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Security Brief: Behavior/Leadership Week of July 12, 2021

Week of Monday, July 12, 2021 | Issue 41

Beatriz Adell Quesada, Behavior/Leadership (B/L) Team


Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran[1]


Date: Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Location: Iran

Parties involved: Iran, President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, United States

The event: On Wednesday, July 14, 2021, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned in a cabinet meeting that Iran could enrich uranium up to 90% U-235 concentration, in apparent violation of its Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) obligations.[2] Established in 2015, the JCPOA is a nuclear deal prescribing the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars worth of sanction relief.[3] The United States (U.S.) withdrawal from the deal under the Trump Administration in May 2018 resulted in the re-imposition of sanctions, and European powers have expressed “grave concerns” over Iran’s inability to keep to its JCPOA commitments since.[4]

The implications:

  • The 2015 nuclear deal had restricted Iran’s uranium enrichment to 3.67%, just enough to power a civilian nuclear reactor.[5] Iran’s prospective 90% enrichment would therefore amount to a violation of the JCPOA, which calls into question Iranian commitment to the JCPOA’s revival. The P5+1, which includes China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Germany, have for months expressed concern over Iran’s perceived strategy of brinkmanship.[6] Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s announcement will likely reinforce this perception as it represents the threat that Iran may enrich uranium to the level necessary for its deployment into nuclear bombs. Within this context, President Rouhani’s remark is likely to further stall the negotiations in Vienna set to restore the 2015 agreement, by escalating tension between the parties.

  • Iranian citizens have already seen their food security and health access compromised by the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.[7] By stalling negotiations, President Rouhani’s move is expected to delay relief from international sanctions, potentially stalling relief permanently if the relations between Iran and the U.S. become sufficiently strained. This only adds to the widespread poverty and rampant unemployment already experienced by the population, which many have attributed to government mismanagement.[8] Thus, a complete stall in negotiations would likely bring Iranian citizens to the conclusion that their economic hardships may be postponed indefinitely on account of perceived government incompetence, potentially triggering a new wave of social unrest.

  • Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini has repeatedly called for the destruction of the State of Israel.[9] Within this context, President Rouhani’s attestation to prospective Iranian nuclear capabilities will likely escalate tensions with Israel. Israel has already been deemed suspect for both the murder of Iran’s top nuclear scientist last year and the attack on one of Iran’s uranium enrichment plants earlier this year.[10] More recently, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) requested a significant budget increase to better affront the possibility that negotiations in Vienna might fall apart, a development that would likely reinforce Iran’s resolve to advance its nuclear program. Thus, it is likely that Iran’s warning will further compel Israel to launch preemptive military action against Iran, potentially precipitating the region into an all-out conflict.

  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s failure to secure a revival of the JCPOA paves the way for Iran’s new President, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, to renegotiate the terms of the agreement from a more belligerent standpoint upon taking office on August 8, 2021. In his first news conference after the 2021 elections, Ebrahim Raisi made it clear that neither Iran’s support of regional militias nor its ballistic missile program would be compromised at the negotiation table.[11] With both of these issues topping U.S. priorities, new President Raisi’s intransigent foreign policy is expected to make compromise over the nuclear deal even harder to reach.

  • Further, should the U.S. concede to Raisi’s demands, a nuclear deal not featuring restrictions on Iranian support of regional militias would provide terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas with stable funding. In the long term, this would assist them in not only sustaining their operations but also enhancing their weapons and tactics. In Gaza, unhampered Irani funding is expected to provide Hamas with the ability to persist with its continuous stream of rocket attacks on Israeli territory. This perpetuates death and destruction in the region, particularly as it invites retaliation on the part of Israel. In doing so, Irani funding is likely to indirectly jeopardize a return to stability in the region.

[1]Iran in the World: Hassan Rouhani” by World Economic Forum, licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Iran’s president warns weapons-grade enrichment possible, AP News, July 2021, https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-middle-east-iran-iran-nuclear-ec467d73588597557472408dfa07edd8

[3] What Is the Iran Nuclear Deal?, Council on Foreign Relations, June 2021, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-iran-nuclear-deal

[4] European powers warn Iran over enriched uranium metal production, BBC News, July 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57744952

[5] Iran’s president warns weapons-grade enrichment possible, AP News, July 2021, https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-middle-east-iran-iran-nuclear-ec467d73588597557472408dfa07edd8

[6] Iran’s uranium gambit is a dangerous negotiating tactic, Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, July 2021, https://thebulletin.org/2021/07/irans-uranium-gambit-is-a-dangerous-negotiating-tactic/

[7] “The Effects of the Re-imposition of US Sanctions on Food Security in Iran,” International Journal of Health Policy and Management, 2020, https://www.ijhpm.com/article_3947.html

[8] Analysis: Khamenei’s election agenda may slow revival of Iran nuclear deal, Reuters, May 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/khameneis-election-agenda-may-slow-revival-iran-nuclear-deal-2021-05-24/

[9] Iran leader says Israel a ‘cancerous tumor’ to be destroyed, AP News, May 2020, https://apnews.com/article/ali-khamenei-israel-persian-gulf-tensions-tehran-jerusalem-a033042303545d9ef783a95222d51b83

[10] Iran nuclear deal: Israel warns Iran as talks progress, BBC News, June 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57546290

[11] What The Election Of A New Hard-Line President In Iran Means For The Nuclear Deal, National Public Radio, June 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/06/21/1008627162/irans-new-hardline-president-ebrahim-raisi-will-present-new-challenges-for-biden



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