For the moment, Khamenei says that the planned increase in uranium hexafluoride will keep the country “within the framework” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. A report by UPI regarded this as evidence that the supreme leader is committed to salvaging the deal in partnership with the European signatories – Britain, France, and Germany – as well as with allies Russia and China, following the American pullout. But the same report notes that Khamenei previously established a series of preconditions for talks with the Europeans over this matter, suggesting that if he is interested in keeping the JCPOA in effect, he is interested in doing so strictly on his terms.
The supreme leader’s eight conditions were specifically delineated by IranWire more than a week earlier, in a report that credited him with returning to his role as “bad cop” in the 2015 negotiations. At that time, Khamenei established a number of supposed “red lines,” thereby allowing negotiators and so-called moderate President Hassan Rouhani to argue that their hands were tied in certain areas and that they were limited to offering different or lesser compromises in order to prevent Khamenei from pulling them out of the talks.
This argument was never seriously tested, so it cannot be said with certainty whether Khamenei would have actually walked away without the desired relief from nuclear-related sanctions. Similarly, it cannot be said with certainty that he will allow the JCPOA to collapse in its entirety if his conditions are not met. In this case, however, the supreme leader’s resolve will almost certainly be put to the test since some of the given conditions are recognizably non-starters.
As an example, IW says of Khamenei’s demand for European resistance to any and all American economic pressures, “European countries cannot fight American sanctions against Iran. And they are unwilling to engage in arguments with the US over the matter. In fact, it is not farfetched to believe that European countries could impose their own sanctions on Iran in connection with violations of human rights.”
But even though Khamenei’s demands may be unworkable in whole or in part, they are clearly indicative of the same commitment to anti-Western rhetoric that guided his publicly begrudging acceptance of the JCPOA in the first place. His recent announcement of expanded enrichment can easily be seen as playing the same role and giving the impression that his regime will not be forced into compromise but will only accept it on his terms.
That message, a near-constant feature of Iranian officials’ public statements, was given an especially loud outlet on Monday, when the Islamic Republic marked the 29th anniversary of the death of its founder, Ruhollah Khomeini. Mehr News Agency published excerpts from Khamenei’s speech on that occasion, in which he made extensive use of the word “enemies” to refer to the United States and its European allies while declaring them untrustworthy and praising Khomeini’s legacy of resistance to foreign power.
The supreme leader’s speech provided an opportunity to reiterate one red line that had long been held in common by him and by President Rouhani, a supposed political rival. “The enemy’s plot for Iran to abandon its missile program is a dream that will not come true,” he said according to Mehr. He added that “Iran will attack ten times more if attacked by the enemy.”
The ongoing expansion of the Iranian ballistic missile program was cited by President Trump as a major justification for his withdrawal from the JCPOA. This, he said, constituted a violation of the “spirit” of the deal, both because of the weapons’ potential application as delivery systems for a nuclear warhead and because of the provision of those weapons to other enemies of the US and its allies, such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have repeatedly fired missiles into Saudi Arabian territory.
For Trump and other harsh critics of the Iranian regime, these sorts of activities, along with the sort of militarist rhetoric that Khamenei displayed in his speech on Monday, are evidence of malign regional ambitions that make Iran untrustworthy even in the context of the nuclear deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for one, insisted that that agreement would only “pave the way” to an Iranian nuclear weapon by allowing Iran to recoup its financial resources while extending its regional influence, and then rush the production of a nuclear weapon at a later date.
Netanyahu has remained a staunch opponent of the JCPOA throughout the two and a half years since its implementation, but Reuters indicated on Tuesday that his attention may at last be shifting to other instances of Iran’s malign behavior. Israel and Iran have already come into conflict in recent months over these other matters, specifically the establishment of an Iranian foothold in Syria against the backdrop of its seven-year civil war. But now the sources of that conflict may be moving closer to the center of Netanyahu’s outreach to European partners.
The Reuters report detailed the Israeli Prime Minister’s meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. In it, he urged the French government to follow the Trump administration’s lead in taking on an assertive stance with the Islamic Republic, but he did not ask Macron to pull out of the JCPOA, believing that it is already on course to collapsing on its own. Khamenei’s intransigent position on negotiations with Europe may be a factor in Netanyahu’s confidence.
The differently-focused Israeli appeal will presumably find a more receptive audience in Europe and specifically in France, where officials have already expressed serious concern about Iran’s regional role. Macron has expressed agreement with Trump about the need to limit Iran’s ballistic missile activities. And in direct talks with his American counterpart, the French president has even personally urged President Trump against a plan to withdraw American troops from Syria, specifically because doing so would open the way to even greater influence there.
Netanyahu had seized upon aspects of this topic on Monday, as well. At a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he insisted that Iran’s regional activities could create yet another Middle Eastern refugee crisis. Merkel expressed general agreement with the outlined security concerns, according to Yahoo News.
The effect of Netanyahu’s advocacy on the issue has evidently been to only inflame Khamenei’s defiance and violent rhetoric. As Townhall reported, the Iranian supreme leader began the week by tweeting that the Jewish state is “a cancer” that must be “removed and eradicated.” The report pointed to this as the latest evidence that “the dangerous Iranian regime has been ramping up hostilities against the United States and Israel ever since” the US pulled out of the nuclear agreement a month earlier.