New evidence proves that Tehran pulled the wool over the eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) when inspectors came to verify its compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal signed with six world powers. This week, too, Iran openly defied the UN on the development of ballistic missiles and refused to curtail its program in obedience to UN resolutions.
On Wednesday, Jan. 29, Iran’s defense minister Amir Hatami and its National Security Council Chairman Ali Shamkhani said their country’s missile capabilities were non-negotiable and dismissed a demand by the US and Europe to discuss curbs. Shamkhani explained that Iran’s missile development no longer focused on extending their range – only on precision – in line with “our defensive doctrine.” Concerning Iranian’s destabilizing operations in the region, Shamkhani boasted that Iran’s precise missiles were now in the hands of “the resistance” in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, in case of any “foolish actions” – i.e., an Israeli attack.
This week too, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Salehi disclosed that Iran was about to re-start its enrichment program, which was supposed to have been cut back under the 2015 nuclear accord. He spoke of “more advanced technology.” Iranian sources said that the regime is considering manufacturing nuclear fuel used in naval propulsion systems. This method would potentially purify uranium to forbidden weapons grades.
Also this week, Iran let it be known that a large batch of 30 tons of mined uranium, “yellow cake,” was sent from a production plant in the central city of Ardakan to one of its main uranium enrichment facilities in Isfahan. The product can either be used as fuel for nuclear power plants, as the regime claims, or as material for nuclear bombs, if refined much more
Tehran’s burst of nuclear and missile activity appears to be undeterred by the reduction in its revenues wrought by the tough sanctions the Trump administration has imposed. The US embargo on Iran’s oil exports in November has forced Iran to cut its daily oil production for export by 60 percent. Whereas before the embargo, Iran was producing 2.7 million bpd, that figure has plummeted to 1.1million bpd.
“Iran is now increasingly feeling the economic isolation that our sanctions are imposing,” Brian Hook, the Trump administration’s supervisor of sanctions against Iran, told a news conference in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 12. “We want to deny the regime revenues… and revenues come from oil exports,” he said, pointing out that Tehran is “the number one state sponsor of terrorism and “we want to deny the regime the money it needs.”
The weak link in this strategy is Europe. This week, the EU was due to establish a mechanism for keeping Iran from quitting the 2015 while constraining its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. This relief was to have come about either through waivers for companies wanting to import oil from Iran – and depositing payment with this mechanism – or trading in goods, like food and medicine. No money would change hands directly between European companies and Tehran and this would insulate them from US penalties.
But the Europeans decided to put this plan on the shelf after encountering flat opposition from some of the 28 EU member-governments.
Trump administration officials had earlier threatened the European Union with strong economic penalties if it made it easier for companies to do business with Tehran. Senator Tom Cotton put it this way: “The choice is between doing business with Iran or with the United States. I hope our European allies choose wisely.”
Meanwhile, on Jan. 20, European members on the IAEA board persuaded a closed board meeting attended by 70 diplomats to reject the “substantial evidence” presented by US National Security Adviser John Bolton proving that Iran had lied to the inspectors charged with verifying Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal..
Bolton’s allegations were drawn from analyses conducted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Institute for Science and International Security on a large cache of data purloined by Israel last year in a covert operation in Tehran. This data revealed the existence of a previously unknown Iranian nuclear facility, as well as gaps in the nuclear watchdog’s inspections and findings.
Bolton distributed these analyses to the IAEA board meeting in Vienna, together with a strong recommendation to “reinvigorate its investigation of Iran’s past, and possibly ongoing, nuclear weapons program.”
The diplomats who vetoed action on the new evidence argued that, while Europe would continue to engage with the US, it was important to avoid provoking an escalating crisis with Iran. Forcing the IAEA to rehash its 20-year old reports could shut the doors to diplomacy, they warned. Tehran meanwhile shows no signs of backing down on any of its plans notwithstanding extremely damaging US sanctions.