Iran’s nuclear program has been prone to a great deal of controversy over the years, and most countries around the world are averse to an additional country becoming a nuclear power. However, it is extremely important to view the situation through the lens of Iran and its circumstances. Without this, it would be hard to comprehend the reasons Iran has for pursuing its nuclear weapons development program, why it keeps this at par with there being fewer sanctions on Iran, and how it does not really have any other choice but to aim for one of the two scenarios.
In the Middle East, Iran is surrounded by foes. Saudi Arabia, the oil-exporting giant, and the UAE are among them. Israel is another country Iran does not get along with. These three countries have the U.S. as their strategic ally, the superpower notorious for wreaking havoc in multiple countries across the Middle East. Perhaps Iran is wise in deciding that it does not want to become another Iraq or Libya. Self-defense seems to be Iran’s strongest motivator behind its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, as it does not want its national interests, most of all its national security, to be undermined due to the interests of the U.S. and its allies in the region.
The U.S. has long been making a case of Iran’s nuclear ‘threat’ to the world, a reflection of the double standards of the former with respect to nuclear proliferation. On the one hand, it hands out waivers to ensure a supply of nuclear fuel to strategic allies like India, which continues to commit the gravest human rights violations in Indian Occupied Kashmir and is the biggest threat to the millions of minorities living in India. On the other hand, it deems Iran possessing nuclear weapons to be a grave threat to the region and the world. The U.S.-India nuclear deal of 2008 granted India access to “advanced nuclear technology and to import natural Uranium as well as Low-enriched Uranium (LeU).” Therefore, the U.S. can continue to make hollow arguments about Iran being the most crucial threat to the world, just like North Korea and Iraq, but it is clear who the actual threat to the world is.
Iran is a major oil exporter and a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Its economy is also mostly comprised of oil and gas. But ever since the Trump administration pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), Iran’s oil exports have more than halved. Iran’s Oil Minister believes that OPEC is being used to drive political aims of some countries, and that oil is being used as a weapon against Iran. It is no secret that the price of oil is seeing a downturn, with oil posting its worst month since the financial crisis. Perhaps the U.S. sanctions on Iranian exports are a ploy to decrease the supply of oil in the world market to contain the downward spiral of prices for the benefit of U.S. allies in the Middle East. So, it is true that the U.S. holds a great deal of leverage over Iran and its economy with respect to oil. Trump saying that he could bring Iranian oil exports down to nil is another clear example of the U.S. bullying its way around the world. But it seems that Iran is willing to put up a fight.
Even though America may try to pass these sanctions off as necessary to curtail Iran’s “terrorist” activities in the region, the fact of the matter is that sanctions on Iran have never constrained it in any of its regional activities. “The International Crisis Group (ICG), in a report last November, said there was little to no link between Iran’s economic well-being and its regional policies. In fact, Iran intervened in the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq while it was under global sanctions.” If sanctions did not work towards promoting U.S. foreign policy interests in the region, then there does not seem to be a reasonable possibility for them to work now. Of course, the sanctions levied on Iran are crippling its economy. There are, however, some opportunities for it to persevere in the face of such hardship. Owing predominantly to the Trump administration’s rash decision to pull the U.S. out of the JCPoA – known more commonly as the Iran nuclear deal – several countries are realizing the destructive and unproductive nature of U.S. foreign policy, especially under Trump, and are coming up with ways to circumvent its rash decisions in the future.
All the signatories of the JCPoA besides the U.S. – UK, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China – oppose the U.S. withdrawal from this deal. The unilateral withdrawal virtually seems to be part of a personal vendetta of Trump against his predecessor Obama, who negotiated this deal in his tenure. Either way, reneging on a deal of such high salience, one agreed upon with most major powers of the world, and one which Iran was believed to be abiding by, is catastrophic to say the least. Iran recently announced that it would violate some sections of the JCPoA if the other signatories did not provide it relief from U.S. sanctions. It gave the time of 60 days after which it would resume its activities towards developing nuclear weapons in its nuclear reactors.
While this ultimatum may not sit well with the major powers, Iran has ways to persevere in the face of U.S. sanctions. “The EU has rejected Iran’s 60-day ultimatum and appealed against ‘escalatory steps’. It also said it would pursue the setting up of Instex, a new trade channel to bypass U.S. sanctions.” The Iranian leader also recently hinted that Iran has ways to somewhat diminish the effects of U.S. sanctions, so perhaps it has a few other options to survive in this turmoil. And survive it should; the Middle East does not need another failed state.