Last week, Iran declared that, unless Europe provides it with a $15 billion line of credit to make up for the damage supposedly done to its economy by U.S. sanctions, it will cease to abide by the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement. On September 8—two days after the threat supposedly went into effect—officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that they had discovered traces of uranium at what Israeli intelligence had already revealed was a secret military nuclear facility, only recently destroyed by the regime. The discovery is further evidence that Tehran had been in violation of both the non-proliferation treaty that it signed in 1970 and the 2015 nuclear deal long before its recent threats. Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the IAEA, and Tzvi Kahn write:
The United States and Europe would be making a mistake of historic proportions if they surrender to this latest Iranian threat. Instead, they should stand firm and make clear that Iran will receive sanctions relief only if it negotiates a comprehensive new nuclear deal . . . ensuring, in a verifiable manner, that it has abandoned its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Premature concessions would merely incentivize Iran to engage in further nuclear blackmail, thereby undermining the IAEA’s ability to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.
In the face of Iran’s defiance, France is negotiating with Tehran—in coordination with other parties to the 2015 agreement—on a $15 billion letter of credit that would enable Iran to receive hard currency, thereby compensating it for the loss of oil sales resulting from U.S. sanctions. At the root of this proposal lies the apparent assumption that Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal—and the consequent economic crisis Iran faces—has spurred an Iranian decision to achieve a nuclear breakout in retaliation.
Thus, by mitigating Iran’s economic woes, the world could supposedly incentivize Iran to return to compliance with the nuclear deal. The truth is more complicated. In reality, Iran’s incremental nuclear violations aim not to start a war, but to project resolve and to weaken U.S. deterrence.