More to US-Iran row than nuclear deal

By Zou Zhiqiang Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/19 21:53:40

Photo: IC

Steps taken by Iran to wean itself from the beleaguered nuclear deal have put Tehran in the spotlight as the state discovered newfound oil reserves. 

On November 6, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Twitter, "Iran's 4th step in reducing its commitments under the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iranian nuclear deal] by injecting gas to 1,044 centrifuges" began on that day, and Fordow facility to reactivate uranium enrichment "will soon be back to full operation." 

The announcement came after Iran said it started 30 new centrifuges at Natanz. Currently, 60 centrifuges are running at the Natanz facility, which will steadily increase the country's production of enriched uranium. 

On November 10, engineers started pouring concrete for a second reactor at its Bushehr nuclear power plant in southwestern Iran, which was scheduled for completion in 2025. Besides, Iran is developing an advanced IR-9 centrifuge "that works 50 times faster" than the first generation. 

On the same day, Rouhani said an oil field with 53 billion barrels of reserves had been discovered in Southwest Iran to demonstrate the country's ability to withstand US sanctions and boost morale in the country. Rouhani also stated on November 11 that Iran would regain access to arms market in 2020. 

Iran's increasing uranium enrichment has been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The country's enriched uranium production has gone up to roughly 100 kilograms per month. 

It recently stated that its enriched uranium stockpile has surpassed 500 kilograms and is still rapidly increasing. 

The US withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and maximum pressure on Iran led to Tehran's tough tit-for-tat countermeasures. As a result, relations between the two countries have plummeted. 

Despite phased desertion of the nuclear deal, Iran's real intention is not to withdraw from it. The Islamic Republic wants to demonstrate its intransigence in response to US withdrawal and sanctions. It is to pressure the international community especially Europe in the hope of sanctions relief. Iran understands that staying in the deal is more beneficial. Therefore, even as it is stepping further from the agreement, Iran has repeatedly stated that these current measures are reversible. 

Rouhani said that if Western countries uphold their commitments in accordance with the nuclear deal, Iran would stop injecting uranium gas and give the world powers two more months to save the accord. Given current circumstances, Iran is pushing for European aid and trying to save the deal. 

The escalation of Iran's nuclear crisis has aroused great concern. The attitude of major powers is also undergoing subtle changes. On November 8, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that saving the nuclear deal was in the interest of all parties. On November 11, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union issued a joint statement saying they were "extremely concerned" by the latest uranium enrichment activities at the Fordow facility restarted by Iran, urging Iran to "return to full implementation of its commitments under the JCPOA without delay." They are ready to consider dispute resolution mechanism in the nuclear deal, which could lead to reinstatement of international sanctions on Iran and arms embargo. 

Fundamentally, US abandonment of the nuclear deal and extreme pressure on Iran are the source of the current nuclear crisis. The core of Iran's nuclear issue is not about nuclear, but US-Iran relations. As the US uses the nuclear issue as an excuse to contain Iran, Tehran strikes back with a new nuclear development. Easing or resolving Iran's nuclear crisis requires Washington to change its approach. 

However, given the Trump administration's existing policies and tough stance on Tehran, there is little hope of US easing sanctions or a possibility of negotiations between the two sides. Hence, the Iranian nuclear tensions may possibly continue escalating with fiercer discords between Washington and Tehran, leaving the crisis with a gloomy future. 

The author is an associated research fellow at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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