A Redline for Iran?

Eric Brewer and Nicholas L. Miller explore Biden's potential red lines when it comes to the expansion of the Iranian nuclear program.

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By Eric Brewer and Nicholas L. Miller

Iran’s expanding nuclear program and foot-dragging at the negotiating table have imperiled U.S. plans to revive the Iran nuclear deal, forcing Washington to consider alternatives to diplomacy. In June, President Joe Biden promised that Iran will “never get a nuclear weapon on my watch.” Last month, Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, stated that the United States would not “sit idly by” if Iran’s nuclear advances get “too close for comfort,” echoing his prior comments that “all options” would be considered if diplomacy fails.

This is not the first time the United States has put all options on the table to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. Indeed, every U.S. president since George W. Bush has done so. For most of this time, the United States has had the luxury of not needing to think too concretely about what might trigger the military option because Iran’s program was many months if not years away from having material for a bomb. But that luxury is gone. Iran’s nuclear program is far more advanced today as a result of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018. Iran is already quite close to the nuclear threshold. Its “breakout time”—meaning the amount of time Tehran would need to make enough enriched uranium for a bomb—is probably as short as a month right now—and getting shorter. According to international inspectors, Iran is enriching uranium to 60 percent (a hair’s breadth away from the 90 percent usually used for nuclear weapons), using larger numbers of advanced centrifuges that enrich faster, and carrying out experiments with uranium metal that would help with weaponization. Although Iran would probably still need a year or two to produce a missile-deliverable weapon, those activities would be much harder to detect and stop because they aren’t tracked by inspectors. 

Given this perilous situation, the Biden administration should think carefully about which Iranian nuclear advances are truly unacceptable to the United States and worth threatening military force to prevent. Put simply, what are Washington’s redlines?…

Read more at: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iran/2021-12-23/redline-iran?utm_source=twitter_posts&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tw_daily_soc

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