Iran is now incrementally walking away from the limits imposed on it in the nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—exceeding the 300 kilograms of low enriched uranium it can have on hand and now enriching above the 3.67 percent allowed under the terms of the understanding. Don’t be surprised if it either starts to install its advanced centrifuges or begins to operate more than the 5,061 older centrifuges it is permitted for enrichment. Iran is not racing to produce weapons-grade material, but make no mistake, it is shrinking the time it will need to have a breakout capability.
The Trump administration’s decision to end the waivers it had given eight countries to continue to buy Iranian oil, in late April, put the Iranians in a real bind. The country’s oil exports plummeted from roughly a million barrels a day to roughly 300,000. The resulting loss of revenue added dramatically to the already significant economic pressures caused by the American reimposition of sanctions—and the reality that multinational corporations felt the need to respect the sanctions lest they lose the ability to do business in the United States or get financing from American banks.
Iran is now answering the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy by placing maximum pressure on Donald Trump. Reducing its breakout time—and emphasizing the Trump administration’s inability to restrain it—is one way that Iran is raising the pressure. Tehran is also ramping up its threatening actions in the region. Saudi civilian airfields, oil pipelines, and petroleum pumping stations are being targeted every few days by the Houthis from Yemen with Iranian-provided drones and missiles; six ships on two different occasions have been sabotaged with limpet mines south of the Strait of Hormuz; bases in Iraq where American forces are located have been hit by rockets fired by Shia militias armed and trained by the Iranians; Israeli security officials tell me that Islamic Jihad—likewise supported by Iran—is trying hard to provoke a conflict with Israel in Gaza; and, of course, an American drone was shot down by the Iranians.