The nuclear agreement reached in 2015 between Iran and six nations, including the United States and European countries, has prevented Iran from making progress in its nuclear development. A collapse of the accord would further exacerbate the situation in the Middle East.
If Iran wants a crude oil embargo and other sanctions to be lifted, it should exercise self-restraint and adhere to the 2015 deal.
The Iranian government has said it will start enriching uranium — a substance used to produce nuclear fuel — above the agreed maximum enrichment level of 3.67 percent. That is a dangerously disturbing move that will heighten tensions between Iran and the United States.
The nuclear deal imposed a check on Iran’s nuclear-related activities, so that even if it had decided to produce nuclear weapons, it would take “one year or longer” to complete them.
Overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the accord severely restricts such matters as the number of centrifugal separators Iran uses for uranium enrichment and its domestic storage of low-enriched uranium.
Based on its latest action, Iran is said to have started producing uranium with an enrichment level of 4.5 percent, a substance comparable to that of fuel for nuclear power. The enrichment level of weapons-grade uranium is 90 percent, meaning Iran would not be able to immediately produce a nuclear weapon.
If Iran continues to increase enrichment levels, however, the amount of time it would need to complete a nuclear bomb would be reduced from the time span of one year or longer. That could ruin the foundation of the nuclear accord. Iran has increased its storage of low-enriched uranium above the upper limit set by the deal.
Iran is asserting that its latest move is a countermeasure in reaction to the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and resumption of an oil embargo and financial sanctions. Although Iran has emphasized that it does not intend to possess nuclear weapons and that it will preserve the accord, it will not be able to gain the understanding of the international community.
Iran’s action of adopting brinksmanship tactics is because its economy has fallen into a painful situation through a sharp reduction in its crude oil exports due to the sanctions. Iran has demanded Britain, France and Germany — all of which are seeking to keep the nuclear deal in place — facilitate a mechanism through which it can avert the sanctions so that crude oil transactions can be conducted.
European corporations are holding back from joining such a setup, fearing that conducting transactions with Iran would put them at risk of sanctions, shutting them out of the U.S. market. Unless antagonism between the United States and Iran calms down, it will be difficult to turn around the situation.
U.S. President Donald Trump has said he will consider imposing additional sanctions on Iran. His country pulled out of the nuclear deal after he pointed a finger at what he sees as defects in the accord, which came into being at the initiative of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. Tensions between the two countries have since continued to grow more and more intense.
The nuclear deal only limits restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities to a maximum of 15 years. It does not regulate Iran’s ballistic missile development, either. Although there are problems with the accord, putting the nuclear agreement at risk of collapse, without even a strategy for creating a new framework, must be deemed to be thoughtless.
There are concerns that a clash between the United States and the regional power of Iran could escalate into a conflict involving the Middle East as a whole. To prevent the situation from descending into the unknown, the Trump administration needs to act cautiously, by identifying when to exert pressure and when to compromise.