When Ebrahim Raisi takes oath on August 3 as Iran’s 13th president, the country’s unmonitored enrichment of uranium beyond 60 percent would have entered its seventh month. Since February 23, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has “not had access to the data from Iran online enrichment monitors and electronic seals, or had access to the measurement recordings registered by its installed measurement devices.” Rafael Grossi, Director General of the IAEA, has already downplayed any change in the status quo until the newly elected leader takes power.
The Vienna talks (between Iran and the P5 + Germany) have adjourned indefinitely after six rounds of talks without any officially announced breakthroughs. The IAEA is not part of the talks.
After the last round of talks, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and top negotiator Abbas Araghchi expressed cautious optimism, “We are now closer to an agreement than any time before, but bridging the gap between us and an agreement is not an easy task and needs decisions, which must be mostly made by the other parties.” Meanwhile, the IAEA is continuing parallel talks with Iran for the extension of a temporary monitoring pact. Iran has been delaying the provision of detailed replies to the IAEA’s follow-up queries regarding its suspicious nuclear activities. “After many many months, Iran has not provided the necessary explanation for the presence of the nuclear material particles at any of the three locations where the Agency has conducted complementary accesses (inspections).” The IAEA has confirmed that Iran has not responded to its call for extension of a preliminary monitoring pact which expired on June 24. Tasnim News Agency quoted Iran’s IAEA ambassador Kazem Gharibabadi saying, “Iran was not required to comply” with the IAEA director general’s request.
Mossad’s astounding operation at a Tehran warehouse storing nuclear archives in 2018 resulted in a plethora of questions regarding Iran’s scientific program named “Project AMAD.”
Besides exposing Iran’s plan and know-how for a “cold test” of key components for a nuclear bomb, the archives also shed light on the authorized mandate for the “development of a nuclear explosive device.” When the Iranian nuclear deal was signed, the Obama administration had intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program but did not have access to the vast information that the Biden government has access to now. Also, Tehran has adopted a public and gradual approach in violating its obligations stipulated under the nuclear deal not only to expand its bargaining power but also to continuously advance its nuclear proficiency.
In addition to producing uranium metal, Iran’s other consequential violation of the nuclear deal has been its installation of dozens of more sophisticated centrifuges. This means that Iran is capable of enriching uranium 10 times faster than the permitted first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. Iran’s leap in uranium enrichment is not just qualitative but also quantitative as the nuclear deal limited Iran to installing only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEO), claims that the country is working on developing centrifuges 50 times faster than the first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.
By February when Tehran started enriching uranium beyond 60 percent, its stockpiles of HEU at 20 percent enrichment weighed around 3,000 kilograms against the permissible mass of 202.8 kilograms at 3.67 percent enrichment agreed under the nuclear deal. It remains anybody’s guess as to how much HEU Iran has stockpiled as of June at above 60 percent enrichment. In the shadows lurks the question of unknown-unknown nuclear sites Tehran might be operating.
It seems quite unlikely that the US administration and other world powers will change their approach toward reviving the nuclear deal after Raisi’s inauguration. The general consensus remains that the nuclear talks, Iran’s ballistic missile program and its activities and sponsorship of proxies across the Middle East are in the purview of the supreme leader’s office.
Frustration in the region continues to mount against the likely revival of the nuclear deal in its existing state. While the Arab states have been lobbying global powers, Israel has been resorting to sabotage operations to obstruct Iran’s quick pace towards nuclear capability by targeting its scientists as well as its nuclear sites.
The latest in Israel’s string of operations appears to be a botched or failed attack against a building belonging to Iran’s AEO in Tehran. If Washington continues to press for the revival of the nuclear deal without taking a broader and closer view of the situation in Iran, multi-pronged Israeli sabotage attacks are likely to intensify. On June 19, Bushehr nuclear power plant was temporarily shut down for a “technical overhaul.” The IAEA-compliant 1,000-megawatt reactor went offline under mysterious circumstances and no date has been given for the overhaul to be completed and for the energy source to be online again.
The nuclear talks will resume at some point in August, but the pace will be lukewarm even though Abbas Araghchi might continue his role as Iran’s key negotiator. Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has, meanwhile, confirmed the formation of an “adaptation committee” whose mandate is to review the text of a possible nuclear deal for consideration by the supreme leader.
Iran desperately wants to return to the nuclear deal and for the sanctions to be lifted but Raisi will not be offering concessions. Hence, the stalemate will continue against the will of the Biden administration. What has become more obvious now is Tehran’s inflexibility regarding its ballistic missile and space program.