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On Monday, 9 September, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran has begun installing new centrifuges. This report, verified by inspectors from the UN atomic watchdog, quickly sparked concern around the globe. This is not the first time Iran has caused concern over their nuclear activities. Since the United States unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement, Iran has continually breached the terms of the agreements. International leaders have begun expressing major concern over how to keep Iran committed to fulfilling the terms of the agreement.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, was created in 2015. Together, Iran, the P5+1, and the European Union were able to successfully negotiate an agreement. Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut down on its low-enriched uranium, and reduce its number of gas centrifuges for the next 13 years. The deal began to unravel, however, when the U.S. pulled out of the deal in May 2018. The withdrawal was constituted by President Trump’s announcement that the administration would be imposing renewed economic sanctions on Iran.
This recent breach of the agreement is not Iran’s first. According to Reuters, Iran began exceeding the limits placed on its nuclear capacity in May. In a statement, Iranian nuclear energy spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said “we have started lifting limitations on our Research and Development imposed by the deal… It will include development of more rapid and advanced centrifuges.” Kamalvandi also stated that the actions could be “reversible” if the other parties in the deal restored Iranian access to foreign trade. The ability to participate in foreign trade was one of the economic incentives originally used to get Iran to agree to the deal but was blocked by renewed U.S. sanctions. According to the New York Post, Iran is hoping that their actions will put pressure on the members of the deal into encouraging the U.S. to ease the sanctions.
Remaining member countries have expressed concern over Iran’s recent actions. In a statement, Germany Foreign Ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said, “We call on Iran to meet its commitments under the JCPOA and to return to them.” Others have criticized President Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal. ABC News also quoted China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, saying that “the U.S. should abandon wrong practices such as unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure on Iran.”
It is very clear that this agreement is in danger. Kamalvandi emphasized that by saying the time to rescue this pact is running out, and any action taken to fix it should “be done quickly.” Despite efforts by France, Germany, and Britain to establish some form of trade agreement, nothing has worked. Reuters reports that on Wednesday, Iran set another 60-day deadline for the Europeans to find a solution.
Although Iran insists that these advancements are not done with the goal of creating nuclear weapons, they still spark reasonable concern. This situation represents an incredibly difficult problem in international politics— getting foreign leaders to credibly commit to a given agreement. By pulling out of the agreement, the U.S. has opened the door for retaliation and defection by Iran. The country’s unpredictability makes maintaining the agreement very difficult moving forward. This begs the question of how to ensure that Iran continues to comply with the terms laid out. President Trump’s sanctions, introduced because the administration neither agreed with the deal nor felt that Iran was truly compliant, are proving ineffective. Rather than keep Iran in check, they have spurred the country to push back.
The United States must now reevaluate their options. When one strategy does not work, it is paramount to attempt a new approach. If it is the current administration’s view that the current deal is ineffective, renewed negotiations would have been the better first step. Rather than unilaterally withdraw, the U.S. could have attempted to come to more agreeable parameters. Since these sanctions are not having the desired impact, rather they are having the opposite, now would be a good time to consider cooperation under different terms.