Jul 8, 2019

Iran's uranium threats aim to push U.S. back into nuclear deal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Photo: Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

By continuing to breach caps imposed on its nuclear program, Iran is seeking to refocus Washington's attention on the nuclear issue and steer the Trump administration toward an approach more like those of his predecessors, Presidents Bush and Obama.

Why it matters: With these incremental, “reversible” transgressions of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran may try to force the U.S. to settle for what President Trump has termed a “bad deal,” rather than risk further nuclear or regional escalation.

Background: On the first anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from the accord, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani laid out two 60-day timetables for nuclear escalation:

  1. For the first 60 days, Tehran would surpass domestic stockpile caps of its low-enriched uranium (fissile material that can be further enriched to weapons-grade) and heavy water (used as a moderator in Iran’s IR–40 reactor).
  2. Over the following 60 days, starting July 7, Iran would enrich uranium beyond the level of 3.67% purity permitted by the deal and cease the redesign project for the IR–40 reactor, thus increasing its proliferation risk.

What’s next: Given that Iran is making good on its latest uranium threats, Tehran could be hedging its bets if bilateral or multilateral negotiations commence, as an expanded and more dangerous nuclear program affords the regime greater leverage during talks.

  • Iranian officials have hinted at yet another 60-day period of nuclear escalation, beginning in early September, that could feature enrichment of uranium to 20% purity and put the regime closer to nuclear-weapons capacity.

Between the lines: Reports indicate that Iran will be enriching up to — but not past —5%. This suggests that Iran's strategy still involves preventing Europe from working with America to collapse the UNSC resolution that enshrines the JCPOA.

  • The termination of that resolution could occur if the issue is escalated through the entire Joint Commission process outlined in the nuclear deal.

The bottom line: Iran’s incremental escalation is designed to heighten fears over the direction of the country’s nuclear program, thus incentivizing premature diplomacy over productive diplomacy. While any escalation is a gamble, Iranian leaders appear ready to resume the game of “chicken” that defined the country's relations with the West from 2006 to 2015.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 5,375,648 — Total deaths: 343,721 — Total recoveries — 2,149,412Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 1,639,872 — Total deaths: 97,599 — Total recoveries: 361,239 — Total tested: 13,784,786Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

White House announces new coronavirus travel restrictions on Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with Trump, March 19, 2019. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool via Getty Images

The White House announced that beginning at 11:59 pm ET on Thursday, President Trump would suspend entry of non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil in the past 14 days in an effort to stop the imported spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Brazil has reported nearly 350,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus — the second-most in the world behind the U.S. — and has emerged as a Southern Hemisphere hotspot as other heavily affected countries in Asia and Europe have managed to get their outbreaks under control.

Trumpworld's plan to brand Biden

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Mandel Ngan/AFP

Trump's advisers relish the contrast between his public appearances and Joe Biden's lack thereof. The former vice president, following the guidance of public experts, has eschewed public events and stayed home for months now. Trump, meanwhile, is out and about — masks be damned.

What we're hearing: Watch for plenty more mask-free outings from Trump, hyping the reopening of the economy and avoiding discussions of social distancing and death counts.