Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered the Atomic Energy Organization to press ahead with a phased reduction in the country's commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The reductions had begun in May, involving three different "steps," with the fourth in the works unless Iranian leaders are convinced that the European signatories to the nuclear deal abide by their part of the agreement and provide the promised economic relief.
“This reduction of commitments must continue with utmost precision and in full until we attain the desirable outcome,” Khamenei told a meeting of senior generals from the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Oct. 2.
Iran has so far abandoned several commitments under three different deadlines: it upgraded its uranium enrichment to 4.5%, exceeding the 3.67% limit; it increased its stockpile of uranium beyond the 300-kilogram cap; and it expanded nuclear research and development projects restricted by the accord.
Details about the next breakout, expected on Nov. 7, continue to be held in secret, but according to widespread speculation, it deals with the possibility of enrichment near or above 20%. If accurate, the move could fuel worries among the JCPOA’s Western signatories that Iran has moved closer to producing nuclear weapons. Iran has persistently rejected allegations of pursuing such arms based on a religious ruling issued by Khamenei that forbids the country undertaking a nuclear weapons program.
Also in his speech, Khamenei downplayed the maximum pressure policy of the United States implemented by the Donald Trump administration to try to squeeze the Iranian economy to the point of prompting Tehran to negotiate a new nuclear deal from scratch.
“The Americans have failed in their ‘maximum pressure’ policy,” Khamenei declared. “By concentrating their pressure on Iran, they were hoping to impose compromise on the Islamic Republic.”
Khamenei also touched on the United States seeking a dialogue and mediation efforts led by French President Emmanuel Macron. “They tried to force a meeting on our president,” he said. “They even begged for it and asked their European friends to mediate, but all was ultimately in vain.”
President Hassan Rouhani recently spent three hectic days of diplomacy in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, but he never sat down with his American counterpart. Back in Tehran at the Oct. 2 Cabinet meeting, Rouhani boasted about his refusal to meet Trump, calling it a “wise” move, but also said that he appreciated Macron’s push.
“The one solely responsible for the failure of the French president's efforts was the White House,” Rouhani said. Nevertheless, the road to diplomacy will be open, if, he emphasized, “Iran's rights are respected.”
With no tangible breakthrough emerging from Rouhani’s New York visit, and with Iran defiantly set to unveil another step back from its nuclear commitments next month, the prospects for the JCPOA's survival are cloudier than ever.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, one of the key architects of the accord, recently issued a gloomy prognosis. “The nuclear deal is in the intensive care unit,” he said at an Oct. 1 ceremony at the German Embassy in Tehran.