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Iran Keeps Resisting ‘Maximum Pressure’

Iran President Rouhani and U.S. President Trump. Drop of Light/Shutterstock and Office of President of Russia.   

Ladane Nasseri does a very good job putting the news that Iran has exceeded the restrictions on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and heavy water in proper context:

The economic pain inflicted by President Donald Trump’s sanctions on Iranian oil exports was widely blamed for prompting Tehran’s threat last week to gradually roll back its compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

But it was a U.S. decision in early May to revoke two waivers critical to the Islamic Republic’s enrichment activities that left it with a stark choice: either submit to Washington’s will and stop all uranium enrichment, or abandon some of its obligations under the landmark accord — and risk a rupture with European signatories.

A year after Trump walked away from the nuclear deal and with President Hassan Rouhani under pressure from hardliners who see the nuclear program as a totem of Iranian sovereignty, there was only way Iran was likely to go.

Like the larger crisis of which this is a part, this problem was created by the Trump administration’s actions. Revoking the waivers earlier this year put Iran in a bind of forsaking the enrichment activities that the nuclear deal allowed them to engage in or exceeding the limits imposed by the deal. As long as Iran could ship out excess enriched uranium, it could continue enrichment without breaching the limit, but getting rid of the sanctions waiver made it so that shipping out the excess was no longer an option. As I said when Bolton first tried to use this issue as an excuse to promote the lie that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons:

Iran’s record of full compliance with the JCPOA for more than three years hasn’t mattered to Bolton and his allies in the slightest, and they have had no problem reneging on U.S. commitments, but now the same ideologues that have wanted to destroy the deal from the start insist on treating the deal’s restrictions as sacrosanct. These same people have worked to engineer a situation in which Iran may end up stockpiling more low-enriched uranium than they are supposed to have, and then seize on the situation they created to spread lies about Iran’s desire for nukes. It’s all so obviously being done in bad faith, but then that is what we have come to expect from Iran hawks and opponents of the nuclear deal. Don’t let them get away with it.

The U.S. has grossly violated all of its commitments under the JCPOA, so it is in no position to quibble about minor breaches by Iran. In any case, Iran did this to put pressure on the other remaining parties to the deal. Iran is not “rushing” to build a bomb, and in every other respect Iran remains in compliance with the deal. In fact, Iran’s modestly reduced compliance is also protected under the agreement because the U.S. already breached its obligations by reimposing sanctions more than a year ago. Iran could simply renege on the deal outright as the U.S. did, and it is significant that they have refrained from doing that despite having nothing to show for their compliance. So even Iran’s minimal “violation” is proof that Tehran wants to honor the deal they made, and their reduced compliance is permitted as a response to U.S. violations of all of our commitments.

The official White House response to the news is laughable:

It will take experts in time travel to figure out how Iran could have violated the terms of an agreement before the agreement existed, but in the meantime we should focus on the absurd maximalism of the White House statement. The press secretary’s statement says, “It was a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level.” This is the old “zero enrichment” position that the U.S. fruitlessly insisted on for more than a decade before making the essential compromise that allowed the deal to go forward. Iran is entitled to enrichment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) provided that it is for peaceful, civilian purposes. Allowing some enrichment was a necessary concession to the Iranian side. The administration’s opposition to that concession tells Iran everything they need to know about what they can expect from the U.S. in the future, and it is one more reason why Iran isn’t going to talk to Trump. Iran doesn’t have “nuclear ambitions,” but the Trump administration is doing everything it can to encourage them to get some.

Nothing could better demonstrate that “maximum pressure” is a dead-end that will only generate more Iranian resistance than today’s news. The fact that the administration remains wedded to such a bankrupt and destructive policy even now shows that they have always been seeking to force Iran out of the deal to create a pretext for conflict.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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