In spite of the toll sanctions have taken on its economy, Iran wants a deal on its nuclear program that addresses none of the West's concerns about its military ambitions. It is also moving forward with new uranium enrichment technology.
After a four-month hiatus, Iran has resumed talks on its nuclear program with other signatory countries of the suspended, multilateral pact of 2015. These are Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, and the European Union (EU). The talks that began this week in Vienna exclude the United States, an original signatory that withdrew from the pact in 2018 — and while the U.S. administration under President Joe Biden says it favors a deal, it is only indirectly involved, through the EU.
Prospects for this round remain dim, given Iran's preconditions and the stated objectives of Western states. The Iranian deputy-foreign minister, Ali Baqeri-Kani, said on a recent trip to several EU states that Iran would only resume talks to discuss ending sanctions on it, and there would be no discussions for a nuclear agreement. He was suggesting that an end to all sanctions — whether for Tehran's nuclear program, rights violations or terrorism abroad — was the central condition for more talks.
It was also reported Wednesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear power watchdog, that Iran has started producing enriched uranium with more efficient advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant.
Uranium enrichment for military motives
Likewise, a recent and fruitless trip to Tehran by IAEA head Rafael Grossi will not help. Grossi could not persuade Iran to allow renewed IAEA inspections of its atomic sites, which will impede an agreement in Vienna. The three European signatory powers have already criticized Iran's refusal to open up its sites, though Iranian officials dispute that interpretation, saying an agreement was reached "in principle" to resolve "technical" issues.
The latest report by the IAEA chief to its governing board, currently meeting in Vienna, says Iran has augmented its enriched uranium reserves (of potential use in weapon-making) to 2,489 kilograms. The European countries say there are no reason for Iran enriching uranium to 20% and 60% levels, without military objectives. They are also concerned with Iran's continued renovation and updating of centrifuges.
U.S. military and diplomatic officials have warned that the United States is ready to give Iran a firm response if it pursues its furtive activities and refuses to negotiate in Vienna. In the Middle East, Israeli officials alternately say they could accept a pact that blocks Iran's nuclear weaponization and warn Israel will strike Iran, if this turns out to not be possible.
The latest report by the IAEA chief to its governing board says Iran has augmented its enriched uranium reserves
Does Tehran even want a deal?
Iran promised Grossi last September that it would repair IAEA cameras at its nuclear installations, thus evading a rebuke by the IAEA governing board. This time, it seems to be playing hardball. It has not only banned access to the Tesa complex outside Tehran, of interest to the IAEA, but insisted the international agency must condemn Israel's suspected sabotage of Iranian installations, and desist any investigation into the sources of uranium traces found at undeclared installations in Iran.
Iran also wants the Biden administration not just to lift all sanctions, but bind future administrations to a new pact. Does it really imagine that a U.S. president is willing or empowered to commit his successors to a pact?
Some want to turn the country into a militarized bunker to safeguard the regime.
Iran has also complained about the damages it suffered for the non-implementation of the 2015 pact. All these suggest it doesn't really want a practical agreement with the West.
As Western powers intermittently threaten it with an "alternative" response, at least part of Iran's top leadership is already envisaging turning the country into a militarized bunker to safeguard the regime. This means spending more on missiles and arms for proxy militias in the region — which are precisely the other issues the West is keen to discuss, to Iran's utter dismay.
Amid reports of the "strategic" hoarding of basic goods and multiple military maneuvers, are Iran's rulers preparing themselves for a state of crisis or utter calamity? In case of any attack, could they count on the backing of a nation they have mistreated and impoverished over decades?