By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
The talks concerning a new nuclear deal with Iran resumed in Vienna, Austria, on December 27. The nuclear talks now have a sense of urgency since the U.S. and the E.U. interpreted the Iranian demands in the last round of talks on December 7 as a stalling tactic.
The suspicion is that Iran wants to have more time to gather enough enriched uranium to create a bomb. That would make Iran a nuclear threshold state – a country with the capability to quickly create a nuclear bomb and use it as a missile weapon within months of a decision to do so.
This realization has heightened tensions with Iran. It has also given rise to a series of intentional leaks to news outlets in the U.S, Israel and Iran that have included veiled threats of using force if the nuclear talks in Vienna do not go as planned.
Hinting at the Use of Force against Iran
In the past two months, there have been a series of stories published in both Israeli and U.S. news sources. The stories contain information about Iranian intentions and the preparation to use force if Iran continues to pursue its path of creating a nuclear bomb.
The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, for example, stated that the Israeli air force has prepared several scenarios for a potential attack on Iran. Haaretz also observed that the Israeli military knows that this attack will not be an easy endeavor and more importantly, it will destroy the Iranian nuclear program.
The Biden Administration Has Also Hinted at Using Force Against Iran
In the U.S., there has also been a change in how the Biden administration is preparing to deal with Iran. At the beginning of the Biden administration, there was a conciliatory tone with Iran, but that has finally changed direction with the stalling tactic employed by Iran, according to the New York Times.
The Hill noted that the Biden administration is considering “other tools” if the nuclear talks with Iran fail. The Hill also quoted a senior State Department official: “Iran is at the table and developing its nuclear program. We could be at the table and using other tools to make sure that we are advancing our own objectives… I wouldn’t focus so much on is there going to be a dramatic exit from Vienna. … I’m not excluding it. But at this point, we want to negotiate with Iran. We want to see whether we can reach an understanding. But it doesn’t mean that because we’re at the table that we can’t do other things at the same time.”
The Iranian Response to the Threats
The Iranians are also using news sources to respond to these thinly veiled threats. The English-language Tehran Times, a mouthpiece of the regime in Tehran, ran a front-page story on December 14.
The article contains a map of potential targets in Israel and noted the Iranian military is prepared to attack these targets if necessary. The Tehran Times also quoted Major General Mohammad Bagheri, the Chief of General Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces: “Despite our confidence in the deterrence situation of the country, our forces have never underestimated the threat of the enemy and are prepared for the smallest of threats in the strategic field.”
According to Iran International, Iran also sent a conciliatory signal by stating that it will not enrich its uranium beyond the allowed limit, even if the nuclear talks fail. Mohammed Eslami, Chairman of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, stated that the organization will not try to enrich beyond the 60% limit that would bring Iran’s uranium stockpile to weapons-grade level. However, it should be noted that the only countries that have this capability of enriching uranium to weapons-grade level are those nations with a nuclear arsenal.
Where Are the Nuclear Talks Heading?
The talks’ coordinator, European Union envoy Enrique Mora, told the press during a news conference that everyone understands what is at stake if the talk fail. Mora noted, “If we work hard in the days and weeks ahead we should have a positive result….It’s going to be very difficult, it’s going to be very hard. Difficult political decisions have to be taken both in Tehran and in Washington…There is a sense of urgency in all delegations that this negotiation has to be finished in a relatively reasonable period of time. Again, I wouldn’t put limits, but we are talking about weeks, not about months.”
Iran has tested the waters since the Biden administration took power. What will happen in the near future is dependent on two people.
One of those people is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a cleric and Iran’s spiritual leader, who has controlled Iran since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. The other is President Biden.
Khamenei is an extremist and not a very sophisticated leader. He has mainly contempt for the West and Western values, and he sees the West as frail. However, it does not take much to see that the current regime has lost its popularity with Iranian citizens after severe economic sanctions and Iran’s high rate of poverty and corruption.
President Biden has here a major test in his foreign policy. After the failure in Afghanistan and the continued pressure from China and Russia – which are trying to show that the U.S. is weak, incapable of supporting its allies, and doomed to revert to isolationism – this situation with Iran presents a real challenge. The White House needs to decide what will be the legacy of this administration as far as foreign policy is concerned, and the time to make a decision is nearing.