Iran is proceeding with its nuclear programme in the mistaken belief that the world is too preoccupied with the global health crisis to pay attention to its violations of the 2015 nuclear pact, experts told Al-Mashareq.
In a confidential report distributed to member countries that was seen by the Associated Press, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran has nearly tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium since November.
The stockpile puts Iran within reach of the amount needed to produce a nuclear weapon, the watchdog said, noting that at the same time, Iran has been refusing to answer questions about three possible undeclared nuclear sites.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on January 5th announced it would no longer comply with limits on uranium enrichment under its 2015 nuclear pact, following the assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
The world is watching Iran's actions, especially those related to increased uranium enrichment and the potential development of a weapon, Iranian dissident writer and political analyst Ali Narimani told Al-Mashareq.
"Many countries, particularly the US, still have the Iranian nuclear file at the top of the priority list," he said, considering the grave dangers that would arise if Iran succeeds in developing a nuclear weapon.
Iran's declaration "opened the door for confrontation with the UN", he said.
Non-compliance with the nuclear agreement and preventing IAEA delegates and experts from visiting enrichment plants and nuclear reactors will expose Iran to further international sanctions, Narimani said.
This would push the country's fragile economy to the breaking point, he added.
"The authorities in Iran are taking advantage of the fear and panic prevailing in all Iranian provinces over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to make this move and take this hostile stance," he said.
"Had this decision been made under other circumstances, it would have caused an uptick in demonstrations in the Iranian street," he said.
'Trying to blackmail Europe'
The Iranian economy is at its lowest point, Syrian economist Mahmoud Mustafa told Al-Mashareq, using a pseudonym out of fear for his safety.
This is partly due to the sanctions imposed on it over its nuclear programme and other actions, "foremost among which is its destabilisation of the region and attacks on many countries", he said.
Iran is trying to blackmail European countries that until recently were still "trying to cool down the issue, relieve the tension and prevent the resort to non-political solutions", he said.
"This blackmail aims to force European countries to ease the restrictions imposed on Iran under the sanctions or provide it with financial and investment packages to rescue the country from its economic predicament," he said.
Iran has seen a drop in general exports, of petroleum in particular, coupled with a low credit rating from major international companies and a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklisting, Mustafa said.
This has transformed the Iranian economy "from being one of the most prominent in the world to being a marginal economy with no confidence in it by the global banking system".
Rouhani's statement can therefore be seen as a "message" to European countries, he said, threatening it will continue to expand its nuclear programme unless it receives financial help.
Resources diverted to IRGC
"Iran's economy has collapsed and the Iranian people are living beneath the poverty line," Tehran native Hossein Shayan told Al-Mashareq.
Matters were made more difficult by the recklessness with which the authorities dealt with the spread of the coronavirus, he said.
Instead of directing their resources to help the Iranian people and provide them with health services, he noted, "they are still spending money on the plans drawn up by IRGC commanders".
Renewed nuclear programme activity and uranium enrichment operations have "drained and continue to severely drain the Iranian economy", Shayan said.
If the Iranian regime was at all concerned about the people, it would have announced "a freeze on all nuclear and foreign military activities to rescue the Iranian economy and lift the people out of their miserable situation", he said.