Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke at a media briefing in September and argued that he, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Donald Trump are "completely aligned on our 'maximum pressure' campaign" against Iran. Mnuchin added that the policy is "absolutely working."
The policy is absolutely not working. NBC News reported this morning on the latest evidence that Iran has become more dangerous, not less, in the wake of the American president walking away from the international nuclear agreement with our longtime adversary. In this case, Iran announced that Tehran, ignoring the terms of the JCPOA agreement that Trump blew up, is now "operating double the amount of advanced centrifuges than was previously known."
The decision to operate 60 IR-6 advanced centrifuges means that the country can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as the first-generation IR-1s allowed under the accord.The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. Salehi also said Tehran was working on a prototype centrifuge that's 50 times faster than those allowed under the deal.By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one-year time limit that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon, if it chose to pursue one.
Circling back to our coverage from September, there's no great mystery behind the broader dynamic: Trump took a policy that was working as intended and abandoned it for reasons he struggled to explain. Iran responded, as expected, by accelerating the nuclear program that the JCPOA policy had kept in check.
As Colin Kahl, an Obama administration veteran, recently explained, "Trump's 'maximum pressure' campaign was supposed to induce Iran to scrap its nuclear program (which was already contained by the 2015 nuclear deal). Instead, Trump's actions have incentivized Iran to restart it, creating a completely unnecessary crisis."
Trump's plan – to the extent that his whims can be credibly characterized as a "plan" – has been to use sanctions to force Iran to the negotiating table in order to reach a deal to limit its nuclear program. Once that happens, Trump believes, he can offer Iranian officials economic incentives to entice them into an agreement.
Or put another way, the Republican hopes to do what Barack Obama already did several years ago, striking a deal that Trump rejected.
It's never made any sense, and as Tehran's latest announcement makes clear, the White House's strategy is clearly failing.