WASHINGTON: White House officials believe Iran is on the verge of becoming a threshold nuclear power and could be weeks away from producing both enough fissile material and the technology needed to weaponize and deliver a payload nuclear.

Achieving the milestone of a significantly shorter breakout period to build a nuclear bomb would give Iran great clout and bargaining power in future negotiations, even as it seeks hegemony over the Middle East in accordance to his grand strategy.

Despite a concerted effort by the Biden administration to persuade Iran to comply with the 2015 nuclear deal, indirect negotiations between the two sides have hit a snag due to Tehran’s insistence that the Corps Revolutionary Guards be removed from the U.S. list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. .

Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, a Washington-based advocacy group, believes Iran has been free to pursue its nuclear program because Western powers have no commitment to set firm terms. .

“In advanced research and production of centrifuges, Iran has made significant progress over the past year, especially after it began enriching uranium to 60% and in its production of uranium metal” , Brodsky told Arab News.

“All of this happened because the Iranians tested the international community’s red lines and found that what were once thought to be red lines were not really red lines.”

If recent history in the Middle East is any proof, the tacit concessions made by the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, have not quenched the Tehran regime’s thirst for nuclear weapons or regional domination.

US President Joe Biden hopes to reverse his predecessor’s decision in 2018 to pull the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal. The Trump administration said the deal did little to prevent Tehran obtain a nuclear weapon, stem its ballistic missile program or end its malign activities in the Middle East.

According to Brodsky, even after the sobering experience of the crippling sanctions imposed on the Iranian economy by the Trump administration following the withdrawal of the JCPOA, the Tehran regime still harbors nuclear ambitions.

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“Iran will continue on this path,” he said. “Iran is increasing its capabilities in the production of centrifuges, with production lines and capacities being expanded, according to recent remarks by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. This can be seen in Natanz as well as a separate new location in Isfahan.

The negotiations in Vienna between Iran, the United States (participating indirectly) and the other original co-signatories of the JCPOA – China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, as well as the EU – are to the point of death. According to Brodsky, Tehran is deliberately stalling in hopes of strengthening its negotiating position.

“The Iranians have dragged on for more than a year in negotiations to advance their nuclear program so that it produces a shorter, weaker deal for the West while striking a stronger deal for itself in the form of non-nuclear sanctions relief,” he said. .

As the international community is preoccupied with the conflict in Ukraine and the threat of an armed confrontation between Russia and NATO, a moment of judgment looms when Washington will have to decide whether talks with Iran have stalled. .

Andrea Stricker, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, believes that Iran is rapidly approaching a nuclear milestone that cannot be further dealt with through a watered-down deal.

“It is concerning that Tehran is on the verge of amassing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, but Washington’s intent appears to be to scare the recipients of this message into supporting a renewed deal with the United States. Iran,” she told Arab News.

Tehran is deliberately stalling in hopes of strengthening its negotiating position. (AFP)

“Iran has almost enough 60% enriched uranium for an atomic bomb, which does not require further enrichment to weaponize. And, overall, it has enough enriched uranium for at least four guns.

She said the solution to the problem is not a deal “that provides billions of dollars in sanctions relief to Tehran and allows it to expand its uranium enrichment program from 2024.”

According to Stricker, Biden’s proposed deal could mean no restrictions on the development of Iran’s advanced centrifuges from 2024, allowing a significantly shorter escape time for a bomb than under the original JCPOA.

“Under the terms of the announced deal, Iran’s breakout time would only be about four months, not at least seven months, like in 2015,” she said.

“Iran is allowed to add 400 centrifuges per year to its stockpile of advanced centrifuges starting in 2024. At the end of the deal, Iran would be on the brink of nuclear weapons and unstoppable if it chose to break out. “

Wary of a preemptive assault from its enemies, Iran appears to be placing its most advanced centrifuges deeper underground, beyond the reach of international observers, saboteurs and missile strikes.

This strategy reinforces latent suspicions that Iran’s centrifuge production, enrichment research and production efforts serve military purposes rather than strictly civilian purposes, as claimed by the regime.

“Iran is restarting production of advanced centrifuges at two underground facilities that Tehran moved to make the sites impervious to sabotage or military strikes,” Stricker said.

“Theoretically, Iran could use about 650 IR-6 centrifuges, for example, and existing stockpiles of enriched uranium to manufacture weapons-grade uranium very quickly. Both of these centrifuge manufacturing facilities are not currently under IAEA oversight, so the world has no assurance that Iran is not diverting centrifuges for a clandestine enrichment plant.

Achieving the milestone of a significantly shorter nuclear bomb-building breakout period would give Iran considerable leverage. (AFP)

Among supporters of a Biden nuclear deal that caves in to Iran’s demand to rescind the IRGC’s terrorist designation is Ben Rhodes, who was deputy national security adviser to former President Barack Obama. Rhodes recently publicly stated that the terrorist designation is too heavy an obstacle to a deal that would benefit US national security interests. The facts, however, tell a different story.

According to data compiled by the Jewish National Security Institute of America, Iranian aggression — particularly missile strikes, naval clashes, cyberattacks, kidnappings and weapons testing — has doubled since Biden took office. There is no evidence that the Biden team’s express desire to revive the nuclear deal and offer significant incentives for nuclear sanctions and inspections has moderated the Iranian regime’s behavior or curbed its propensity for violence.

“There are alternative policy options available to the Biden administration: a combination of sanctions, aggressive sanctions enforcement, diplomatic isolation, covert action, deterrence and a credible military option is one. “Brodsky said.

“There is now a greater realignment with the E3 (group of France, Germany and Italy) on Iran policy, and Washington should use this momentum to exit the JCPOA.”

Critics of the Biden administration’s Iran policy say maintaining the IRGC’s Foreign Terrorist Organization, or FTO, designation benefits U.S. interests that go beyond the scope of the IRGC. a nuclear deal with Iran.

“There is significant bipartisan opposition to the removal of the foreign terrorist organization designation,” Brodsky said.

“It would cause a firestorm if the Biden administration, in a year of midterm elections, deregistered the IRGC as FTO. And, ultimately, I wonder how much political capital the Biden administration wants to spend to resuscitate this deal.

Stricker thinks Iranian leaders are hedging their bets in the hope that US negotiators will eventually blink, thanks in large part to the fact that Iran has faced no real sanctions for evading sanctions or for its clandestine nuclear advances.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has not quenched the Tehran regime’s thirst for nuclear weapons or regional domination. (AFP)

“The IAEA has not been able to complete its investigation into whether the Iranian program retains military dimensions, which is why the deal’s proposal to ease restrictions on the enrichment side over time time makes no sense,” she said.

According to her, if the Biden administration wants to halt its plummeting polls, it must set much firmer conditions for Iran to follow in exchange for sanctions relief and a revived nuclear deal.

“A policy reset requires the abandonment of all legalization of Iran’s enrichment program and full transparency and access to the IAEA,” Stricker said. “Tehran must prove to the world that the nuclear program is completely peaceful before being exempted from sanctions.”

By all accounts, the likelihood of Iran opting for the right path is slim to none. On Monday, Ali Bahadori Jahromi, spokesman for the Iranian government, told state media that Iran intended to continue negotiations for a nuclear deal until its “national interests are fully and integrally protected”.

The Biden administration may therefore have to quickly reassess the utility of offering Iran virtually anything it asks for on a silver platter and, instead, begin charting a new political course that takes into account the harsh reality of the regime’s continued development of nuclear weapons.