A nuclear Iran would be a new year disaster

A nuclear Iran would be a new year disaster

A nuclear Iran would be a new year disaster
Short Url

The Iranian regime continues to defy the international community and advance its nuclear program. As 2022 approaches, the prospect of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains one of the greatest threats to global security. 

Political responses to the threat have been developing for almost two decades, but a definitive solution remains elusive. In its absence, the crisis has intensified, with some experts warning that the Tehran regime is only weeks way from a nuclear weapons “breakout.”

That timetable makes it clear that the international community must view the issue as a top-line priority when setting policy for the coming year. Western powers should aim to halt Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons capability within the first weeks, if not the first days, of the new year.

Of course, this realistically cannot be accomplished via the strategy that the US, Britain, France, and Germany have doggedly pursued throughout the past year. Experience demonstrates that negotiations with Tehran can drag out indefinitely, allowing the regime to advance its malign activities. 

Indeed, that is what has been happening with the Iranian nuclear program and the 2015 agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The US pulled out of the deal in 2018, with then President Donald Trump decrying the agreement as one of history’s worst, and citing Iranian violations of both its letter and “spirit.” 

Iran eventually formalized its violations in response, and the speed with which its nuclear program returned to its pre-2015 status confirmed that the JCPOA had never really succeeded in lengthening Iran’s breakout time.

A nuclear Iran would drastically change the geopolitical balance of power and create a catastrophic situation throughout 2022 and beyond.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Since then, the window has grown smaller and smaller. In early 2020, the regime declared that it will not adhere to any of the restrictions imposed by the JCPOA. 

Though it was not clear that the regime had ever been fully compliant in the first place, its open violations soon led to uranium enrichment reaching a level of 60 percent. In 2021, the new head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslami, claimed that the country’s stockpile of uranium enriched to the earlier high of 20 percent fissile purity had grown to more than 120 kg.

That announcement came at a time when the US, under a new president, was working with the JCPOA’s European signatories to try to restore the agreement. But Eslami’s leadership of the AEOI was the result of Iran’s own change of leadership, which halted the regime’s participation in negotiations among the signatories in Vienna. Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s hard-line president, kept those talks in a state of limbo for more than five months and apparently resumed the negotiations at the end of November only out of concern that Western interlocutors were preparing to walk away.

The latest round of the Vienna talks confirmed that Iran’s change of tactics is not a change of strategy. The regime remains committed to delaying the JCPOA restoration process for as long as possible, during which time it remains free of the penalties that the deal’s collapse would impose.

At the same time, Iran is still advancing its nuclear activities to an unprecedented degree, installing new cascades of advanced centrifuges in order to quickly carry out further enrichment of its large stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium and acquire enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear weapon.

The international community’s best strategy to quickly halt Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons capability is to not only keep up the pressure on Iran over the issue but also to link it with the various others, such as human rights violations, and fully exploit the vulnerability that Tehran is trying to alleviate by demanding relief and offering nothing in return.

Since the end of 2017, the National Council of Resistance of Iran has made progress in its efforts to facilitate popular unrest with the aim of overthrowing the country’s theocratic dictatorship. The regime itself acknowledged in January 2018 that the opposition group was primarily responsible for a nationwide uprising at the time. A similar message about the role of the organized resistance was widely shared during an even larger uprising in November 2019.

Although the scale of public protests declined following the onset of the global pandemic, demonstrations have again stepped up, especially in the wake of Raisi’s “election” to the presidency through a process that the vast majority of Iranian citizens boycotted. Iranian state media is now filled with constant warnings about the prospect of another uprising. 

While the resistance group and other Iranian activist outfits are prepared to work toward regime change entirely on their own, they have long demanded a change in Western paradigms regarding Iran policy. Political support for these groups could go a long way toward intensifying the domestic pressure Iran is now facing.

Ideally, though, dual pressures from both inside Iran and beyond its borders would finally lead likely to the current regime collapsing, thereby bringing an end to the years-long nuclear crisis, as well as each of the various regional and global issues that clearly bear the clerical regime’s fingerprints.

At a minimum, this strategy would compel Iran to reconsider the depth of its commitment to provocative nuclear activities in the midst of a worsening economic crisis.

A nuclear Iran would drastically change the geopolitical balance of power and create a catastrophic situation throughout 2022 and beyond.

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

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