Iran Prepares to Boost Nuclear Power, Including Submarines if U.S. Kills Deal

A group of senior Iranian lawmakers has voiced support for boosting the Islamic Republic's nuclear production, including the development of nuclear-powered submarine engines should the United States successfully trigger international sanctions that would effectively kill a five-year agreement among world powers.

The Islamic Consultative Assembly's Commission of National Security and Foreign Policy released a seven-point statement Tuesday expressing confidence in Iran's ability to win the diplomatic dispute over whether the U.S. had the right to dismantle the 2015 nuclear agreement it abandoned in 2018. At the same time, the legislators laid out other measures to prepare for "the illegal activation of the trigger mechanism" that would revive pre-deal sanctions.

The statement called on the Iran Atomic Energy Organization to "immediately return all nuclear activity" to levels attained before the accord, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This included activating IR4, IR6, IR8 centrifuges to supply enrich uranium at 190,000 separative work units and "to accelerate the construction of nuclear propellants in order to equip our country's navy."

Iranian naval leaders have long called for the development of nuclear-powered submarines to deter U.S. military activity in the Persian Gulf, a flashpoint for tensions between Tehran and Washington. Other than for propellant purposes, Iranian officials have long dismissed accusations from the U.S. and partnered nations that Iran sought to weaponize its nuclear program.

Still, the country has amassed the largest and most advanced conventional missile arsenal in the Middle East and has particularly focused on building up its naval and anti-aircraft capabilities in the event of a conflict.

iran, rouhani, submarine, navy, parade
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends the inauguration ceremony of a new cruise missile-armed, semi-heavy Fateh-class submarine at Bandar Abbas naval base, February 17, 2019. Despite a decade-old arms embargo, the Islamic Republic has managed to continue to develop its surface and underwater fleet. HOSSEIN ESMAILI/ARMED FORCES OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN

The developments come on the heels of a resounding defeat Friday for the U.S. at the U.N. Security Council, where only one other country—the Dominican Republic—backed a U.S. motion to an extend an Iranian arms embargo set to expire in October as a result of the nuclear deal. Signatories China and Russia vetoed the U.S. proposal, while fellow JCPOA signatories France, Germany, the United Kingdom and eight other nations in abstaining.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decried at the time what he called the 15-member "failure to act decisively in defense of international peace and security is inexcusable." He cited support from Israel and six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, though Qatar has since announced its opposition to the weapons restrictions.

Iranian permanent representative to the United Nations Majid Takht-Ravanchi called the outcome evidence of "the US' isolation." He tweeted: "Council's message: 'NO to UNILATERALISM.' The US must learn from this debacle. Its attempt to 'snapback' sanctions is illegal, and was rejected by int'l community, as was evident today."

President Donald Trump said Saturday that U.S. officials "knew what the vote was going to be but we'll be doing a snapback." In comments published the following day by Germany's Deutsche Presse-Agentur, however, a spokesperson for European Union Josep Borrell argued Washington no longer had the right to take such action since leaving the deal more than two years ago.

"Given that the US unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 and has not participated in any JCPOA structures or activities subsequently, the US cannot be considered as a JCPOA participant," the spokesperson said. "We therefore consider that the US is not in a position to resort to mechanisms reserved for JCPOA participants [such as the so-called snapback]."

In a conversation Tuesday with German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass, Pompeo "underscored a need for a unified Transatlantic response to hold Iran accountable and ensure the Security Council lives up to its responsibility to maintain international peace and security," according to a State Department readout.

Moscow, which has been especially critical of U.S. foreign policy moves in the Middle East, has proposed a multinational framework known as the Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf Region in hopes of de-escalating U.S.-Iran tensions. Just ahead of the Security Council vote, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited JCPOA countries, including the U.S., to hold a virtual conference to find common ground on the issue.

China has welcomed the initiative. Both Beijing and Moscow have shored up economic and security ties with Tehran as it attempts to resist unilateral Washington sanctions.