A U.S. contractor was killed last week when Iranian-backed militants in Iraq launched a lethal drone attack targeted a U.S. base in northeast Syria. This latest provocation reiterates Tehran’s disinterest in gaining favor with the U.S. ahead of the potential for revived nuclear negotiations in Vienna. Ever since the U.S. and Iran began “seriously” participating in efforts to reinstate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2021, Iran has escalated hostile acts across the Middle East as well as on U.S. soil.
Proxy groups sponsored and financed by the Iranian regime have carried out barrages of drone and rocket attacks targeting American assets repeatedly. Additionally, Iranian agents attempted to kidnap and later assassinate prominent dissident Masih Alinejad.
Prospects for diplomacy have weakened immensely, and President Joe Biden will probably not be able to fulfill his campaign promise of a new nuclear deal.
What is the JCPOA and why did Trump withdraw from it?
Under the 2015 Obama-era JCPOA guidelines, Iran was granted sanctions relief in exchange for several curtailments to its nuclear program. While the then-Obama White House was negotiating the content of the JCPOA framework, Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), which essentially gave Congress oversight of the nuclear agreement. Ultimately, the INARA did not halt the deal but could serve as a potential roadblock for the Biden administration if it plans to push through a revived agreement.
When then-President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, his administration cited Tehran’s frequent treaty obligation violations and pursuit of a nuclear program. In addition to preventing agents with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from accessing suspicious sites and military facilities in the country, Iran thoroughly expanded its ballistic and cruise missile development programs. Arguably, one of the JCPOA’s faults was that it relaxed restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missiles program. These weapons are significantly worrisome because they make ideal vessels to carry nuclear weapons.
Iran is inching closer to its nuclear goals
Earlier this month, Senior U.S. defense officials revealed that Iran could produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb in under two weeks. This warning also coincides with the United Nations assessment that Tehran has ramped up enriched uranium production to weapons-grade levels at its Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant underground facility. Now that Iran is on the edge of achieving its nuclear breakout time, its well-developed ballistic missile program is even more concerning. At this point, Iran has enriched uranium to 84% purity, just short of the 90% needed for a nuclear weapon, according to The Washington Post.
In addition to expanding its nuclear and ballistic missiles program Iran has been escalating tensions across the region. Over the last year, Iran orchestrated several state-sponsored acts of terrorism on U.S. soil. An Iranian national was charged with plotting to kill former national security adviser John Bolton in August.
In October, the U.S. designated the Iranian entity ’15 Khordad Foundation’ following the attack on author Salmon Rushdie’s life. Three men were recently charged in a plot to kill Iranian-American dissident Masih Alinejad in January, following a failed attempted kidnapping scheme in 2021.
Iran’s willingness and determination to conduct brazen acts of terror in America strongly indicates that the regime’s seriousness regarding a renewed joint deal with the U.S. is minimal. Considering Iran’s escalatory behavior, prospects for a revived JCPOA are abysmal.
Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.