GP Insights # 100, 8 July 2019
On 7 July 2019, Iran announced that it would breach the limit of stockpiling low-enrichment Uranium, set by the landmark 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). After a year of US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, for the first time, the Islamic Republic announced the violation of the terms of the multilateral agreement. According to the agreement, Iran was allowed to enrich not more than 300 kg of Uranium as part of its atomic research activity. Iran has also announced its next move to increase Uranium enrichment level beyond 3.67% purity, which is threatening as it will help Tehran to acquire weapon grade Uranium. Highly enriched Uranium isotope of Uranium-235 of 90% purity is considered as weapon grade Uranium. According to experts if Iran can produce Uranium of 20% purity from low enriched Uranium, it is considerably easy to produce weapon-grade Uranium. The international community, especially signatories of the deal other than the US, have expressed extreme concern and requested Iran to abide the terms of the agreement. While China has primarily blamed US sanctions on Iran for the present situation.
What is the background?
On May 2019, Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal and reimposed the unilateral economic sanctions. With US maximum pressure strategy back on Iran, Iran turned to other signatories, especially EU to save the agreement and hence continue trade with Iran. From past one-year major European companies pulled off from Iran under US pressure and Iran's crude oil export has also faced a severe challenge under US policy of "zero oil import" from Iran, intended to cut off Iran's oil sale to any country. Apart from designating Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), the US has also recently imposed a set of new sanctions against Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While EU's effort to continue trade with Iran via alternative payment method remains largely unsuccessful, Iran decides to put pressure on the international community to uphold the deal and confront the US by the threat to cross the uranium enrichment limit, which can be used to build an atomic bomb.
What does it mean?
Left with tough choices, Iran is taking the path of confronting the US rather than submit to US pressure. While other signatories of the deal seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis, of the present situation, possibilities of the same remain murky. While the US adopts a different policy of engagement for another de facto nuclear power North Korea, Washington's policy of isolation towards Tehran might not be sustainable in the long run, as it can aggravate Iran to develop its nuclear programme to build nuclear weapons in order to deter regional threat perception from Arab countries and Israel.
The US and Iran have created a dangerous stalemate in the nuclear crisis which if not solved diplomatically, the emergence of another North Korea seems very likely, let alone the possibility of another conflict in the already war-torn West Asian region.