Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Monday that Iran has exceeded 300 grams of Low Enriched Uranium. The 300-gram limit was part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal, negotiated between Tehran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.
The 2015 deal was an exchange. The UN Security Council would drop international sanctions on Iran, the US would drop its unilateral sanctions on Iran, and in return Iran would limit its Low Enriched Uranium stockpile. That stockpile is of fuel to run Iran’s 3 nuclear reactors at Bushehr, built by Russia. To serve as reactor fuel, uranium needs to be enriched to 3.5%. It needs to be enriched to 95% to make an atomic bomb. So the fact that Iran has a little extra Low Enriched Uranium is irrelevant to bomb-making. The limit was more symbolic than anything else, since it is just marginally easier to enrich from 3.5% to 95% than from zero.
Some headlines in the US and Europe are saying “Iran breaches nuclear accord.”
It was Trump who breached the nuclear accord. He not only reimposed severe sanctions but went further, going around the world threatening other countries, like an organized crime mob boss, that they had a nice little country there and it would be too bad if something happened to it because they bought Iranian petroleum.
In the physical world, if you lined up ships and stopped Iran from exporting its petroleum with a naval blockade, that would be an act of war in international law.
I can’t see how Trump’s financial blockade is any different, since it has the same effect– preventing Iran from exporting its main resource, which is perfectly legal.
There is no warrant in international law for the US to just declare that a country can’t trade in some legal commodity.
Moreover, Trump blockaded Iran despite Iran’s adherence to the JCPOA. That is, Iran lived up to its part of the bargain faithfully, and was so certified, repeatedly by the UN IAEA. And all the other signatories to the agreement were happy with Iran’s adherence to it.
Now, two years after Trump’s breach and the imposition of the most severe sanctions in modern history, Iran is acting out. You, Tehran is saying to the world, did not honor your agreement. Why should we honor ours?
Europe, Russia and China had wanted to try to keep Iran in the agreement, but they could not protect Iranian trade from US Treasury Department sanctions, which are third party sanctions. That is, if the Dutch oil company Shell invests in Iran or does business with Iran then the US Office of Foreign Asset Control will levy billions of dollars in fines on Shell, attaching its substantial US assets.
So however much the Netherlands, or France, or Germany may want to trade with Iran and to keep Iran in the agreement, they are helpless to resist the vast economic and political might of Washington D.C.
As I noted yesterday, the Europeans did set up the Instex currency exchange so that European concerns could conduct non-dollar transactions with Iran in areas of humanitarian need beyond the US sanctions. But it is only capitalized at a billion dollars and is a relatively minor affair, at the moment offering Iran no significant relief from US sanctions. US government officials are afraid that in the long term, mechanisms such as Instex could undermine US global financial hegemony. But that prospect is in the long term, and Iran’s economy is hurting today.
So Iran is up the creek?
Iran is up the creek.
If Iran is going to be economically strangled whether it observes the JCPOA or not, why should it observe the treaty?
The big danger here is that the US and European publics don’t understand the difference between a civilian program to produce low enriched uranium and a military program to produce 95% enriched uranium. Dick Cheney and his warmonger shop used to play on this ignorance, into which a lot of journalists and editors are happy to buy. I can’t tell you how often US newspapers and cable news channels have spoken of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, something it hasn’t had since at least 2003.
Iran isn’t even known to be able to produce high enriched uranium.
But the more Iran tests the boundaries of the JCPOA, the more ammunition it gives Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu (who has several hundred nuclear bombs) and his massive propaganda machine, and the more ammunition it gives warmongers like John Bolton (backed by Netanyahu’s prime donor, Sheldon Adelson), and the more ammunition it gives the inside-the-beltway think tank rats over at the so-called Foundation for Defense of Democracy (actually a prime engine of dictatorship) and its many counterparts.
It was this sort of miscalculation that helped do in Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and allowed W. Bush to invade and destroy Iraq. But the desire for a soft nuclear deterrent that comes from people knowing you could make a bomb if you really try hard is a strong temptation; the problem is that it can also be used as a pretext for preemptive war.
Both Trump’s warmongers and Iran’s hard liners are playing an increasingly dangerous game.