U.S. Warns Iran Moving Closer to Nuclear Weapon

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December 11, 2020

The United States on Friday warned Iran is moving closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon, citing a new law passed by the Islamic Republic’s ruling authority that orders the country to enrich uranium to levels needed to fuel a bomb.

Iranian leaders approved a new law last week that requires the country to stockpile large amounts of enriched uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon. Iran seeks to raise the level of its enriched stockpiles to around 20 percent, a threshold level typically used only for the purposes of a bomb, rather than nuclear energy.

This level of enrichment "moves Iran closer to the ability to obtain a nuclear weapon," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on the new law. "Iran has provided no credible technical rationale for why it needs to move precipitously to enrich uranium to that level for any peaceful purpose."

Iran's move is meant to pressure Western nations into granting Iran relief from crippling economic sanctions. It also sets up a standoff with the incoming Biden administration, which has already expressed a willingness to reopen negotiations with Iran over its contested nuclear program. Pompeo, in his final weeks in office, urged Western powers to reject what he described as Iran’s "nuclear extortion."

"The international community must not reward the regime’s dangerous gamesmanship with economic appeasement," he said. "If the Iranian regime seeks sanctions relief and economic opportunity, then it must first demonstrate that it is serious about fundamentally changing its behavior by ceasing its nuclear extortion and negotiating a comprehensive deal that addresses its development of ballistic missiles and its support for terrorism, unjust detention, and other destabilizing activities in the region."

Pompeo’s comments establish clear markers for the incoming Biden administration. President Donald Trump abandoned the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, demanding Iran cease its regional terror operations and come to the negotiating table without preconditions, such as sanctions relief. Several European countries are still party to the deal, and the Biden administration will have a decision to make on whether it rolls back America’s tough sanctions regime as a way to entice Iran back into talks.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s nuclear watchdog, expressed concern that Iran’s move will limit the organization’s ability to conduct oversight on the country’s program. "If implemented, these measures would be an even further deviation from the commitments that Iran entered into when it joined the agreement," Grossi told Sky News in a Thursday interview, his first comments on the matter since Iran blocked access to his inspectors and vowed revenge for the assassination of one of its top nuclear scientists.

The IAEA has been locked in a standoff with Iran for months over its refusal to grant inspectors access to key nuclear sites believed to be housing the country’s illicit weapons research. Iranian diplomat Kazem Gharibabadi, the regime's representative to the Vienna-based International Organizations group, slammed the IAEA on Friday, saying that it has no right to offer an "assessment or analysis" of Iran’s nuclear work.

The murder late last month of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a leading Iranian nuclear scientist and architect of its weapons program, spurred Tehran’s decision to ramp up its illicit activities, such as stockpiling enriched uranium. Iran has vowed to take revenge against Israel, which is widely suspected of orchestrating the attack that killed Fakhrizadeh.

"The Islamic Republic will take harsh revenge on the Zionist regime," Major General Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was quoted as saying on Friday in Iran’s state-controlled press.

Iran also is pressuring its Arab neighbors to reject peace with Israel. Tehran views the historic peace agreements reached between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and, most recently, Morocco as a threat to its regional hegemony.

Published under: Iran