In May, the Islamic Republic reversed course in its response to the renewal of American sanctions on its nuclear program and began to break the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal openly, but in piecemeal fashion—announcing a new violation every 60 days. Emily Landau examines these violations, and the motivation behind them:
Tehran is consistently directing its message to the Europeans, whom the Iranians accuse of not fulfilling their promise to protect Iran’s interests under the deal. Indeed, Iran is not communicating that it wants to leave the deal or that it wants the deal to collapse; rather, [its goal] is to have sanctions lifted by pressuring the Europeans to do more to help. . . . While Iran seems not to want to rock the boat—and emphasizes that all of its breaches are immediately reversible—the implications of its violations are becoming more and more serious.
In fact, experts have revised downward their estimate of the Islamic Republic’s “breakout time”—the time it would take to develop a functioning nuclear weapon—from eight-to-twelve months to six-to-eight months. Supporters of the nuclear deal have cited this as proof that Washington’s decision to withdraw from it was a mistake. Not so, says Landau:
[T]he specific violations that Iran has chosen to commit expose dangerous flaws in the agreement that were apparent from the start—most importantly its unconditional sunset clauses, [to which] Iran’s breaches would come at some point down the line. [Thus] it is preferable to confront Iran’s violations now, when it is relatively weak, than in five or ten years when the country could have become much stronger, while doing what it could to prepare the way for a quick breakout when the deal expired.
For the maximum-pressure campaign to be truly effective, there is a need for political clout to back up the economic hardship Iran is experiencing. This requires that the U.S. and Europe project that they are on the same page regarding sanctions and that they share the commitment to keep up the pressure on Iran.