Iranian intents: Tehran appears to be dodging terms of deal

The US and Israel left the so-called Iran deal in 2018, preferring to increase sanctions on Tehran instead.

A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor, Iran (photo credit: REUTERS/RAHEB HOMAVANDI)
A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor, Iran
After Iran last week notified the International Atomic Energy Agency that it would begin research on producing uranium metal, the group known as the E3 – France, Germany and the United Kingdom – was spurred into issuing a strongly worded response recognizing the seriousness of the new move by the Islamic Republic.
While Tehran claimed the uranium metal was meant to provide fuel for a research reactor, the European countries acknowledged that “Iran has no credible civilian use for uranium metal. The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications.”
The E3 added: “We strongly urge Iran to halt this activity, and return to compliance with its JCPOA commitments without further delay if it is serious about preserving the deal.”
It’s doubtful that such a statement left Tehran trembling. In fact it probably wasn’t moved at all. Iran for years has heard warnings issued by the partners to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The JCPOA deal merely delayed Iran’s program rather than stop it. 
The deal blocked the production or acquisition of plutonium or uranium metal or their alloys for 15 years, but enabled Iran to begin to research producing fuel based on uranium metal in 2025 if the other partners to the agreement would agree to it. Iran itself knows that it’s not such a long time to wait, if necessary.
The announcement that it would work to produce uranium metal came just after Tehran announced that it would begin enriching uranium up to 20%, going beyond the JCPOA’s enrichment limitations.
The US and Israel left the so-called Iran deal in 2018, preferring to increase sanctions on Tehran instead.
In its final days, the Trump administration has stepped up pressure on Iran in the wake of its latest declarations, and the US State Department announced sanctions on anyone who transfers any of the 15 materials used for Iran’s nuclear, military or ballistic missiles program. 
But here, too, Iran knows that the administration of President-Elect Joe Biden will take a different approach. On Saturday, he announced that Wendy Sherman, who helped negotiate the JCPOA in 2015, would hold the number two position at the State Department – and Biden has already indicated that he wants to return to a form of the Iran deal with strict Iranian compliance to its terms.
So far, however, there have never been very little signs that Tehran will abide by the terms of the deal, let alone an indication that it is willing to forgo its nuclear ambitions or aggressive policies in the Middle East via the terrorist organizations that it proudly sponsors. Iran has not dropped its animosity to Israel, the US and the Sunni states in the Gulf, nor has it halted its terrorist activities across the globe.
As The Jerusalem Post’s Seth J. Frantzman noted yesterday, a massive Iranian missile drill showcasing long range missiles, drones and other advanced weapons took place this weekend, serving as a message to Gulf countries, the US and Israel. This came a year after Iran launched ballistic missiles at US forces in Iraq and follows Tehran’s proliferation of missile technology to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen in recent years.
Iran’s latest violations are part of a strategy to forge ahead with its plans. Strong words from the E3 will not be enough to stop the ayatollahs.
It’s possible that the Islamic Republic is playing a game with the rest of the world, adding issues now so they can be raised in future negotiations without touching the core issues: Iran’s long-term vision to gain nuclear weapons and the precision-guided missiles to deliver them.
One thing is clear: Iran is not scared by talk in European capitals. It has not been deterred until now: On the contrary.
For the E3 to have any measure of impact, the words have to be backed by deeds. And the tough stance against Iranian aggression will need the backing of Biden.
Words alone are not enough to stop Iran. Action to stop the ayatollahs’ nuclear aspirations must involve more than the shaking of a finger in a warning to the Islamic Republic.