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Iranian Regime’s Zero-Sum Approach To Nuclear Talks – OpEd

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By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*

After almost a year of negotiations, talks to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, have yielded no positive results. What is Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s strategy regarding Tehran’s nuclear program? 

As time passes, a return to the nuclear agreement becomes less likely. Regarding the latest round of negotiations, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged that “getting that program back into a box through a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA has proven more difficult through the course of this year than we would have liked.”

There are two possible prongs to the Iranian regime’s nuclear strategy. First, the Islamic Republic is clearly dragging out the talks in order to gain significant concessions, particularly from the Biden administration, and to achieve all its demands. Before returning to the nuclear deal and complying with the JCPOA, Iran’s leaders want all sanctions imposed during the previous US administration to be lifted. 

The White House should not yield to Tehran’s demands because some of the sanctions imposed by the former US administration were  linked to the regime’s terror activities and human rights violations. For example, in 2020, the US sanctioned several Iranian officials and entities over human rights violations, including the judge who was reportedly involved in the execution of the Iranian champion wrestler Navid Afkari.

Furthermore, sanctions leveled on the cyber unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were also a step toward establishing a larger program that would penalize agents of the regime for their concerted attempts to hack other governments’ systems and organizations.

Many of the previous sanctions empower the Iranian people to further pursue their demands for justice, rule of law, democracy, and to bring those who have committed human rights violations to trial.

Second, the Iranian regime could be dragging out the negotiations in order to buy time and become a nuclear state. After all, Tehran continues to advance its nuclear program by accelerating its enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade material.

This escalation has been causing concerns among some European leaders. The Institute for Science and International Security released a study on Nov. 19, 2021, that analyzed and outlined the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear activities. “Iran has enough enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) in the form of near 20 and 60 percent enriched uranium to produce enough weapon-grade uranium, taken here as 25 kg, for a single nuclear weapon in as little as three weeks. It could do so without using any of its stock of uranium enriched up to 5 percent as feedstock. The growth of Iran’s stocks of near 20 and 60 percent enriched uranium has dangerously reduced breakout timelines,” the institute said. 

In addition, the day after reaching an agreement to extend the monitoring mechanism of the IAEA by reinstalling surveillance cameras, the Iranian regime announced on Dec. 15 that it would not allow the agency to see images from the devices. “In other words, the agency will not have any access to the information before sanctions are lifted,” the Iranian regime’s state news agency IRNA said, quoting Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

While Iranian leaders claim that the country’s nuclear program is designed for civilian purposes, such as developing fuel for research reactors, the production of enriched uranium metal is a crucial step toward acquiring nuclear weapons. Even a joint statement issued by the UK, France and Germany acknowledged the fact that the Iranian regime “has no credible civilian need for uranium metal R&D and production, which are a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon.” It is worth noting that the Iranian regime’s nuclear file has been filled with clandestine nuclear sites and activities —  another indication that the Islamic Republic is likely intending to become a nuclear state.

The danger is that the Iranian regime is advancing its nuclear program at a rapid pace, spinning centrifuges and enriching uranium at a high level, while the international community has no access to monitor its nuclear activities or check how close it is to developing nuclear weapons.   

In summary, the Iranian regime’s nuclear policy appears to be based on a zero-sum game in which the Iranian leaders get all their demands, or the international community will have to live with a nuclear Iran.  

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.

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