Iran tests the West’s limits

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi holds a press conference on the opening day of a quarterly meeting of the agency's 35-nation Board of Governors in Vienna, Austria, November 22, 2023. REUTERS/Lisa Leutner

On Monday, Western nations involved in the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran accused Tehran of engaging in activities that violate the deal. These activities include the development and testing of ballistic missiles, the transfer of hundreds of drones to Russia, and the enrichment of uranium to an unprecedented 60% level. Such actions are deemed to breach a U.N. resolution that supported the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The countries making these accusations, namely the UK, France, and Germany, received strong backing from the United States, which withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018. The agreement, involving six parties, aimed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In return for limiting uranium enrichment to levels suitable for peaceful nuclear power use, economic sanctions were to be lifted.

The dispute unfolded during the Security Council’s semi-annual meeting on the implementation of the resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran and its ally, Russia, rejected the charges, attributing the current impasse to the U.S. withdrawal, Western sanctions, and an “anti-Iran” stance.

Iran’s U.N. Ambassador, Amir Iravani, argued that Iran has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, dismissed alleged evidence linking Iranian drones to Ukraine.

Former President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, had expressed the intention to negotiate a more robust agreement. However, no such negotiations materialized. Iran began violating the terms a year later, reaching a 60% uranium enrichment level, approaching weapons-grade, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Formal talks to revive the JCPOA collapsed in August 2022.

During Monday’s council meeting, U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo emphasized that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres continues to view the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as “the best available option to ensure that the Iranian nuclear programme remains exclusively peaceful.”

DiCarlo and the three European countries, UK, France, and Germany, issued a joint statement quoting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stating that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles now exceed the JCPOA limit by 22 times. The European nations contended that there is no credible civilian justification for the current state of Iran’s nuclear programme, asserting that the trajectory brings Iran closer to capabilities related to weapons.

The European representatives, along with U.S. Minister Counsellor John Kelley, underlined their commitment to employing all means to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Kelley conveyed that Iran should take actions to build international confidence, de-escalate tensions, and avoid continuing nuclear provocations that pose serious proliferation risks. Despite the U.S. commitment to resolving concerns through diplomacy, Kelley noted that Iran’s actions suggest this goal is not its priority.

Iran’s Ambassador, Amir Iravani, stated that Tehran has persistently worked toward the revival of the JCPOA and is prepared to resume full implementation of its commitments once the agreement is revived. However, he declared that this requires the U.S. and all other parties to fulfil their obligations.

On the matter, Russia’s Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia expressed firm conviction that there is no alternative to the JCPOA from the perspective of the Russian Federation.

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