Experts Say Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Quest Will Persist, Despite US Moves
JNS.org – Iran is unlikely to halt its drive toward nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s recent refusal to recertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement, experts say.
Trump’s move empowers Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions against Iran that were lifted as part of the deal between Iran and world powers. The Iranian leadership has made aggressive statements in response to the announcement of America’s new approach, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps saying on Thursday that it would accelerate its ballistic missile program despite increased US pressure, according to the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meanwhile, called Trump and other senior US officials “mentally retarded” due to their “repeated miscalculations and defeats,” Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.
“Iran just keeps threatening to do what it’s already been doing — continuing its path to nuclear weapons,” Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told JNS.org.
Raz Zimmt — an Iran expert at two Israeli think tanks, INSS and the Forum for Regional Thinking — echoed this sentiment, saying, “Under no circumstances would Iran change the [nuclear] deal.”
Zimmt told JNS.org that he foresees three possible scenarios playing out regarding the Iran deal.
The first is that the status quo continues, with no new sanctions enacted by the US or the European Union (EU). Iran would continue building its economic ties with Europe, explained Zimmt, but with more difficulties due to the threat of possible new US sanctions hanging over business deals, potentially scaring away EU businesses.
The second scenario would involve the US unilaterally reimposing sanctions. The Europeans would oppose this, yet most businesses on the continent would not want to risk their connections to the US over Iran policy, said Zimmt.
“If this were to happen, the Iranians might completely withdraw from the deal, or at least take some actions in violation of the deal,” he said.
The third possibility would be a total collapse of the nuclear deal.
The most likely scenario, Zimmt said, is the second option — which would mean the US unilaterally imposes sanctions, but Iran would continue to do some business with the EU and therefore would not want to withdraw from the nuclear deal entirely.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, hinted on October 16 that the Trump administration’s negative attitude about the nuclear deal could encourage Iran to mimic North Korea’s approach — using the cover of negotiations to develop nuclear weapons capability.
“The US president showed by his remarks … that the US government is not trustworthy,” he said. “US behavior towards the nuclear deal persuades views of countries like North Korea.” Boroujerdi made those remarks during a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Yousef Bayazid, in Tehran, the Fars News Agency reported.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has argued that by threatening to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal or seeking to alter the accord, the Trump administration would discourage other countries — such as North Korea — from reaching long-term agreements with the US.
Yet Landau said that, “the argument that North Korea would not want to negotiate with the US now that they see America wavering on Iran is completely bogus.”
“North Korea has not wanted to negotiate on its nuclear program for almost 10 years now, and let’s not forget how former President [Barack] Obama waited eight years for them to come to the table,” she said.
According to Landau, the US is signaling it does not intend to leave the Iran nuclear deal for now, but rather, that it wants to strengthen the agreement and restore American deterrence vis-à-vis Iran.
Zimmt said that the most dangerous path Iran could take would be to follow the North Korean model,” adding that Iran could “seek to renegotiate after it achieved nuclear weapons [capability].”
While top Israeli leaders have long argued that Iran’s nuclear program is the most dangerous threat that Israel faces, some believe that Tehran’s encroachment on the Jewish state’s northern border is a more urgent threat.
According to this view, Iran is striving to establish a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut through proxies such as Hezbollah, which together with Iran is supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the Syrian Civil War,
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu this week that Israel “will not allow” an Iranian military buildup in Syria.