Iran is increasing its uranium enrichment – what that means for international diplomacy

Iran’s President Ruhani at a cabinet meeting

As part of the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran had actually committed to enriching uranium to just 3.67 percent. Now the country wants to tackle an enrichment of 20 percent.


(Photo: dpa)

Berlin, Brussels, Düsseldorf A few days before the new US President Joe Biden takes office, Iran is escalating the nuclear dispute that has been raging for years. Although Tehran is betting heavily on Biden to change the Iranian course of his predecessor Donald Trump as announced, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ramped up the controversial uranium enrichment this Monday.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard also confiscated a South Korean tanker “MT Hankuk Chemi”. And a group of radical hardliners in the Iranian parliament demanded in a draft law that the government destroy Israel within the next 20 years.

Should this law actually get through, it would spark worldwide outrage. However, the hardline majority in the Majlis had previously forced the government to abandon the commitments in the nuclear deal. Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on Monday that Rouhani had instructed the nuclear facility in Fordo to enrich uranium in up to 20 percent fissile material.

As part of the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran had actually committed itself to enriching uranium to only 3.67 percent. The country kept to this until a year after Trump’s unilateral exit from the nuclear deal.

Then, however, because of the economic and financial sanctions imposed by Trump, which the vast majority of European companies were forced to join, the pressure on the Iranian government became so great that it increased uranium enrichment to 4.5 percent.

Iran – the second largest economy in the Gulf – had lost billions of dollars to the US ban on the trade in Persian oil and the ban on foreign investment

Great concern in Brussels

The next step in the Iranian provocation comes at a time when the reform-minded Rouhani cabinet had repeatedly emphasized the hope that the US would return to the nuclear deal under Biden. The future US president had stated several times that he wanted to correct course in Iran policy. The three European states that were involved in the nuclear agreement had also called on him to do this: Germany, France and Great Britain.

Meanwhile, Iranian forces seized the South Korean tanker – allegedly because of oil pollution in the Persian Gulf, according to the semi-state news agencies Fars and Tasnim. The tanker was en route from Saudi Arabia to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, but was arrested in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

In the past two years there had been repeated seizures or attacks on tankers and fishing boats – partly by Iran, but also on Iranian boats.

Meanwhile, there is great concern in Brussels about developments relating to Iranian uranium enrichment. “If the announcement is correct, it would be a very serious violation of the nuclear agreement,” said a spokesman for the EU Commission on Monday. “We absolutely have to avoid any step that undermines the nuclear deal.” Brussels called on Iran and all parties not to jeopardize the 2015 nuclear deal any further.

The spokesman for EU foreign affairs officer Josep Borrell also pointed out that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had not yet confirmed the implementation of the announcement. Iran had informed the independent monitoring body, which operates under the umbrella of the United Nations, of its plans last week.

According to its own statement, the EU only wants to take further steps after it has been officially confirmed by the IAEA. In Brussels, however, it is assumed that the anti-nuclear authorities will inform the states in the course of Monday.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the IAEA

Iran had informed the independent monitoring body, which operates under the umbrella of the United Nations, of its plans last week.

(Photo: AP)

Shortly before Christmas, the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Great Britain, chaired by EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell, had a video conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Jawad Sarif. In it, all participants reaffirmed their will to continue to preserve the nuclear agreement.

The important role of the IAEA in monitoring and verifying compliance with the commitments made by Iran was also highlighted. According to the Federal Foreign Office, the ministers agreed to continue the dialogue in order to ensure full implementation of the nuclear deal. The ministers particularly praised the prospect of a US return.

In contrast, there are voices in the European Parliament for a tough stance on Iran. “Precisely because Iran cannot be trusted, a binding agreement is needed, compliance with which is strictly monitored,” Austrian MEP Lukas Mandl (ÖVP) told Handelsblatt.

“Sanctions against Iran are the corollary of violating the agreement to a certain extent and for a certain period of time. This option must never disappear from the agenda and can be implemented at any time, ”added Mandl, who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament.

Mandl expects the new American administration under President Joe Biden to move in the direction of the EU. With greater unity, the West could then build up more pressure on the basis of strict controls to ensure compliance with the agreement.

His parliamentary colleague Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens) also has high hopes that the new US government will change course in Iran: “A full return of Iran to the nuclear agreement is only possible if the Biden administration in the US signals quickly and credibly that it is Trump Wants to correct course in Iran policy again. The EU should urge Iran not to gamble away the chance of such a reversal by escalating itself before Biden can even act, ”is his assessment.

Even under Biden there is no easy going back to the nuclear deal

The foreign policy expert also warned against Brussels going it alone. “The EU cannot work out a correct Iran policy on its own. This requires common ground with the USA, Russia and China. That is what the nuclear deal stood for. ”

Dietmar Köster, the foreign policy spokesman for the SPD delegation in the European Parliament, on the other hand, sees the danger that the nuclear deal can no longer be saved even under Biden. “Even under the new president, there will be no easy going back. The Iranian mullah regime is destroying these hopes with its announcement that it will expand uranium enrichment, ”he told Handelsblatt.

He also sees a great danger in the fact that the Iranian parliament no longer wants to allow IAEA inspections. “The Iranian regime is not only reducing the chances of a new agreement, it is also increasing the risk of war in the Near and Middle East. In particular, Israel’s security situation is affected. ”The EU’s foreign policy relationship with Iran will accordingly be under considerable strain.

More: The nuclear deal is also dead with Biden: Iran has long since created facts. A comment.

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