Pompeo: Iran Should Never Have Been Allowed to Enrich Uranium in the First Place

By Patrick Goodenough | July 2, 2019 | 4:18 AM EDT

The Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran. (Photo by IIPA via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Reacting Monday to Iran exceeding the amount of low-enriched uranium permitted under the 2015 nuclear deal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo underscored a key criticism of the agreement – the fact that it allowed the regime in Tehran to continue enriching uranium in the first place.

In doing so, Pompeo alluded to the fact that the Obama administration and its negotiating partners caved in on a position the U.N. Security Council had maintained for almost a decade. He also suggested that any new agreement acceptable to the Trump administration would not allow Iran a domestic enrichment capacity.

“No nuclear deal should ever allow the Iranian regime to enrich uranium at any level,” Pompeo said. “Starting in 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed six resolutions requiring the regime to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activity. It was the right standard then; it is the right standard now.”

New White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham also weighed in.

“It was a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level,” she said. “We must restore the longstanding nonproliferation standard of no enrichment for Iran.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Monday that Iran – in line with a plan the regime first announced in May – has passed the 300 kilogram limit set in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for its stockpile of uranium enriched to a level of 3.67 percent.

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said in a statement that Iran had passed the 300 kg ceiling and indicated a “next step” would be enriching uranium above the 3.67 percent limit set by the JCPOA.

On Twitter, Zarif denied that move was a violation of the JCPOA. He pointed to a clause in the deal saying that if a party is not satisfied that an issue has been resolved – through a convoluted dispute-resolution process – than that party can “treat the unresolved issue as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

Zarif said Iran had triggered that clause after the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA in May. Once the European parties to the deal (Britain, France and Germany) “abide by their obligations [to ensure Iran continues to benefit from the trade openings enabled by the JCPOA] we’ll reverse.”

Pompeo’s statement essentially accused Iran of trying to blackmail the Europeans and others.

“The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism continues to use its nuclear program to extort the international community and threaten regional security.”

‘Right to enrich’

The six U.N. Security Council resolutions referred to by Pompeo were passed between 2006 and 2010 – five under the Bush administration and one under the Obama administration – and they demanded that Iran suspend “all” uranium enrichment.

But the regime insisted on its “right to enrich,” characterizing the issue as a “red line” it was not prepared to cross. During the marathon nuclear negotiations the U.S. and partners yielded to that demand.

As a result, a Security Council resolution endorsing the JCPOA (resolution 2231 of July 2015) terminated the provisions of all six of those earlier resolutions.

“The Trump administration calls on the international community to restore the longstanding nonproliferation standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program,” Pompeo said. “Iran has the uncontested ability to pursue peaceful nuclear energy without domestic enrichment.”

Aside from the five nuclear-armed states recognized under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France – only a small handful of the other 28 countries that have nuclear energy programs enrich their own uranium. Aside from Iran, they are Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Argentina and Brazil.

The other 22 countries with nuclear energy programs do not enrich domestically, but buy fuel for their reactors, under IAEA supervision.

In the nuclear cycle, centrifuges spinning at high speeds enrich uranium to varying degrees, providing fuel for energy reactors or, in the case of very high levels of enrichment (90+ percent) producing a key ingredient for an atomic bomb.

The JCPOA allowed Iran to enrich no more than 300 kg of uranium to no more than 3.67 percent, with various restrictions on enrichment falling away after eight, 10 and 15 years – the deal’s so-called “sunset” provisions.

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif led their respective negotiating teams at the nuclear talks which produced the JCPOA deal. (Photo: State Department)

But the question of whether Iran should be allowed to enrich at all, given the nature of the regime and its record of concealing its nuclear activities from the international community, was a controversial one during the talks in Switzerland and Austria.

Iran argued, and still argues, that it has a right to enrich uranium at home under the NPT. The Obama administration disputed that, but at the same time acknowledged that demanding a halt to all enrichment was a non-starter if a deal was to be struck at all.

In late 2013, President Obama said it was unrealistic to expect a final deal with Iran requiring a complete end to uranium enrichment

“If we could create an option in which Iran eliminated every single nut and bolt of their nuclear program, and foreswore the possibility of ever having a nuclear program, and, for that matter, got rid of all its military capabilities, I would take it,” he told the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum. “But that particular option is not available.”

He said he could envisage a final agreement that leaves Iran with a “modest” uranium-enrichment program, but with such intrusive inspections that it would not give Iran nuclear weapons breakout capability.

Then Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the U.S. team in the talks, viewed a rigid position on enrichment as wrong even before he joined Obama’s administration.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he described the Bush administration earlier insistence that Iran stop enriching uranium altogether as a “ridiculous” stance and an example of “bombastic diplomacy.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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