A deep sense of frustration emanated from Tehran this week, as U.S. President Joe Biden’s election promise of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal doesn’t appear close to materializing.
For the first time, the normally patient regime implicitly threatened to throw caution to the wind and advance towards a nuclear bomb.
Iranian Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi evoked imagery from the animal kingdom to deliver this message.
“Our nuclear program is peaceful and the fatwa by the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] has forbidden nuclear weapons, but if they push Iran in that direction, then it wouldn’t be Iran’s fault, but those who pushed it. If a cat is cornered, it may show a kind of behavior that a free cat would not,” he said.
In Washington, officials expressed concern over the threat, mainly because it didn’t appear to be made out of context. The impression is that the Iranians are incredibly anxious and are beginning to realize that as far as the nuclear project is concerned, Biden, who isn’t former President Donald Trump, doesn’t tweet or make threats publicly, also won’t necessarily follow in former President Barack Obama’s footsteps.
A series of measures and decisions made by the American president in recent days could indicate that he prefers to stop Iran through diplomatic channels, but isn’t rushing to make concessions. He rejected outright the Iranian proposal to lift sanctions before the regime ceases its violations of the nuclear deal, and also opposed the idea of simultaneous concessions from both sides.
The president vowed that before he signs a new deal, he will consult with Congress, with America’s partners in Europe and its allies in the Middle East, without naming Israel and Saudi Arabia, and ordered the confiscation of a Greek tanker smuggling oil out of Iran.
Moreover, the fact that Biden didn’t mention Iran at all in his first foreign-policy speech was a likely signal that he intends to give his point man on Iran’s nuclear program, Robert Malley, the time he needs to thoroughly examine the odds of reaching a binding and longer-term deal that also addresses Iran’s ballistic-missile program and regional subversion.
The Iranians, however, are pressed for time, because their economy is suffering immensely under the crippling sanctions imposed by Trump. To up the pressure on the Biden administration to quickly return to the nuclear deal, the Iranian intelligence minister issued his thinly veiled threat, while Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that “the existing window is closing” for the Americans to try a different approach.
Iran is warning that in 10 days it will implement its parliament’s decision to restrict the International Atomic Energy Agency’s access to its nuclear facilities, and that following the presidential election in June, “there won’t be anyone left to talk to in Iran,” because a conservative candidate will likely win.
Outwardly, Washington is trying to show that it is unalarmed by the Iranian threats. Even the recent Israeli intelligence assessment that Iran is two years away from producing a bomb theoretically gives the Biden administration the time it needs to secure better, more durable agreements with Iran.
With that, American and European security officials warn that every day the Iranians continue enriching uranium at 20 percent, together with their declared intent to restrict IAEA inspectors—who on Wednesday provided even more proof of Iranian violations—only brings Tehran closer to acquiring an atomic weapon and reduces the chances of signing a new, binding agreement.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.