With each step Iran takes to advance its nuclear program, a path out of the dangerous quagmire becomes even more murky.
On Tuesday, Tehran officially suspended its implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Additional Protocol, which gave nuclear inspectors increased access to Iran’s nuclear program, including the ability to carry out snap inspections at undeclared sites.
“As of midnight tonight, we will not have… commitments beyond safeguards. Necessary orders have been issued to the nuclear facilities,” said Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s envoy to international organizations in Vienna.
A day earlier Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said that Tehran could enrich uranium to 60% purity if it so desired. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the comment “sounds like a threat” and referred to it as “posturing.”
Analysts believe both the move to limit inspections and the enrichment threat are aimed at bolstering Iran’s negotiating position as it and US President Joe Biden’s administration maneuver ahead of expected talks aimed at bringing Washington back into the 2015 nuclear deal. But even if intended as bargaining chips, they carry the risk of moving Iran significantly closer to nuclear weapons capabilities.
“Biden is playing a game of chicken over who will reverse course first,” said Joab Rosenberg, former deputy head analyst in the Israel Defense Force’s Military Intelligence Directorate. “There is an extremely unstable situation here, and a vector of deterioration and Iranian progress toward a bomb.”
The 2015 nuclear deal limits the Islamic Republic to 3.67% enrichment, a threshold it long ago passed as part of a series of escalating violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and six world powers, better known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Uranium enriched to 60% is short of what Iran needs to make a nuclear weapon, but it would show that Tehran is going beyond the 20% to which it began enriching in January.