Iran’s Nuclear Strategy – OpEd


The parties to the world’s nuclear deal with Iran, including Iran itself, have started a new round of discussions – the seventh since April 2021, when newly elected US president Joe Biden initiated meetings aimed at America re-entering an updated agreement. The talks – if you can call a meeting “talks” where the US and Iran do not converse face-to-face but only through intermediaries – reconvened on November 29 in Vienna.

It was in 2015, in an effort to restrain Iran’s nuclear program, that the permanent members of the UN Security Council together with Germany concluded an agreement with Iran known as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).  

No doubt all those involved, including then-US President Barack Obama, had the very best of intentions. They were convinced that with that deal, which incorporated a substantial financial boost to Iran, they had put the regime’s nuclear ambitions on hold for at least 15 years, making the world a safer place. Moreover they believed that they had taken an important step toward normalizing relations with Iran – a rogue state proved to have been behind terrorist actions across the world ever since its foundation in 1979 – and bringing it back within the comity of nations.

Donald Trump, soon to be president of the US, disagreed.  He believed the deal was flawed and in effect gave Iran the green light to acquire a nuclear arsenal in the comparatively near future. In May 2018 he withdrew the US from the deal and, adopting instead a policy of maximum pressure, imposed sanctions on Iran.

Speaking on January 8, 2020 he said: “They chanted “death to America” the day the agreement was signed. Then Iran went on a terror spree, funded by the money from the deal, and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.”

Much of the world, including the EU and the other parties to the deal, opposed Trump’s withdrawal.  Biden certainly did.  During his presidential campaign he promised, if elected, to move quickly to rejoin the nuclear deal, provided Iran also came back into compliance. In essence that remains the US position, as it resumes the apparently endless rounds of talks with a regime notably more hardline following the recent Iranian presidential election. The Iranian regime has used the hiatus since June to place new limitations on the UN inspectors of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).  The obvious deduction is that Iran has been proceeding apace with its nuclear program in defiance of the deal. 

Iran under its new president, Ebrahim Raisi, has already signaled that it does not wish to resume the talks exactly where they left off.  Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said in October: “We don’t want to enter the Vienna negotiations from the deadlock point of the Vienna negotiations”.  

Iran’s already announced position – which does not augur well – is that the US must compensate Iran for its withdrawal from the deal, lift all the sanctions imposed since 2015 at once rather than in phases, and provide assurances that no future US administration will back out of the deal.  Given that list of demands, it seems clear that Iran is set on dragging out the negotiating process.

On November 21 Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, traveled to the UK for a 3-day official visit.  In a statement ahead of his trip Herzog wrote: “One issue that demands British-Israeli dialogue is Iran’s race toward nuclear weapons and regional hegemony. Iran does not want dialogue. It is exploiting the world’s willingness to negotiate to buy time. Israel cannot allow the fundamentalists of Tehran to acquire a nuclear bomb. The moderate nations of the Middle East need their allies, including Britain, to engage them in an urgent dialogue on how to stop Iran instead of wasting time on its games.”

For 42 years world leaders have been unable, or perhaps unwilling, to acknowledge what motivates the Iranian regime – namely, the philosophy behind its Islamic revolution of 1979.  Iran’s original Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, affirmed repeatedly that the foundation stone of his convictions, the very purpose of his revolution, was to destroy Western-style democracy and its way of life, and to impose Shia Islam on the whole world.  He identified the United States and Israel, together with the USSR, as prime targets. 

“We wish to cause the corrupt roots of Zionism, Capitalism and Communism to wither throughout the world,” said Khomeini.  “We wish, as does God almighty, to destroy the systems which are based on these three foundations, and to promote the Islamic order of the Prophet.”  By this he meant his strict Shia interpretation of Islam, for elsewhere he had declared that the holy city of Mecca, situated in the heart of Sunni Saudi Arabia, was in the hands of “a band of heretics”.

Ever since 1979 the world could have recognized, if it had had a mind to, that the Iranian regime was engaged in a focused pursuit of these objectives, quite impervious to any other considerations.  Instead wishful thinking has dominated the approach of many of the world’s leaders to Iran, and continues to do so.

“We shall export our revolution to the whole world,” declared Khomeini. “Until the cry ‘there is no god but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.” 

Pursuit of this fundamental purpose of the Islamic Revolution has involved the state – acting either directly or through proxy militant bodies like Hezbollah or the Houthis – in a succession of acts of terror directed not only against Western targets, but against non-Shia Muslims as well. For decades Iran has also made determined efforts to develop nuclear power, with the aim, never openly acknowledged, of producing nuclear weapons as a vital means of achieving its objectives.

The Sunni Arab world knows its main enemy is Iran – the Abraham Accords attest to that.  Western leaders want to believe in an accommodation with the regime.  A clear-eyed look at the facts shows that this is simply not possible. This Iranian regime is not, and has no intention of ever becoming, one of the comity of civilized nations.  To do so would be to negate the fundamental purposes underlying the revolution, purposes to which the ayatollahs remain unshakably committed. 

To quote President Herzog: “Iran does not want dialogue. It is exploiting the world’s willingness to negotiate to buy time.”

Neville Teller

Neville Teller's latest book is ""Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020". He has written about the Middle East for more than 30 years, has published five books on the subject, and blogs at "A Mid-East Journal". Born in London and a graduate of Oxford University, he is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."

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