Creating Tension in Iran
Almost needless to argue, the decision by Iran that it would stop complying with some commitments made as part of the Iranian nuclear deal spells trouble.
For openers, the decision to build uranium reserves and to store heavy water used by reactors to process uranium moves the world a step closer to a nuclear-armed, potentially volatile Iran. That will be interpreted as an immediate threat to Israel, a persistent Mideast rival, and also to the contentiousness of American sanctions.
In particular, this Iranian move will pit European allies against the United States.
And for Americans, the specter of dealing anew with a nuclear threat in the Middle East while still trying to calm North Korean nuclear aspirations half a world away will create a huge set of pressures on a Trump administration that already is feeling hectored on the domestic front. It means having to believe in warnings and interpretation of military threat from Iran by a national security crew that is at least split, and to have to count on the reasoned responses of a president who too often seems ill at ease with details and multi-layered understanding. Seizure of a North Koran ship carrying coal in violations of sanctions against that regime will cause tempers to bristle.
There is no way for this decision to ease American worries. Either we are threatening war, or we are acknowledging that we have inadequate sway with our allies or we are failing to achieve the goals of current sanctions. In any case, nothing here can ease American concerns.
The announcement by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came exactly a year after Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran agreement, under which Iran agreed to serious limits on Iranian production of nuclear fuel for 15 years. Still, Rouhani did not trash the entire agreement, instead offering European nations 60 days to decide whether to follow Trump on sanctioning sales of Iranian oil or keep the bulk of the nuclear agreement in place.
Rouhani said: “The path we have chosen today is not the path of war, it is the path of diplomacy. But diplomacy with a new language and a new logic.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced that as “intentionally ambiguous.” The Trump administration is already outlining new, yet more crushing economic sanctions that could force a new agreement or attempt to force the ouster of Iran’s leaders.
Iran intends to build up its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and of heavy water, which is used in nuclear reactors — including a reactor that could give Iran a source of bomb-grade plutonium. The only uranium allowed now will support electric power plants.
If the Europeans fail to compensate for the unilateral American sanctions, he said, Iran will resume construction of the Arak nuclear reactor, a facility that was shut down, and its key components dismantled, under the deal. If Europe does not help with oil sales,
Rouhani threatened to end the limits on the enrichment of uranium.
Remember, now, that in North Korea, Premier Kim Jung Un has re-started missile testing because, he said, Americans are not lifting economic sanctions on that country.
In turn, these measures also are seen as provocative by China and Russia, which each object to American sanctions as well, to say nothing of Chinese anger over newly raised Trump tariffs.
Of course, these moves also comes as presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is briefing congressional Republicans about his thoughts on presenting a Middle East peace. It also comes as the United States has entered a particularly touchy time in negotiating trade terms with China, which has a bucketful of contentious military issues with the United States.
Resuming activity involving uranium that the 2015 nuclear accord pushed off to 2030 will revive debate in the United States over possible military action, or a resumption of covert action, like the cyberattack on Iran’s centrifuges a decade ago. Israel has committed itself to stopping any nuclear weapons development by Iran, regularly speaking about covert military sorties into the region.
While Iran has technically followed the 2015 deal, it has continued to test missiles and to underwrite Shiite militias in the region, as well as support the Syrian government.
Trump campaigned about being against the Iran deal for being too limited in its focus on nuclear weapons rather than military aggressiveness with conventional weapons as well.
The United States has long demanded that Iran fulfill its commitments to international inspections and moratoriums on nuclear work. The national security adviser, John Bolton, a fierce opponent of the deal, has often said that Iran never intended to give up its nuclear ambitions.
Again, we should all be able to agree that dealing with all of these issues at the same time is no time for us to be relying on mottos and slogans to steer our government.