On Monday, the fortieth anniversary of the US hostage crisis, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, announced that Tehran had doubled the number of centrifuges it was using, in violation of the 2015 nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA.)
Salehi also said that Tehran was working to produce a centrifuge capable of operating 50 times faster than those allowed under the JCPOA.
On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Tehran would begin to inject uranium gas into the 1,044 centrifuges, which it is allowed to maintain under the JCPOA at its underground facility in Fordow.
Kazem Gharibadi, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), then expanded on Rouhani’s statement, saying that Tehran would begin to inject uranium hexafluoride into the centrifuges at Fordow starting Wednesday night, at midnight.
Since the US withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, it has been imposing ever-tighter sanctions on Iran.
They have caused serious damage to the country’s economy.
A report published last month by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that the Iranian economy would shrink by nearly 10% this year, while the World Bank estimated there would be a 9% contraction.
The IMF also estimated Iran’s inflation rate at 36%.
In May 2019, a year after the US withdrew from the JCPOA, Iran announced that it would begin reducing its “commitments” under the accord.
As it has done so, Tehran has consistently maintained that the steps it is taking in violation of the JCPOA are reversible, and Rouhani affirmed that point this week.
Thus, the Iranian violations of the JCPOA are commonly seen as an attempt by Tehran to pressure Europe into providing it more support to deal with the US sanctions.
However, while Ortagus characterized Tehran’s move as “a transparent attempt at nuclear extortion,” she also warned, “Iran’s assertions that all these escalatory steps are reversible are false.”
“The knowledge Iran could gain over time from R&D [research and development] work on new centrifuge designs represents irreversible learning that could ultimately shorten Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear weapon if it decided to pursue one,” she said.
However, Ortagus signaled no dramatic change in US policy, as she affirmed, “We will continue to impose maximum pressure on the regime until it abandons its destabilizing behavior, including proliferation-sensitive work.”
Indeed, US officials appear to believe that their policy is basically working.
On Monday, in announcing new sanctions on the Iranian leadership on the fortieth anniversary of the Iranian hostage crisis, senior administration officials suggested that sanctions were contributing to the unrest in Iraq and Lebanon, two countries that have substantial Shiite populations and in which Iran has significant influence.
“The Iranians' lack of ability” to support their “proxies and supply the kinds of services that they've traditionally supported is causing a lot of unhappiness,” one senior official stated, in response to a question from Kurdistan 24.
“So I think” the sanctions are “definitely contributing to the general anti-Iranian sentiment that you see in those protests,” she added.
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In Iraq, particularly, the protests are directed against Iranian influence, almost as much as they are directed against the government.
Under the headline, “A New Slogan Ignites Iraqis: 'Iran Get Out,’” The New York Times reported on Tuesday, “While the current leaders of the Iraqi government cower inside the Green Zone, where officials running the American occupation once sheltered, the protesters outside direct their anger against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which they now see as having too much influence.
‘Free, free Iraq,’ they shout, ‘Iran get out, get out.’”