Iran’s Ambassador to the UK Hamid Baeidinejad did not mince his words when he spoke of the possibility of Iran quitting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if Europe fails to provide relief from crippling US sanctions imposed on Tehran. He also defended Tehran’s decision to stop an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector from entering its Natanz nuclear site because she “tested positive for explosive nitrates.”
Baeidinejad spoke of Iran’s possible fifth step, which appears to be quitting the JCPOA if the IAEA reports adversely on Iran’s activities to its board as well as to the UN Security Council. Tehran plans its next breach of the JCPOA after two months. Baeidinejad said, “I understand the concern that after more of these steps we run out of initiatives and have steps which are not easily reversible and this will affect the implementation of the JCPOA, that is why we are asking our partners to fulfill their obligations and resolve this issue and protect the JCPOA.” He said the NPT is in “total jeopardy.” He hinted at internal pressure on the government to quit the NPT but hastened to add, “That is not the policy of the government. President [Hassan] Rouhani and the government of Iran are trying their best to convince the people, all the people, and important personalities.” He further added, “But unfortunately, after problems with the JCPOA more and more people are listening to arguments to leave the NPT.” Iran’s diplomat was cleverly conveying his government’s intent to quit the NPT which prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Baeidinejad’s remarks alarmed world powers as well as Iran’s neighbors, so much so that Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi had to clarify that there is no plan yet to quit the NPT.
All of this comes against the backdrop of Iran resuming the construction of its second nuclear power reactor in Bushehr, in violation of its JCPOA obligations. The Bushehr nuclear facility relies on 4.5 enriched uranium which exceeds the permitted limit under the JCPOA. To avert the Russians playing their pledged part in the Bushehr plant’s expansion, Washington has revoked sanction waivers on cooperation with Iran’s civilian nuclear program. The second unit of the plant should require six years to become online while the third unit should require eight years at a whopping cost of $10 billion.
Since October, Iran has activated three (164-machine) cascades of IR-2m, IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges besides installing newer models of centrifuges IR-8s, IR-8B, IR-9. Iran has now increased its monthly production of enriched uranium from 70-80 kilograms to over 100 kilograms.
“I would expect that this 100 kilos per month becomes much higher. I don’t know whether it will become 150, 170 or 200,” reported Reuters quoting an anonymous senior Iranian diplomat. Iran has significantly higher enriched uranium reserves more than the 202.8-kilogram cap agreed upon in the JCPOA.
Iran has also started enriching uranium at its underground Fordow nuclear facility in violation of the JCPOA. Tehran defiantly announced that it has started “injecting (uranium hexafluoride) gas into the centrifuges in Fordow.”
The IAEA has, meanwhile, reported that Iran has failed to satisfy it about radioactive samples discovered at its Turquzabad site, near Tehran. The IAEA’s top inspector, Massimo Aparo, reportedly told diplomats last week that Tehran was not cooperating in tracing the source of man-made and natural uranium particles found at the warehouse recently.
Iran threatens to withdraw from the JCPOA as well as the NPT in order to shock the world with the specter of its nuclear weapons, which can simply outbalance Gulf and Middle Eastern security. Thus, it assumes that European partners in the nuclear deal, namely, France, Germany, and the UK must ensure full compliance with their obligations, ranging from economic to political and diplomatic cooperation with Iran. The ultimate blackmail of reviving nuclear ambitions is a dangerous game, especially when Iran has been reluctant in going forward with legislation and executive action against money-laundering. Without adhering to conditionalities of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Tehran won’t be able to make a convincing case for the operationalization of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX). Or else, Iran gets blacklisted by the FATF in February and INSTEX won’t be of any good. The French-led initiative has proved a non-starter despite the pledges and hopes of the Rouhani government. Ambitious pre-conditions set by the Rouhani government led to the failure of Macron’s mediation bid in New York. Trump appeared willing to sit with his Iranian counterpart. Yet no meager start could be made despite the perfect diplomatic sequencing. Neither side even agreed to speak over the phone.
In the coming weeks, the IAEA will chalk out a plan for thorough and widespread inspections of already listed as well as suspicious military sites for nuclear compliance. Legally, Tehran can’t deny access to the IAEA to any site or location it wants to inspect. Delaying tactics will also be interpreted as a hindrance. Amidst the ongoing protests in Iran, it is likely that the government may show temporary flexibility to evade the IAEA board’s adverse report and referral to the UN Security Council. Baeidinejad has linked Iran’s likely abandonment of the fruitless JCPOA with writing-off its NPT obligations.
Following the North Korean template, Iran has continued building research, design and enrichment facilities for nuclear bombs. If Pyongyang can conduct multiple nuclear tests while being an NPT signatory, why should Tehran quit the accord? It is fair to assume that Iran is raising the specter of signing off on its commitments as a non-nuclear state and is considering other prime options such as reviving its development of nuclear weapons. The future course of Iran’s nuclear policy depends on the IAEA plan of action. The IAEA’s new chief has the gigantic responsibility of not only keeping the NPT intact but making its compliance more stringent and transparent. The NPT is set for periodical review in 2020.