Iran seeks to capitalize on distraction within the White House by ramping up its defiance of the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which aimed to curb its nuclear program, by unveiling a new round of uranium enrichment. In response, Washington has unveiled a new package of sanctions targeting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s inner circle, while European leaders are signaling their own growing impatience with the drift of Iranian policy.
ROUHANI ANNOUNCES ENRICHMENT
On November 5, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that Iran would resume enrichment at 1,044 centrifuges. He also noted that Tehran was open to reversing these measures if European nations devise a mechanism for evading US sanctions and enabling the sale of Iranian crude oil. “All of the steps Iran has taken to reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal are reversible,” Rouhani said, adding that “Iran will uphold all of its commitments under the deal when the remaining signatories – France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China – do the same.”
Rouhani’s declaration built on earlier escalation announced by the chief of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, who informed state television on November 4th that Iran was scaling back its commitments to the 2015 nuclear accord still further with a new round of enrichment. "Today, we are witnessing the launch of the array of 30 IR-6 centrifuges," Salehi announced, boasting that the move would show Iran's "capacity and determination.” On the same day, Iranian authorities also noted that Tehran’s enriched uranium production has reached five kilograms per day, up from 450g in September. If corroborated, this would mean Iran’s enrichment capacity has grown at a geometric pace, surpassing by tenfold its level two months ago when Iran abandoned a previous round of JCPOA commitments.
THE WEST RESPONDS
Officials in Washington have taken a dim view of Iran’s latest escalation. "We see this as a continuation of nuclear blackmail," as one senior U.S. official described it. Other officials highlighted Rouhani’s explicit offer of a quid pro quo with Europe — facilitated sanctions evasion in exchange for return to JCPOA restrictions — as evidence that Tehran’s behavior is fundamentally oriented towards frightening the EU into offering additional concessions. While President Trump has yet to comment on the matter, noting that he was “looking into it”, other administration officials have characterized Iran’s expansion of enrichment as "a big step in the wrong direction," and called on other nations to condemn it.
Washington has not been limited to condemnations alone, however. On Monday, the Treasury Department rolled out a new round of sanctions. In a statement, Secretary Mnuchin announced the sanctions would target “Iran’s Armed Forces General Staff and nine individuals who are appointees of, or have acted for or on behalf of, Ali Khamenei, the Iranian regime’s unelected Supreme Leader whose office is responsible for advancing Iran’s radical agenda.” In a call with reporters, on senior administration official observed, “Our action is specifically focused on further targeting the financial assets of the supreme leader’s inner circle of both military and foreign affairs advisors.”
European officials have struck a slightly different tone, but in substance are no less opposed to Tehran’s latest escalation. The German Foreign Minister flatly declared it “unacceptable.” The French Foreign Ministry condemned the return to enrichment as go[ing] against the Vienna agreement,” and urged Iran “to go back on its decisions which contradict the accord.” And in a similar vein, EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said, “we are concerned by President Rouhani’s announcement today to further reduce Iran’s commitments under the JCPOA,” and warned ominously that “it is increasingly difficult to preserve the JCPOA.”