‘Iran Will Have to Reconsider Nuclear Program If Trump Is Re-elected’
The IAEA's Board of Governors holds a virtual meeting, June 15, 2020. (Courtesy)

‘Iran Will Have to Reconsider Nuclear Program If Trump Is Re-elected’

Analysts expect regime to hold fast until November as IAEA expresses ‘serious concern’ over Tehran blocking access to sites

The outcome of the United States’ upcoming election could have a decisive impact on Iran’s nuclear program and the regime’s willingness to return to the negotiating table, analysts believe.

The UN nuclear watchdog’s governing body on Monday convened amid a major dispute with Iran due to its refusal to grant inspectors access to two sites where the Islamic Republic is believed to have conducted nuclear-related tests.

On the sidelines of the meeting, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi expressed “serious concern” over Tehran’s unwillingness to cooperate.

“For over four months, Iran has denied us access to two locations and that, for almost a year, it has not engaged in substantive discussions to clarify our questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities,” Grossi said. “I call on Iran to cooperate immediately and fully with the Agency, including by providing prompt access to the locations specified by us.”

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi. (Courtesy)

Despite these ongoing concerns, Dr. Raz Zimmt, Iran specialist at the Tel Aviv-bases Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), believes that ultimately the US will be the catalyst for any change in Tehran’s policy.

“Until November we won’t see any significant Iranian actions,” Zimmt told The Media Line. “If [President Donald] Trump is re-elected, then Iran will have to reconsider its position, which means either to accelerate its violations of the [nuclear] deal or to accept the renewal of talks.

“If [Democratic nominee Joe] Biden wins, there’s a possibility that the US and Iran will return to the JCPOA,” he added, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.

Over the past year, Iran has progressively reduced its commitments to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, with the IAEA having reported that the nation’s stockpile of enriched uranium is now almost eight times the limit fixed in the accord. According to analysts, the standoff with the IAEA could further complicate efforts by the remaining parties to the nuclear agreement – namely, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – to salvage the pact, from which President Donald Trump withdrew the US in May 2018. It also comes on the backdrop of a contentious push by Washington to extend a UN arms embargo on Tehran set to expire in October in accordance with the nuclear deal.

“I think that Iran right now has no intention of changing its policy towards the IAEA because the most important thing for Iran is to wait and see what’s going to happen in November,” Zimmt stressed.

“On the one hand, [Iran] doesn’t want to take more dramatic action, which might be used as an excuse either by Israel or the US to consider military action against it. But on the other hand, it isn’t ready to fully cooperate with IAEA as long as it doesn’t settle the dispute with the US.”

The IAEA earlier this month released a report expressing “serious concern” over Tehran’s stonewalling of the agency, and it is possible that the organization could pass a resolution condemning the country for the first time since 2012. For its part, Iran claimed that the IAEA’s inquiries were based on “fabricated information.”

In this respect, much of the evidence in question was reportedly acquired by Israel’s Mossad spy agency during a raid on a warehouse in Tehran where traces of uranium were discovered in addition to thousands of documents allegedly proving that Iran had at the beginning of the millennium engaged in activities geared toward the development of nuclear weapons.

But even if a resolution is issued against the Iranian regime, regional analysts are skeptical that would have any kind of effect.

If [President Donald] Trump is re-elected, then Iran will have to reconsider its position, which means either to accelerate its violations of the [nuclear] deal or to accept the renewal of talks.

“There is a long history of resolutions, meetings and condemnations that didn’t really have much of an impact based on what you see today on the ground in the context of the Iranian nuclear program,” Avi Melamed, president and CEO of the educational program “Inside the Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives,” told The Media Line.

A former Israeli intelligence official and expert in Middle Eastern affairs, Melamed argued it was also quite doubtful to what extent the nuclear deal could be sustained in the long run.

Melamed further called resolutions made by the international community “totally toothless” and said that so far only the Trump administration has successfully applied concrete pressure on Tehran.

“The Iranian regime doesn’t respond to resolutions or rhetoric,” he asserted. “[The US’s actions] are generating changes or leading to some kind of an impact. … The question is whether it’s not too late.”

Russia and China have launched a diplomatic campaign to derail an effort by the United States to trigger “snapback” United Nations sanctions on Iran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, both sent letters to representatives of the 15-member UN Security Council and to Secretary-General António Guterres arguing that Washington had no legal basis to act given President Donald Trump’s decision two-plus years ago to withdraw from a 2015 deal involving Iranian nuclear research.

Lavrov cited in his missive an obscure 1971 International Court of Justice opinion stating that “a party which disowns or does not fulfill its own obligations [in international relations] cannot be recognized as retaining the rights which it claims to derive from the relationship.”

The White House has meanwhile threatened to trigger the sanctions, which were lifted as part of the nuclear accord, if the Security Council does not extend an arms embargo on Tehran that is due to expire in October as per the 2015 agreement. Moscow and Beijing have both indicated that they would veto any resolution to this effect. According to the nuclear deal, which was enshrined in a Security Council resolution, UN penalties can be re-imposed on the Islamic Republic if it violates the pact. The country has admitted to doing so, foremost by vastly exceeding the limit the agreement placed on the amount of enriched uranium it can stockpile.

“The bottom line should be very clear,” Melamed indicated. “We are looking at a long period of years that the Iranian regime has been deceiving the international community time and time again, including violating every possible commitment that they have made. It’s very clear that this is a cat and mouse game.”

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