Western powers have exhibited caution in adopting a strong position against Tehran, mainly due to apprehensions about escalating tensions in the Middle East, particularly following the October 7 Hamas attack and the subsequent Israeli military campaign against Hamas in Gaza. As Iran continues to expand its nuclear program and diminishes its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), concerns rise. A confidential IAEA report suggests that Iran has accumulated enough uranium enriched to 60% to theoretically construct three bombs.
At the latest IAEA Board of Governors meeting, the United States and the E3 group (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) voiced criticism of Iran's uncooperative stance. Despite recognizing that Iran's actions are unprecedented, they stopped short of passing a binding resolution. A senior diplomat captured the essence of the impasse, stating, "The picture is pretty bleak, but the fact at the moment is that there is no appetite to provoke a reaction in Iran in the context of the war in the Middle East."
This cautious approach, influenced by geopolitical factors, carries the risk of misinterpreting Iran's nuclear intentions, potentially leading to miscalculations by the United States or Israel. Iran's reluctance to reinstall IAEA monitoring equipment and its decision to revoke accreditation from several agency inspectors, including those from France, Germany, and Russia, has severely impacted the IAEA's ability to monitor its nuclear activities. IAEA head Rafael Grossi described this as a "very serious blow."
Kelsey Davenport, director for Nonproliferation Policy at the Arms Control Association, warned that the IAEA Board's reluctance, while understandable, risks undermining nonproliferation norms by not holding Iran accountable for its nuclear progress.
The global community is especially worried about the potential expansion of the Gaza conflict to Lebanon, primarily involving the Iran-backed Hezbollah and other Iranian-supported groups like the Houthis in Yemen, who have recently intensified their attacks against Israel. Western nations' hesitation to confront Iran has seemingly empowered Tehran, which benefits from the backing of Moscow and China.
While the United States seeks to keep diplomatic channels with Iran open regarding the nuclear deal, the conflict in Gaza and current sanctions complicate engagement with Iran, a primary supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah.
Iran's strong diplomatic and media support for Hamas and the "Axis of Resistance," along with its urging Islamic nations to cut ties with Israel and the U.S., is part of its longstanding goal to position itself as a leader in the Muslim world. This stance may lead to further complexities in Iran's dealings with Western countries, potentially hindering the revival of the JCPOA and efforts to de-escalate regional tensions.