Iran nuclear deal
January 2, 2021

Iran is ready to produce 20 percent enriched uranium at its underground Fordo nuclear facility "as soon as possible," Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's civilian Atomic Energy Organization, said Saturday. "We are like soldiers and our fingers are on the triggers," he told Iranian state television. The 20 percent figure is much higher than the threshold set in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and though it's well below the grade required to make a bomb, The Guardian has previously reported the early stages of enrichment are the most challenging, and it gets easier over time.

The plan came to light Friday, and both Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency have since confirmed that Tehran has informed the agency of its preparations. The decision comes amid escalating tensions between Tehran and both Washington and Jerusalem following the assassinations of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani — which was carried out by the U.S. in a drone strike almost exactly one year ago — and Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who founded the country's military nuclear program two decades ago.

Iran has blamed Israel for Fakhrizadeh's death, and the country's parliament subsequently passed a law calling for the production and storage of 20 percent enriched uranium, as well as an end to IAEA inspections, which are meant to ensure the country is not developing an atomic bomb. It does not appear Tehran has followed through on the latter step, however, The Associated Press reports. Salehi said the enrichment "should be done under IAEA supervision." Read more at The Associated Press and France 24. Tim O'Donnell

December 14, 2020

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday said if the United States returns to the Iran nuclear deal, his country will follow within an hour.

The deal was made during the Obama administration in 2015, lifting sanctions on Tehran in exchange for Iran reducing its uranium stockpile and dismantling its centrifuges. Rouhani said he will not discuss any changes to the accord or restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program, The Guardian reports.

President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, and Rouhani made his comments on the same day the Trump administration sanctioned two Iranian intelligence officials for allegedly playing a role in the 2007 disappearance and presumed death of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will rejoin the deal, believing it is one way to avert a nuclear crisis in the Middle East. Catherine Garcia

November 25, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden will not receive pressure from his European counterparts to rush back into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Officials from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom told the Journal that their countries are still supportive of the deal, but they don't think it will be possible or even desirable to achieve a full return to the agreement before Iran's presidential elections in June. Like several analysts, they think it's better to wait and see how things unfold before giving up any leverage.

Diplomats in Europe reportedly believe Iran will elect a more hard-line president than the comparatively moderate incumbent, Hassan Rouhani. If Biden successfully hurries the U.S. back into the deal while Rouhani remains in office, it could lead to his successor quickly reversing it on Tehran's end, making it much more difficult to reach a broader agreement that would prompt Iran to reverse its expanded nuclear activities.

What Europe does seem to want is for the Biden administration to ease the tensions and sanctions that have defined President Trump's relationship with Iran and offer Tehran "some tangible economic benefits" before the vote, theoretically creating incentive for the next government to negotiate. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

November 21, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to "make an unshakeable commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," and U.S. officials expect he'll be focused on easing tensions between Tehran and Washington once he's in the Oval Office next year, NBC News reports. But some experts think he should hold out for a bit before simply rolling back sanctions and rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal that President Trump exited in 2018, prompting Iran's decision to begin enriching its uranium again.

"From my point of view it would be crazy to rejoin the deal without getting something more out of it," David Albright, an expert on Iran's nuclear program at the Institute for Science and International Security, told NBC News. "Whatever you think of Trump — and I didn't like that he left the deal — he generated a tremendous amount of leverage on Iran, and not to use that just seems crazy. In that sense it's a gift to Biden."

Biden is facing a ticking clock, however, given that Iran will be holding its elections in June 2021. President Hassan Rouhani, who is considered a moderate, was willing to back the 2015 agreement with the Obama administration, but his two-term limit is up, and there's no guarantee his successor will want to cut any sort of deal, NBC News notes. So, even if Biden were to adopt a more gradual approach and play hard ball, he'd likely have to do so within the first few months of his presidency. Read more at NBC News. Tim O'Donnell

October 18, 2020

A 13-year-old United Nations embargo on Iran that blocked the nation from buying and selling weapons expired on Sunday, despite U.S. protests, The Associated Press reports. Iran's foreign affairs minister, Javad Zarif, called the occasion a "momentous day for the international community … in defiance of the U.S. regime's effort."

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency claimed last year that if the embargo was allowed to expire, as was in keeping with the five-year timetable described by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, then Iran would potentially attempt to purchase fighter jets, anti-aircraft missiles, and tanks from Russia, or other arms from China. Iran has insisted it has no plans for a "buying spree," and some experts say the country is "more likely to purchase small numbers of advanced weapons systems," The Guardian reports. Jeva Lange

July 10, 2019

During an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on Wednesday, the American ambassador accused Iran of "nuclear extortion," after President Trump promised further sanctions against the country.

Tehran has started stockpiling and enriching uranium, breaking the limit set by the nuclear deal it reached with major world powers. There is "no credible reason for Iran to expand its nuclear program, and there is no way to read this as anything other than a crude and transparent attempt to extort payments from the international community." Jackie Wolcott, the U.S. ambassador, said. If Iran wants sanctions relief, it must come "through negotiations, not nuclear extortion," she added.

On Twitter Wednesday morning, Trump wrote that sanctions against Iran will "soon be increased, substantially!" The United States and Iran have both said they are willing to start negotiations again, with Tehran demanding Washington remove sanctions on its oil exports and rejoin the nuclear deal Trump walked away from in 2018, and the U.S. saying it must do whatever it takes to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program. Catherine Garcia

July 6, 2019

Iran is ready to enrich its uranium beyond the limits of the 2015 nuclear pact, unless European leaders offer Tehran more concessions.

On Saturday, Ali Akbar Velayati, a top aide to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a video message that the Islamic Republic is prepared to breach the pact after Iran bolstered its stockpile of uranium last week. The message comes just ahead of a Sunday deadline Iran set for European countries to offer new terms in light of recently-imposed U.S. sanctions. If Europe does go along with the sanctions, Velayati said, "every component of the establishment" has agreed to boost uranium enrichment levels, citing the fact that the U.S. failed to hold up its end of the bargain when Washington left the agreement last year.

But Uranium enrichment is not the only thing stirring up trouble between Tehran and Europe.

In related news, Mohammad Ali Mousavi Jazayeri, a member of the Assembly of Experts, a powerful religious body in Iran, said on Saturday that the United Kingdom "should be scared" of Iran's retaliatory measures after the seizure of an Iranian supertanker in Gibraltar by the British navy on Thursday. "We have shown that we will never remain silent over bullying," he said.

A British-flagged oil tanker came to a halt in the Persian Gulf, but Iran quickly denied reports that it had seized the ship in retaliation. Hours later, a U.K. Maritime Trade Operations official told Reuters that the tanker is "safe and well," further dispelling any suspicion. Tim O'Donnell

July 3, 2019

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran will enrich uranium above the 3.67 percent level agreed to in a multinational nuclear pact beginning Sunday if its European partners don't step up with a deal to work around punishing U.S. sanctions. "In any amount that we want, any amount that is required, we will take over 3.67," Rouhani said in a televised Cabinet meeting. On Monday, Iran and United Nations nuclear monitors confirmed that Tehran had enriched more than the 660 pounds of uranium allowed in the nuclear deal.

Iran's enriching of more uranium at higher potency would decrease the window of time it would take to create a nuclear weapon, something Iran denies it has any intention to do. Currently, Iran's window is about a year. On Tuesday, European nations urged Iran to "reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal." President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran deal and has been working to undermine it, arguing that it did not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Peter Weber

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