In recent weeks, extensive mediation activity has been going on behind the scenes between the United States and Iran, the purpose of which is the revival of the nuclear agreement (JCPOA).
In a recent declaration cited by Le Figaro, the Iranian Foreign Minister confirmed the continuation of diplomatic endeavors and negotiations. Contact is maintained between the European Union's Enrique Mora and the Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri, while the Iranian Foreign Minister remains in communication with Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief. Furthermore, there are verbal exchanges and messages between Iran and the United States through intermediaries in the region and European channels.
In this framework, White House Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk visited Oman (May 8) to reinstate some form of a nuclear agreement with Iran. In addition, Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tariq Al Said visited Tehran and met on May 29 with Leader Khamenei. Oman played a central role in signing the original nuclear agreement and is considered a reliable mediator between Iran and the US. Following the visit, Iran released a Danish citizen and two Austrian citizens detained in Iran after a Belgian citizen and French citizens were previously released.
Any breakthrough in the talks between Iran and The US on the nuclear issue will probably involve releasing American citizens detained in Iran, Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargiand Morad Tahbaz.
According to confidential assessments circulated to IAEA member states ahead of the June 5th meeting, Iran has increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU) by 27% over the last three months. Reuters reported that Iran's 60% enriched uranium stockpile had increased to 114.1 kg.
Meanwhile, a recent analysis conducted by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a prominent Washington-based think-tank founded by former weapons inspector David Albright, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) quarterly inspection report in February revealed some alarming findings. Based on this report, Albright's team estimates Iran can produce enough Weapon Grade Uranium (WGU) to build a nuclear weapon within 12 days. This could be achieved by utilizing only three advanced centrifuge cascades and half its existing stock of 60%-enriched uranium.
Even more concerning is that if Iran were to exhaust its entire supply of highly enriched uranium, it could potentially produce WGU for an additional four nuclear weapons within a month. Furthermore, Iran could acquire enough material for two more weapons within approximately two months by utilizing its supply of low-enriched uranium (less than 5% enrichment). General Mark Milley, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed similar concerns during his testimony to Congress on March 29. :
"Iran is taking actions to improve its capabilities to produce a nuclear weapon, should it decide to do so, while continuing to build its missile forces. From the time of a national decision, Iran could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon in approximately 10-15 days, and it would only take several months to produce an actual nuclear weapon. The United States remains committed, as a matter of policy, that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. The United States military has developed multiple options for our national leadership to consider if or when Iran decides to develop a nuclear weapon".
The IAEA had reinstalled some of its monitoring equipment, which Iran requested to be uninstalled in 2022. The reinstallation of the monitoring equipment included real-time enrichment monitoring of the production of 60% enriched uranium at both Natanz and Fordow and the reinstallation of surveillance cameras at a centrifuge manufacturing site in Esfahan.
Iran also allegedly resolved one of three remaining cases raised by the IAEA- a case related to the Abadeh site in southern Iran. In September 2019, Israel revealed the existence of an undeclared nuclear weapons development site in Abadeh. The site was discovered after Israel acquired an extensive archive of documents relating to Iran's nuclear program. By the time Israel revealed the site, Iran had already begun to sanitize it, destroying evidence of its activities. Nevertheless, it is believed to have been used to research and develop nuclear weapons components, including high-explosive lenses and uranium enrichment centrifuges.
The other two sites are Varamin and Turquzabad. The IAEA's remaining questions about the sites are one of the remaining issues plaguing efforts to revive the JCPOA.
Iran continues manipulating the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and exploiting the United States' desire to return to the JCPOA under the "less for less" formula.
Iran's geo-strategic position has significantly improved, especially since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the rekindling of relations with Saudi Arabia facilitated by China. Iran has managed to navigate the US-imposed sanctions and forcefully suppress last year's protests, which have yet to subside completely. If a return to some form of the nuclear agreement does occur, it will constitute a blow to proponents of regime change in Iran. Iran also expresses satisfaction with the Gulf States' tactical distancing from the United States, highlighting the decline of US policy in the Middle East. Tehran even urges the Gulf countries to distance themselves from their alliance with Israel.
Iran keeps a close watch on the internal developments within Israel, drawing inspiration and encouragement from the weekly demonstrations and statements made by former military officials who have expressed their refusal to engage in reserve service if what they call the "legal coup" persists. Furthermore, the Iranian leader has recently revised his prediction from 2015, suggesting that Israel's existence will be short-lived and cease to exist even before the previously estimated 25-year timeframe, citing the current situation in Israel as evidence to support this claim.
Recent statements from top Israeli political and military officials have raised concerns about the rapid progress of Iran's nuclear program. They emphasize their determination to thwart it, even if it means acting alone, and criticize IAEA's capitulations towards Iran's outstanding issues and undeclared nuclear activity.
The United States still believes that the primary means to curb Iran's nuclear program is through diplomatic channels, and it remains unclear whether the US would support an Israeli military action against Iran or provide Israel with necessary assets such as aerial refueling or bombs to attack Iran.
The question remains when or if the Iranian leadership will decide to break out and manufacture nuclear bombs. However, experts such as David Albright suggest Iran can produce nuclear weapons relatively quickly, almost "on demand."