The timing could not have been worse. The discovery of sizable quantities of enriched uranium in Iran occurs at a point when President Donald Trump is seeking to impose as many sanctions as possible on the country, while incoming President-elect Joe Biden has plans to potentially reenter the nuclear deal.
IAEA: Iran is 12 Times Over its Allowable Enriched Uranium Limit
In its latest report on Iran’s nuclear activities, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that the regime now has more than 2,400 kilograms of enriched uranium – twelve times more than permitted under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – and sufficient to build three atomic bombs if Tehran continues to enrich the material.
Inspectors discovered uranium particles in an undeclared facility, according to the report. Tehran’s explanation of how the nuclear material got there were “not credible.” The IAEA is now calling for a “full and swift explanation” from Tehran.
What Happens if Biden Reenters the Iran Deal?
Meanwhile, the report carries implications for the Middle East. States such as Israel and Saudi Arabia are worried about a likely return to appeasing Iran under Biden’s presidency via the JCPOA. Iran has remained one of the main destabilizing factors in the region, is a threat to the Sunni royal houses in the Gulf, and has repeatedly declared the annihilation of the Jewish state as its goal.
Opponents of the nuclear agreement argue that Iran is not a reliable negotiating partner and is secretly building the atomic bomb. The control mechanisms of the agreement are indeed imperfect. It also excludes the Iranian missile program.
Moreover, the abolition of sanctions in the agreement strengthens the “main sponsor of terrorism,” Iran, which is destabilizing the entire region with its terrorist militia Hezbollah and via the Muslim Brotherhood.
Supporters of the Deal Argue it’s the Only Viable Way to Limit Tehran’s Nuclear Ambitions
On the other hand, proponents say that Iran’s nuclear activity cannot be stopped completely and that the deal is the best way to extend the time to prepare for a nuclear-weapons-capable Iran.
During his presidential campaign, Biden said that it was Trump’s exit from the nuclear deal that had accelerated Iranian activities. At the time, Tehran had declared in response that it would no longer adhere to all its obligations. Since 2018, it has enriched eight times more uranium than the nuclear deal allows.
The Trump Admin’s ‘Maximum Pressure’ Campaign on Iran
Meanwhile, before he departs from the White House, Trump wants to further increase the “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran. He has already sanctioned Tehran’s oil exports and significant economic sectors and support for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas are also being punished. Intensified and broader sanctions will reportedly soon follow.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who is expected to visit Israel this week – described the goals of upcoming sanctions as being targeted at “an international network of companies and individuals” that procured electronic components for a company under the Iranian military’s control. Furthermore, he stressed that those who did business with Iranian companies on the US sanctions list also risk penalties.
Trump hence no longer links sanctions only to violations of Iran against the nuclear agreement, but also to human rights violations and the promotion of terrorist groups.
Biden Will Have a Hard Time Removing the Latest Sanctions
The Trump administration’s approach to Iran could end up being an issue for Biden. Although most sanctions imposed by the Trump administration can be reversed without any significant problems, the latest changes mark an encumbrance, as revoking these sanctions demands for Biden to make it credible that terrorism is no longer an issue.
Nonetheless, with the “maximum pressure” campaign, Trump created the ideal starting point for Joe Biden’s presidency. Potentially easing the sanctions that have brought Tehran to the brink of financial collapse could incentivize the regime to renegotiate and adhere to the rules of the deal.
However, Iran’s presidential elections are coming up this June. Biden is expected to face even more difficult negotiating partners afterward, especially since the economic relief from the original nuclear deal has had less of a positive impact on the Iranian economy than Tehran had hoped.
In addition, Iranian officials have already announced that they will demand compensation from Biden for the economic damage that Trump’s sanctions inflicted on them – something that will be difficult for the incoming President to arrange, especially if the Senate remains under Republican control.