Western powers condemned Iran on Thursday for “escalation” of its nuclear program, after the UN watchdog said Tehran had accelerated its high-grade uranium enrichment.
“Iran’s production of highly enriched uranium has no credible civilian justification,” France, Germany, Britain and the United States said in a statement, warning the Iranian regime that this measure “further aggravates the continued escalation of the Iranian nuclear program.”
Two days earlier, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had “increased its production of highly enriched uranium, reversing a previous output reduction from mid-2023.”
The reduction in mid-2023 came about as part of a reported unwritten deal between the Biden administration and Iran. Releasing billions of frozen Iranian funds seems to have been part of that deal too –and also looking the other way as Iran exported oil to China in spite of sanctions.
The US government seems to have been hoping to contain the regime’s nuclear ambitions with leniency and good-will. Critics of the administration say President Joe Biden even “lied” to the Congress to avoid scrutiny and take his agreement over the line. The Administration denies all of this, of course, including the existence of a deal to begin with.
But whatever it was –deal, agreement, understanding– it began to crumble soon after October 7. Hostilities resumed and animosity once more took over after Hamas rampaged through Israel and Israelis began their onslaught of Gaza.
The IAEA report said Iran tripled its output of 60-percent enriched uranium in late November (from 3 kilograms a month to 9 kilograms). It had agreed to cap its production at 3 kg per month in June.
“These developments constitute a step in a bad direction on the part of Iran,” the US and EU3 noted in their statement. “These decisions show the absence of will on the part of Iran to engage in a de-escalation in good faith and result in irresponsible behavior in the context of regional tensions,”
Not surprisingly, Iran seems unmoved by the warnings.
“We have done nothing new and our activity is according to the regulations,” said the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, burying any hopes of going back to the levels of enrichment agreed with the Biden administration a few months ago.
All this comes amid growing fears of a conflagration in the Middle East, as Israel and the US face off Iran and its proxies from Yemen to Iraq to Lebanon.
Biden critics say his soft approach has emboldened Iran and its allied groups, who keep targeting US forces or interests in the region. Many believe the administration’s response to such attacks has been “token” strikes –with very little impact on attackers and almost no power of deterrence.
“Under Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, we were able to crack down on many of Iran’s terrorist capabilities,” Rep. Claudia Tenney said in an interview with Fox Thursday. “Yet, the Biden administration has allowed them to come back stronger than ever. The US must continue to put pressure on Iran and hold the IRGC accountable.”
On Wednesday, Senator Lindsey Graham of the Senate armed service committee lambasted President Biden and defense secretary Austin for “failing” US soldiers in the field, suggesting that IRGC positions inside Iran be bombed “to make it real to the Ayatollah, you attack a soldier through proxy, we’re coming after you.”
“I’ve been saying [this] for six months now,” Graham said on Fox News Wednesday, “hit Iran. They have oil fields out in the open. They have a Revolutionary Guard headquarters you can see from space. Blow it off the map.”