major source of concern.
In this context, the international community must force Tehran to stop its nuclear activities with the language of power and firmness, which the ayatollahs and their appointees well realize. “The re-imposition of six Security Council resolutions, the complete halt to enrichment, the closure of nuclear sites, and anywhere, anytime inspections are indispensable to prevent the regime from acquiring a nuclear bomb,” the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) stated on January 2.