By Arab News
By Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami*
Washington’s policy of exerting the maximum degree of pressure on Iran’s regime continues, with more steps taken by the US to weaken the foundations of the regime’s economy. Iran is now under fresh US sanctions, which were imposed last week and are expected to escalate in the coming weeks. For its part, Tehran has taken countermeasures to increase the pressure on the other P5+1 signatories of the 2015 nuclear agreement, particularly the European countries.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced last Wednesday that Iran would partially withdraw from the nuclear deal by selling heavy water and enriching uranium in excess of the amounts permissible under the terms of the deal. According to the nuclear agreement, Iran has the right to retain a maximum of 300 kilograms of enriched uranium and 130 tons of heavy water. Rouhani stated that, if the European countries in particular do not comply with the implementation of the nuclear deal within 60 days — especially by ensuring sanctions relief on Iran’s oil exports and activating the financial channels they promised to continue transactions with Tehran despite US sanctions — Iran will renounce its commitment to enriching uranium to 3.67 percent, returning to its former 20 percent enrichment level.
In a message sent by Rouhani to the P5+1 signatory states, he warned that, if there is no Western agreement to comply with the nuclear agreement and the nuclear file is referred to the UN Security Council, Iran will take further steps. This message provoked strong international criticism, with senior figures warning Iran of the grave consequences of it renouncing the nuclear deal.
Even if Iran wishes to give the impression that it is undertaking countermeasures, some observers argue that the Iranian move is a bluff, as the US has issued a decision prohibiting the purchase of Iranian heavy water and enriched uranium. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report issued in February 2019 asserts that the total quantity of heavy water currently in Iran’s possession is about 120 tons, and that Tehran’s production capacity will not exceed 1.6 tons per month.
On the subject of enriched uranium, meanwhile, the IAEA announced that Iran’s regime had retained 120 kilograms as of May 2018, which rose to 163.8 kilograms in February 2019. Both these amounts are far less than the maximum quantity Iran is permitted to retain. The IAEA also stated that Iran’s production during the 60 days announced by Rouhani in the so-called first phase would not permit it to exceed the amounts it is allowed to retain under the nuclear deal.
This was confirmed by the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, in a statement to Iranian state-run television, in which he said: “Iran cannot increase the amounts of the low-enriched uranium unless it increases the number of the sophisticated IR3 centrifuges.” If Iran was to choose this option, it would constitute another breach of the nuclear deal and the Iranian regime’s friends, as well as its sympathizers, would dwindle. Also, the number of states willing to stay in the nuclear deal would fall.
However, the regime’s latest step, as announced by Rouhani, has put Iran in an awkward position with the Europeans in particular and the world in general. Rouhani’s announcement clearly reveals the regime’s intention to abandon the nuclear deal at a time when doing so serves its expansionist schemes and interests in the region. This shows that the pressure from Washington has led the Iranian regime to reveal its true face and disclose the real nature of its controversial nuclear program.
In Washington, President Donald Trump reacted to the latest Iranian measures by stating that the US would continue to exert pressure on Iran, while also underlining his administration’s readiness to negotiate. “What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me,” he said, adding, “We can reach a fair deal. We don’t want them to have nuclear weapons — not much to ask.” Trump concluded by saying: “But they should call. If they do, we are open to talk to them.”
At the same time, however, Trump did not dismiss the possibility of a military face-off with Tehran. Washington has already sent some US military vessels to the Arabian Gulf in a step that suggests the military option against Iran is on the cards, particularly if the Iranian side commits provocations and targets US interests in the region or, in case of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, attempts to block energy supplies through the Strait of Hormuz.
The “carrot and stick” policy currently being pursued by the US administration puts more emphasis on the stick than the carrot. This is the exact opposite of the strategy adopted by former President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry, which focused on the carrot when dealing with Iran, without any suggestion of using the stick. Obama’s policy gave Iran’s regime complete freedom to continue pursuing its expansionist objectives and subversive interventions in the region.
In the end, if Trump resorts to the carrot policy with Iran, as he hinted at in his recent remarks about his country’s readiness to negotiate and engage in dialogue with Iran, his administration should learn from the mistakes made by his predecessor, who ignored the interests and concerns of the region’s countries, leading to dangerous tensions, which have continued to escalate. Security and stability in the region are primarily linked to the wellbeing and interests of its countries, particularly by ensuring that their sovereignty is safeguarded, while protecting them from extremism, terrorism and sectarianism.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami