By Hamid Enayat
Why such an attachment to nuclear weapons, and why does it lead to a deadlock?
The dispute is about post-JCPOA issues
“The problem is not in the JCPOA  talks; the problem is in the future of the nuclear talks,” said an Iranian regime theorist. “In the nuclear negotiations, the United States is looking for negotiations on JCPOA and post-JCPOA, while Iran wants to negotiate only within the framework of JCPOA and not beyond,” he added.
Before his election, U.S. President Joe Biden laid out his roadmap, saying he was prepared to renege on the nuclear deal and lift sanctions, but Iran’s missile programs and regional interventions must also be discussed.
According to this theorist, “assuming that all disputes are put aside, and Iran and the United States agree on the outcome, that Iran returns to its obligations and the United States lifts sanctions, Washington will again say: Let’s talk about missiles and regional influence. But Tehran says: JCPOA and nothing else, not a word more, not a word less.”
Therefore, the Iranian regime is procrastinating to buy time to enrich uranium to a higher degree (or pretend to do so). It also aims to trigger panic in the P5+1 to obtain more concessions. However, reports indicate that given the explosions at the main Natanz facility and the elimination of Fakhrizadeh, the father of Iranian nuclear power, it will not be possible to produce an atomic bomb for a long time.
After the Iran-Iraq war, a theory emerged in Tehran that power was not limited to a thriving economy, long-standing democratic institutions, and a formidable army, but that superpowers could be challenged in asymmetric warfare. As the country grew stronger, power turned to nuclear weapons building, terrorism, and regional influence.
Born of medieval dogmas, the Iranian regime has had to spread in order to survive, like a parasite that ensures its survival by colonizing a tree trunk. This theory of asymmetrical power stems from its nature.
It sees nuclear weapons as a guarantee of its survival. After the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin, revealed in 2003 that Tehran was building an atomic bomb, international pressure put a serious brake on the process. It, therefore, turned to extending its regional influence and developing missiles as an alternative.
According to an Iranian analyst in power circles, “What can guarantee the survival of the JCOPA is Iran’s national strength: first, preserving its nuclear capabilities so that if the Americans want to play again, Iran will move towards 90% enriched uranium. Second, maintaining the country’s defense strength (its missile and drone development program), and finally, reducing its vulnerability to sanctions.”
Another source close to the Iranian regime believes that what prevents another Trump from breaking the deal is that “Iran says if the deal is broken, then Iran will build its own bomb and we will set Saudi Arabia on fire.” Otherwise, according to an analyst who requested anonymity, if Iran is deemed weak, the P5+1 will not only dismantle its nuclear facilities but also reduce its missile power and call for an unconditional withdrawal from the region.
This analyst assumes that Iran is a lightweight boxer and P5+1 is a heavyweight. For him, “no one expects a lightweight to win, but if he can resist and buy time, he will wear out his opponent in this confrontation. We must increase our resistance, and above all, strengthen the economy. I am sure that what keeps the power breathing is first its economy, second its defense capability, and third the amount of enriched uranium.”
Sitting on a powder keg
The Iranian regime is aware of the explosive state of society due to galloping inflation and the poverty of 80% of the population. It knows that a spark could set off a much more terrible explosion than in the 2018 and 2019 uprisings. According to a former strategic researcher, the economic collapse and the resulting pressures, as well as fears of a new uprising, will lead the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to conclude that there is no other way forward than to accept the demands of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Like the capitulation to UN resolution 598 during the Iran-Iraq war or Khomeini’s release of American hostages under international pressure, the Iranian regime only understands the language of force.
How to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring an atomic bomb
Respect for human rights and protection of the lives of protesters should be at the heart of any negotiations with the clerical regime. Insisting on human rights and adopting a decisive policy is indispensable to prevent the regime from acquiring the bomb.
 JCPOA: Vienna Agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).