The Current Negotiations Won’t Stop Iran from Getting Nuclear Weapons

May 6, 2021 | Elliott Abrams
About the author: Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the incoming chairman of the Tikvah Fund.

While the Biden White House is committed to restoring the 2015 agreement to restrain the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, Tehran’s behavior since the deal was concluded should be sufficient to demonstrate that it had no intention of keeping to its terms, argues Elliott Abrams:

In general terms, we know how countries behave when they do not seek nuclear weapons. They are completely open with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and seek international assistance in getting rid of previous nuclear-weapons programs (as South Africa and Libya did) or agree to nuclear-power programs that prohibit them from enriching uranium (as the United Arab Emirates did). Iran, on the contrary, has long maintained a secret nuclear-weapons program and has gone to great lengths to conceal it. This concealment continues today, as the great difficulty the IAEA has had in accessing sites it believes it must visit has shown repeatedly.

Indeed, Swedish, Dutch, and German security agencies have recently discovered Iranian operatives seeking materials and technology for building nuclear weapons. Abrams comments:

Two things struck me immediately about these European reports. First, they were nowhere to be seen on the front pages of the New York Times or Washington Post, which cover the Iran nuclear talks closely. Surely the fact that Iran continues actively to seek the elements it needs to build nuclear weapons is relevant to those talks. . . . What is [far more] disappointing and dangerous is the apparent willingness of the negotiators to ignore the record of Iran’s deceit, obfuscation, delay, and clandestine procurement efforts.

The Biden administration has a sort of answer to this complaint: step one is to go back to the [2015 agreement], then step two will be to negotiate something longer and stronger. But the administration will, I believe, agree to lift the most important financial and petroleum sanctions to get back to the [status quo ante], thereby eliminating its own best leverage.

There will be no further agreement. What there will be is a continuation of Iran’s . . . secret efforts to prepare to build a nuclear weapon. That seems to me to be the dangerous road ahead.

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