Iran Shows Off Nuclear Capabilities as It Announces Plan to Further Scale Back Nuclear Deal Commitments

Iranian officials publicly revealed a chain of 30 advanced centrifuges on Monday as the country also announced that it would take a fourth step back from its commitments under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal.

President Donald Trump withdrew last May from the landmark international treaty, which was signed by the Obama administration, Iran, the European Union, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China. A year later, in May of this year, Iran announced it would begin stepping back from its commitments under the agreement after signatories failed to adequately counter the sanctions reimposed by the U.S.

"Today, we made operational a chain of 30 advanced IR6 centrifuge machines," Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, explained on Monday, the Tehran Times reported. He said that the Iranian people should be aware that "the country's experts in the Atomic Energy Organization have been very active, and the organization's activities have never been halted."

Meanwhile, Iranian government spokesperson Ali Rabiei said that Iran's President Hassan Rouhani would announce Tehran's fourth step to walk back its commitments under the JCPOA, according to Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency. Rabiei blamed the "bullying policy" of the U.S. and the "lack of resistance" by the Europeans for bringing about Iran's actions.

Thousands of Iranian protesters wave national flags during a demonstration outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty

Trump's decision to leave the nuclear treaty came despite significant pushback from European allies, as well as consistent reports from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog group showing that Iran remained in compliance with its commitments under the deal. The JCPOA offered Iran sanctions relief and international investment in exchange for curbing its nuclear ambitions. Now, following the U.S. decision to violate the treaty, Iran has taken repeated steps to step away from compliance.

"Iran's gradual walk-back from its commitments under the Iran nuclear deal, provoked by the U.S. withdrawal and violation of the deal, are increasingly concerning," Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, told Newsweek in statement. "As tensions mount, the United States and Iran must adhere to their commitments under international law: Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons, and the United States must pursue nuclear disarmament."

Although Trump has taken a strong stance against Iran, while staunchly supporting the Persian Gulf nation's regional foes—Saudi Arabia and Israel—the president has appeared reluctant to confront the country militarily. At the same time, the president's critics are increasingly concerned that the U.S. could pursue a military confrontation, which top American officials have consistently said is an option on the table.

"Trump believes that a war with Iran could help him win re-election, if his past comments are any guide. And he recently suggested that, while he wants to end unnecessary wars, he may need to start such a war with Iran," Jamal Abdi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, told Newsweek. "I have little doubt he would put his own interests before his country's, and everything his administration is doing on Iran continues to point in that direction."

A spokesperson for the State Department told Newsweek that "Iran has no credible reason to expand its uranium enrichment program. It is a clear attempt at nuclear extortion that will only deepen its political and economic isolation."

"We will continue to impose maximum pressure on the regime until it abandons its destabilizing behavior, including proliferation-sensitive work," the spokesperson said.

Hassan Rouhani
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in New York on September 26. KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty

Rabiei also revealed on Monday that Iran had sent letters to regional nations, including Saudi Arabia, calling for peace and stability. The letter argued that U.S. dominance in the region was waning. "We believe that multiple bilaterals could be shaped in the region, and the U.S. pressures should not take the neighbors away from each other," Rabiei said.

Many critics of Trump's policy toward Iran are concerned about the possibility of war. But George Friedman, the founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures, told Newsweek that the latest announcements by Iran aren't enough to push Washington toward such a confrontation.

"The actual acquisition of nuclear weapons could potentially trigger an American response that the Iranians couldn't counter. The Iranians don't know whether this would happen, but it's a risky bet," Friedman said. "Attempting to acquire the nuclear weapons doesn't increase the threat to Iran but enhances its bargaining position."

This article has been updated to include comment from a State Department spokesperson.