Iran on Monday threatened to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels by July 7 if European leaders fail to offer a new deal or relief from sanctions that are crippling its economy, The Associated Press reported.
This came as the Iranian government announced it’s violating the 2015 nuclear deal’s cap on its uranium stockpile, going beyond the 300 kg (660 pound) limitation. The UN’s nuclear watchdog confirmed it had surpassed the uranium stockpile ceiling stipulated by the deal.
The Iran nuclear deal, orchestrated by the Obama administration, was designed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in exchange for sanctions relief. It was landmark agreement between multiple nations and endorsed by numerous nuclear experts.
But President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in May 2018 with assertions they were violating its terms and has been hammering the Iranians with sanctions ever since.
Tensions have escalated to new heights over the past few weeks amid tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman, and then Iran’s downing of a US Navy drone. Washington has blamed the tanker attacks on Iran, which has denied responsibility, and Trump nearly responded to the drone incident with a military strike but pulled back at the last minute.
The heightened military and economic tensions have led to fears of war and are why Iran has begun to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal, which is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iran for roughly a year appeared to be strategically waiting the US out, and remained in compliance with the agreement.
But these recent developments do not mean Iran is around the corner from becoming a nuclear power, according to Jon Wolfsthal, who served as the top nuclear expert on the National Security Council under former President Barack Obama.
‘A crisis…that is entirely Trump’s doing’
“It would take Iran at least one year to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to make a single weapon. That’s how the Iran nuclear deal was designed,” Wolfsthal told INSIDER. “Iran might be able to produce a small amount of highly enriched uranium more quickly than one year, but not enough to produce a weapon. And of course we will be able to see everything Iran does because of the presence of inspectors in Iran, something that is happening because of the Iran nuclear deal.”
Wolfsthal said that Iran also remains “legally prohibited from building weapons” or “removing materials from international inspections.”
“This is not a military crisis, it is a political one and one that is entirely Trump’s doing,” Wolfsthal added.
To counter Iran, the White House has deployed B-52 bombers and a carrier strike group to the Middle East and tightened heavy sanctions that are hammering the country’s economy in an attempt to force Iran’s leaders into talks.
‘Trump’s policy has backed the United States into a corner’
Meanwhile, Trump appears determined to maintain his administration’s maximum pressure strategy against Iran, and critics in both Congress and the wider foreign policy community feel he’s only making the situation worse.
“President Trump says he wants to make sure Iran never acquires nuclear weapons. His policy, however, is having the opposite effect: It is giving Tehran a powerful incentive to go nuclear, while at the same time making it increasingly difficult for the United States to prevent that,” John Mearsheimer, a top foreign policy expert and professor of political science at the University of Chicago, wrote in a scathing op-ed for The New York Times on Monday.
Read more:Here’s what’s in the landmark nuclear deal that Iran just violated amid tensions with Trump
“Trump’s policy has backed the United States into a corner, leaving no clear diplomatic offramp in sight,” Mearsheimer added.
Similarly, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, an increasingly prominent voice on foreign policy in Congress, on Friday tweeted, “Trump’s strategy of blind escalation with Iran has been a disaster and it’s up to Congress to stop this train wreck before it gets worse. The American people saw what happened in Iraq. They don’t want another forever war.”
The White House slammed Iran for violating the deal Trump pulled out of
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham on Monday released a statement condemning Tehran’s latest moves, stating, “The Iranian regime took action today to increase its uranium enrichment. It was a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level.”
The nuclear deal allows Iran to stockpile about 660 pounds of low-grade uranium, an amount that can be used for nuclear power plants. This is one of the limits Iran said it had violated on Monday.
“Maximum pressure on the Iranian regime will continue until its leaders alter their course of action,” the White House statement added. “The regime must end its nuclear ambitions and its malign behavior.”
Read more:2020 Democrats slam Trump on his Iran strategy and diverge on whether they’d support Obama’s nuclear deal
Part of the statement was awkwardly worded, as it suggested Iran was violating the terms of the JCPOA before it even existed. “There is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms,” the White House said.
“Despite hollow claims to the contrary, Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose a threat to peace and security,” a senior Trump administration told INSIDER in response to a request for clarification on this portion of the statement. “Iran established a nuclear weapons program in the past and hid a secret nuclear weapons archive from the world before, during, and after negotiating the execrable nuclear deal.”
Until Monday, the UN’s nuclear watchdog repeatedly determined Iran was in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and had only begun to question its adherence to the pact in recent weeks amid tensions with the US.