With close to two weeks left in office for President Donald Trump, Iran is establishing facts on the ground to leverage the Biden administration with its announcement that it has begun to enrich uranium to a 20 percent level.
The level represents the “most significant and blatant violation to date” of the nuclear deal, according to former Israeli army intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.
Twenty percent represents “a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent,” according to a report by the AP. Astonishingly, the move – which consists of the highest level of enrichment since the nuclear agreement made between Iran and the world powers in 2015 – was made with the tacit approval of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“At Fordo, Iranian nuclear scientists under the watch of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors loaded centrifuges with over 130 kilograms (285 pounds) of low-enriched uranium to be spun up to 20%, said Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s permanent representative to the U.N. atomic agency.” – AP
According to the prestigious Washington think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, once enough uranium is enriched to the 20 percent level, enriching it further to the 90 percent needed for bomb-grade material would only take six weeks.
The institute estimates, that with this new development at Fordo, it will take Iran only five to six and a half months to produce enough uranium necessary to make a bomb. From that point, it would take another month and a half for Iran to produce a bomb itself.
Some experts believe that Iran already has enough low-level enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs and that the further enrichment necessary to actually produce the bombs would take about three months.
In a clear move to leverage the incoming Biden administration, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, “Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL.”
We resumed 20% enrichment, as legislated by our Parliament.
IAEA has been duly notified.
Our remedial action conforms fully with Para 36 of JCPOA, after years of non-compliance by several other JCPOA participants.
Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 4, 2021
Members of Biden’s incoming administration have indicated that re-entering the 2015 nuclear agreement made under the Obama/Biden administration is “high on his agenda.”
“I believe that in the first months [of Biden’s presidency], we’ll either see him rejoin the deal fully or what I would call ‘JCPOA-minus,’ meaning lifting sanctions in exchange for suspending some of the Iranian nuclear programs [developed] in the past three years,” said Amos Hochstein, who worked at the State Department during the previous administration and oversaw energy sanctions on Iran.
Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and embarked instead on a program of crippling sanctions against Iran. The Trump State Department called Iran’s latest move a “clear attempt to increase its campaign of nuclear extortion.”
Lifting sanctions will give Iran access to the much-needed cash they need to purchase advanced weapons, which recently become legally available to them.
In October, a 13-year UN arms embargo on Iran was lifted as part of the nuclear agreement. This means that Iran – recognized as the largest state sponsor of terrorism – is now allowed to buy weapons from which it was previously restricted, as well as give them to its proxies, including the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Iran is demanding “full and unconditional implementation of the [nuclear agreement] and compensation for the events of the past,” said a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
Further, the spokesman said, “We will not renegotiate any parts of the [nuclear agreement].”
One of the biggest flaws of the agreement was that it did not address Iran’s ballistic missile program. Ballistic missiles can be fitted with nuclear warheads.
Incoming National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a recent interview on CNN that the U.S. would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for negotiations on Iran’s ballistic missile program. Sullivan also said in the same interview that the assassination of Iranian terror mastermind Qassem Soleimani did not make America safer or protect U.S. interests.
What are we to make of Biden and members of his administration expressing such attitudes, as well as making such blatant overtures to the Iranian regime? Master negotiators, the Iranians managed to gut the 2015 nuclear agreement of any teeth, including:
- Ruling out any inspections of its military sites (necessary for an assessment of possible nuclear dimensions of the existing Iranian nuclear program)
- Getting immediate sanctions relief (making “snapback” provisions a moot point after Western nations immediately began investing in Iran)
- Retaining centrifuges used for enriching uranium
- Continued uranium enrichment
- Retention of nuclear sites
In this second round of negotiations, Iran already has the upper hand – simply because the incoming administration has indicated their eagerness to rejoin the agreement. This is especially devastating considering the fact that Trump is leaving Biden with an enormous amount of economic leverage over Iran.
“They [Iran] are in deep, deep trouble, and to simply return to the status quo of the Obama administration, surrender all of that simply to return to a deal that in a space of a very few years is going to run out and allow Iran to surge forward with an industrial-strength nuclear program doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” said former Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser John Hannah, speaking to FOX Business.
In addition to a severely weakened Iran, Trump has left Biden with a Middle East unified against Iran through the historic Abraham Accords, the peace agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and possibly more countries to come in the last days of the Trump administration.
The Trump team has also just negotiated the end of a years-long dispute between the Gulf States and Qatar (who, since the dispute, made overtures to Iran). They also just seized $7 million in Iranian assets after shutting down a money-laundering operation designed to get around American sanctions against the Islamic Republic. The Department of Justice plans to use the money to pay victims of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism.
After the nuclear agreement was made and sanctions were lifted, European companies invested deeply in Iran (apparently with no concern for effectively financing this terrorism). One thing Trump taught us is that America does just fine without playing international politics by European rules.
While Biden has made “restoring” America’s relationship with Europe one of the priorities of his foreign policy, it remains to be seen what the U.S. will get in return – particularly in light of the new trade agreement Europe just made with China. The agreement prioritizes Europe’s ties with the communist regime over those with the U.S.
The new administration would be better off staying the course and not get involved in negotiating with Iran. Historically, such negotiations have not ended well and there is no reason to believe this time will be any different.
Iran is driven by ideology, and no amount of Western largesse will change that.