Iran Accelerates Nuclear Program, but Offers Path Back From Confrontation

While Iran’s actions seem contradictory, that is often the nature of Iranian signaling to the United States.

The nuclear program, which suffered an explosion at its centrifuge-production facility in July that has been widely attributed to Israel, is under the control of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has said that acquiescing to the United States in the 2015 deal was a mistake. His hard-line supporters, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, opposed the negotiation of the deal.

Mr. Zarif negotiated that accord, and remains one of its biggest defenders in Tehran. But the government he serves, under President Hassan Rouhani, faces an election next year and could be swept out of office, amid criticism by Iranian hard-liners that the government was duped five years ago, and has seen none of the promised economic benefits of agreeing to give up its nuclear capability.

After the nuclear agency issued a report last Wednesday, showing slow but steady progress in uranium enrichment by Iran, Mr. Trump asked his top aides for options, including possible military strikes. He was dissuaded from striking by a combination of Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the acting secretary of defense, Christopher C. Miller, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

They warned that a military strike on Natanz — by missile, bombs or cyberattack — could lead to rapid escalation.

In response to Mr. Trump contemplating an attack on Iran’s nuclear facility, a spokesman for Iran’s government, Ali Rabiei, said on Tuesday that Iran would retaliate with “full force.”

But the issue does not appear settled, and the Iranian decision to insert fuel into the advanced centrifuges, called the IR-2 and the IR-4, could easily be seen as a provocation.