Following an apparent attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, the government announced Tuesday that it will begin enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, a move that is likely to further complicate ongoing talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
“Tehran is playing poker with a very weak hand,” said Hudson Institute Adjunct Fellow and former Senior Director of the National Security Council Middle Eastern and North African Affairs Directorate Robert Greenway.
“Materially, there’s little difference between 20 percent and 60 percent enrichment, but nonetheless is wholly inconsistent with a “peaceful” nuclear program and is likely to make it more difficult for the P5 and U.S. to bend to Iran’s demands and provide comprehensive sanctions relief beyond the scope of the 2015 JCPOA,” Greenway said.
The sudden decision by Iran’s government follows an attack on its Natanz nuclear facility over the weekend, which Iran has blamed on Israel despite a lack of evidence or confirmation.
The announcement flies directly in the face of the Biden administration’s attempts at appeasing the regime through offerings of partial sanctions relief in return for Iran’s halting of its uranium enrichment violations.
Iran previously enriched uranium to 20 percent purity, which was already a blatant violation of the nuclear deal, or JCPOA, and while 60 percent is an amplification of this prior violation, it falls short of the 90 percent purity required for weapons-grade uranium.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Iran’s announcement “both calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard to the nuclear talks and underscores the imperative of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA,” emphasizing that the U.S. remains committed to engaging in diplomatic talks.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted Wednesday that “nuclear terrorism at Natanz has unleashed [a] dangerous spiral that can only be contained by ending U.S. economic terrorism initiated by Trump.”
“Biden/Harris have a clear choice to make: Either the Obama/Biden deal OR Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign. No alternative. Not much time,” Zarif continued.
While the Biden administration has already exhibited willingness to pursue a slow and steady return to compliance with the original deal alongside Iran, the regime continues to adamantly reject this proposal in an apparent attempt to pressure the U.S. into further concessions and sanction relief, placing regional allies and the Iranian people at risk of greater destabilization.
“The risk of escalation continues to climb as our partners in the region chart a different course, knowing the threat the regime in Tehran constitutes better than it appears our negotiators do,” said Greenway, who believes that a continued push by the Biden administration to reenter the JCPOA will put the U.S. “at odds with our regional partners including Israel and the Gulf.”
“Fueling Iran’s terrorism, proliferation, and gross human rights violations at the expense of our natural allies and the Iranian people is a difficult if not impossible argument to defend,” Greenway continued.