Iran announced over the weekend that it would begin to enrich uranium above the level allowed by the multilateral nuclear deal that it signed in 2015. It is a disturbing development, but one that must be put in context: The cap on enrichment is far below the amount needed to produce a nuclear weapon. Just as important, Tehran is responding to U.S. withdrawal from an agreement that it was honoring and Washington’s subsequent attempts to increase pressure on it in ways that violate the deal. Tehran and Washington are competing to control the narrative, get the attention of the other government and return to negotiations.
When the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal between the five members of the United Nations Security Council, Germany, the European Union and Iran, in May 2016, the U.S. complaint was not that Tehran was violating the agreement — there was agreement that Tehran was abiding by its terms — but rather that the deal itself was a bad one. The U.S. government thought that it could force Iran to return to the negotiating table to conclude a more sweeping agreement.
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