Challenges Facing Biden as Europe Warns Iran Over Uranium Enrichment


Iran’s decision to resume uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear plant has sparked warnings from the European Union (EU). The EU has cited “serious nuclear non-proliferation implications.” This puts new US President Joe Biden in a tough position as he must work with Washington’s EU partners to rejoin the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.  Washington’s EU partners  expect the Biden administration to promptly  rejoin the nuclear deal amid Iran’s decision to raise uranium enrichment levels. Tehran’s  decision to enrich uranium up to 20 percent is seen as a departure from  its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal and a major blow to restarting  nuclear negotiations.

Some of the nuclear deal’s important provisions like the UNSC restrictions on the transfer of conventional arms to Iran expired last year and other provisions like the UNSC restrictions on the transfer of ballistic missile technology to Iran will expire in two years. Since certain key provisions  in the nuclear  deal will expire soon, the United States is likely to focus on extending or terminating some timelines. Furthermore, major European powers have indicated that returning to the  2015 nuclear deal might not be enough, and a new agreement might be needed to  addresses  wider concerns related  to Iran’s  aggressive behavior in the region. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had earlier said that “a return to the previous agreement will not suffice anyway and there will have to be a kind of nuclear agreement plus.” France and the UK have also expressed similar concerns and have called on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment.  France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian during a meeting with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said that Iran has to “immediately resume full respect of its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA to preserve regional stability and avoid a serious proliferation crisis.”

 Any new deal, as per several calculations, could potentially  cover broader areas to restrict Iran’s aggressive behaviour in the region.  It will not be straightforward  for Biden to adjust the existing nuclear  deal to include  Iran’s ballistic missile program and stop its involvement in regional conflicts.  Tehran no doubt will not agree to such adjustments.  Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently wrote for Foreign Affairs magazine that Biden must  choose a better path by removing all the sanctions imposed by Trump and return  to the 2015 deal “without altering its painstakingly negotiated terms,” even though the security challenges  that Washington and its EU partners face in the region are  now much more extensive compared to 2015 as Tehran has  escalated and expanded its belligerency.

Biden rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal is complicated at this moment in time against the backdrop of escalating political and security developments in the region leading to the trust deficit widening  between Washington and Tehran. Despite calls for a new round of negotiations, Iran continues with its aggressive behavior. For example,  the IRGC recently seized a South Korean oil tanker in the  Gulf waters amid tensions between Tehran and Seoul over the freezing of accrued oil payments  by  South Korean banks in response to US pressure.  Iran has often depended on  such aggressive behavior  to put pressure  on the United States prior to  entering negotiations. Iran is fully aware that any new deal that does not address its ballistic missile program or its sponsorship of militias  will not be accepted by  the Arab Gulf states and other US allies in the region.  Moreover, the EU raising the alarm bell over Iran resuming uranium enrichment will be a source of concern  for Biden as he must find points of convergence with the EU in relation to dealing with Iran.  Commenting on the recent developments, a European diplomat said, “It’s their tactical objective to pressure the Biden administration, but at one point if you fill the boat up too much it sinks.” Zarif has  acknowledged Iran’s interest in taking advantage of the situation and using tactics to impose pressure on  the Biden administration.  He tweeted , “We resumed 20 percent enrichment, as legislated by our Parliament. IAEA has been duly notified. Our remedial action conforms fully with Para 36 of JCPOA, after years of non-compliance by several other JCPOA participants. Our measures are fully reversible upon full compliance by all.”

Biden’s nominee  for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded to the recent developments and confirmed  that the Biden administration must  work urgently to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear state. Blinken also said that the United States  would “seek a longer and stronger agreement to capture other issues, particularly with regard to missiles and Iran’s destabilizing activities.” The United States needs to consult with its EU and regional partners  to ensure the longevity  of any new nuclear deal with Iran, especially in light of  Tehran’s escalating aggressive behavior.  The Biden administration will have to walk  a tightrope while negotiating with Iran to address   the security concerns of its EU and regional partners.

Editorial Team