The International Atomic Energy Agency has blamed Iran for violating all restrictions of the 2015 nuclear deal that was unceremoniously abandoned by US President Donald Trump in 2018. Even after that, Tehran continued to abide by the rules set by the international community regarding its nuclear programme. However, over the past few months, particularly since January 2020, when senior Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike at Baghdad airport, the Trump administration has turned up the pressure on Iran. Through hard-hitting economic sanctions and a complete blockade of the country, Trump has brought the Iranian economy to its knees. Almost all sectors of the Iranian financial system are crumbling under pressure from Washington.
If that was not enough, the Covid-19 health crisis has crushed Iran’s infrastructure. Under these circumstances, ordinary Iranians are suffering. They are increasingly frustrated and helpless. This also triggered several minor uprisings in Iran, which were mostly crushed or were never reported. With public discontent rising and the regime struggling for its survival, the only option for the clerics is to ensure they have a nuclear programme that is running and capable of producing a weapon at some point. Even if they are unable to produce a weapon, the mere fact that Iran is enriching uranium to a purity of up to 4.5%, higher than the 3.67% allowed under the nuclear deal called JCPOA, indicates that Iran is inching closer to abandoning the nuclear pact.
The survival of the regime in Tehran now depends on acquiring a nuclear weapon that will serve as a bargaining chip. The message from Tehran is clear: If the world is unwilling to negotiate, Tehran is unwilling to give up on its nuclear ambitions. Sooner or later, once the US recovers from its internal leadership crisis, it will realise that the policy of maximum pressure is pushing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon — sooner than expected.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2020.