Iran: We could ramp up our nuke program "in hours"

Iran could restart its nuclear weapons program “in hours,” newly re-elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani declared today. Rouhani’s speech, broadcast live from the country’s parliament, came in response to the passage of new sanctions targeting Tehran’s continued pursuit of ballistic missiles and human-rights abuses. The sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and other entities violate the nuclear deal signed two years ago, and Rouhani warned that it won’t take long for Iran to get right back to where it left off on nukes:

Iran could abandon its nuclear agreement with world powers “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday.

“If America wants to go back to the experience (of imposing sanctions), Iran would certainly return in a short time — not a week or a month but within hours — to conditions more advanced than before the start of negotiations,” Rouhani told a session of parliament broadcast live on state television.

Iran says new sanctions that the United States has imposed on it breach the agreement it reached in 2015 with the United States, Russia, China and three European powers in which it agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of most sanctions.

Of course, that threat only works if one believes that Iran stopped its development of nuclear weapons. To this day, suspected nuclear-weapons development sites are off-limits to the IAEA and others. After getting pallets of cash from the US, its other assets unfrozen, and trade normalized with other Western nations, Iran has little incentive to adhere to any agreements with the US.

Still, that also means they have little incentive to rip up the deal, too, at least in terms of foreign policy. Donald Trump has been threatening to declare Iran non-compliant and to reimpose sanctions directly related to nuclear-weapons development, but US allies show little appetite for reopening that issue. They also likely won’t trust Trump enough to follow his lead — not unless Iran does something stupid and acts first to abrogate the deal. Even with their mistrust of Trump, other Western nations might feel that they have no choice but to isolate Iran all over again.

Right now, the only possible pressure on Rouhani to jump the gun would be domestic politics. However, Rouhani already won the election in May and won’t have to run again for four years. Plus, even if the sanctions and the continued compliance with the nuclear deal are unpopular with the people, the people don’t actually get that much to say about it, thanks to the mullahcracy in Tehran. The real threat may be from the IRGC, which got hit with the most significant sanctions from Congress, and whose businesses might get seriously impacted by them. But the IRGC takes its cues from the mullahs too, and if the mullahs didn’t want Rouhani in nominal charge of the government, he wouldn’t have won the election.

For now, this sounds like a lot of empty talk, but it may not last long. Both Rouhani and Trump are practically begging to have the other throw them in their preferred briar patches. The question will be which one is patient enough to have the other throw first.