The deal, which left President Donald J. Trump in 2018, limited Tehran’s ability to install new centrifuges and forced it to ship 97 percent of its nuclear fuel out of the country. Biden’s refusal to demand Iran’s removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of terrorist organizations, along with a stream of new revenues to Tehran due to today’s soaring oil prices, have contributed to the stalemate in the discussions.
Now the Iranians are looking for new pressure points, including the excavation of the mountain plant at Natanz. And in the past week, Iranian authorities shut down 27 cameras that gave inspectors a peek into Iran’s fuel production.
The decision to shut down the cameras, which were installed as part of the nuclear deal, was particularly troubling for Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations agency responsible for nuclear inspections. If the cameras go off for weeks and it’s impossible to track the whereabouts of nuclear material, “I think this would be a fatal blow” to hopes of reviving the accord, Mr Grossi said last week.
But this is much more than an inspection dispute. In the eyes of experts, Tehran is on the cusp of becoming what Robert Litwak, who has written extensively about Iran’s program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, called a “nuclear threshold state” whose uranium enrichment program is an inherent option — a hedge – to produce nuclear weapons”, without actually taking the last step.
“Iran’s move to Natanz,” he said of the plant now under construction, “increases pressure on the United States to strike a new deal by emphasizing the risk of a nuclear outbreak if diplomacy fails. “
A tunnel complex appears in a mountainside
For decades, an arid patch of land near Natanz was the focus of Iran’s nuclear effort. The country has always insisted that its underground “pilot plant” there only works to produce nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes – the production of nuclear energy. The evidence, some of which was stolen by Israel from a warehouse in Tehran, suggests otherwise: that Iran has been planning to build a bomb for two decades, if it were to conclude it was in its best interest.