Iran Says Joe Biden Nuclear Window Is 'Fleeting' As Tehran Violates Uranium Metal Curbs

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has again urged President Joe Biden not to miss the "fleeting" window in which to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, as Iran expands its nuclear activity in violation of the 2015 accord.

Zarif released a video on Wednesday marking the country's national day, and claiming that America's long-standing policy of trying to combat and contain Iran has failed.

The video was released as United Nations inspectors confirmed that Tehran has been producing uranium metal that could be used in the core of a nuclear bomb, representing another violation of the terms of the JCPOA.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced Wednesday that Iran had followed through on its intention to produce uranium metal, one of the measures passed by parliament following the assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran has blamed Israel for the killing, and suggested the U.S. supported the operation.

The IAES "verified 3.6 grams of uranium metal at Iran's Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant in Esfahan," Reuters said, citing a copy of the report.

Germany, France and the U.K.—all signatories of the JCPOA—said they were "deeply concerned" by the report and asserted uranium metal has no credible civilian use. Iran has previously dismissed concerns about its nuclear program, arguing it is only interested in power production for civilian means.

The uranium metal production is Iran's latest confirmed violation of the JCPOA. Iran began moving away from the deal in 2018 when President Donald Trump ended U.S. compliance, hoping—and ultimately failing—to force Tehran to renegotiate a more restrictive deal.

Iran then fully ended compliance in January 2020 after the U.S. assassinated Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. Parliament passed further measures in November after Fakhrizadeh's killing, including ordering the national atomic energy to block IAEA inspectors from nuclear sites from February 21 unless U.S. sanctions are lifted.

Zarif said Wednesday that Biden was in danger of missing his chance to revive the deal. Both the Biden administration and the Iranian government led by moderate President Hassan Rouhani want to save the agreement, though both are battling domestic efforts to undermine the JCPOA.

"Donald Trump betted on the myth that Iran is a nation that can be forced to choose between collapse and submission," Zarif said in his video. "We have all seen the outcome of that bet. But Trump was not the first, nor the second but, in fact, the seventh consecutive U.S. president who has made—and lost—the exact same wager."

Iranian leaders are demanding that Biden lift Trump's sanctions before it scales back its nuclear program. Trump's withdrawal, they say, means it is incumbent on the U.S. to take the first step. But the Biden administration is refusing to ease sanctions until Iran returns to compliance with the JCPOA.

European signatories might yet be the referees to oversee a parallel U.S.-Iranian return to the deal, something Zarif suggested last month. But the Biden administration was lukewarm on the proposal, and instead has said it plans to build a united front with its European allies.

"With a new administration in Washington, there is an opportunity to try a new approach," Zarif said in Wednesday's video. "But the current window is fleeting. Soon, my government will be compelled to take further remedial action in response to the American and European dismal failure to live up to their commitments under the nuclear deal," he added, referring to the February 21 deadline.

"It can be averted only if the United States decides to learn from Trump's maximum failure rather than lean on it," Zarif said.

The foreign minister said this week that Iran is in no rush to return to JCPOA compliance, but his own government's opportunity is also fleeting. Rouhani's term ends this summer, and he is likely to be replaced by a hard-line candidate, perhaps even one from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Come the summer, the Biden administration may face a more belligerent administration in Tehran less interested in making a deal, backed by a conservative parliament chafing at entrenched American sanctions.

Iranians pictured in Tehran on national day
Iranians take part in a ceremony marking the 42nd anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, at the Azadi Square in Tehran, on February 10, 2021. STR/AFP via Getty Images/Getty