Middle East

Iran’s Nuclear Violations: JCPOA and Beyond

Written by Emily B. Landau

In May 2019, Iran indicated that it would begin to violate the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. This would take the form of a series of incremental and escalatory steps, to be announced every 60 days, in response to the withdrawal of the Trump administration from the nuclear deal a year earlier, and the subsequent imposition of harsh sanctions. The first breach was an increase in Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU), beyond the 300 kg limit set in the nuclear deal, a step confirmed by the IAEA in early July. Iran then announced that it would take the next step and begin enriching beyond the 3.67% level allowed by the deal, to 4.5%, and in early September a senior Iranian official said that Iran had begun activating advanced centrifuges that spin much faster than the ones they were using previously. The fourth step, taken in November, is the most serious so far: Iran announced that it would begin enriching uranium at the heavily fortified underground enrichment facility at Fordow. With every step taken, the regime has emphasized that the violations are reversible and that Iran will return to the terms of the deal if the US lifts all sanctions.

What should be made of these JCPOA violations? First, while the steps have been taken in response to US sanctions, Iran is consistently directing its message to the Europeans, whom the Iranians accuse of not fulfilling their promise to protect Iran’s interests under the deal. Indeed, Iran is not projecting that it wants to leave the deal or that it wants the deal to collapse; rather, the idea is to have sanctions lifted by pressuring the Europeans to do more to help.

Second, the specific violations that Iran has chosen to commit expose dangerous flaws in the JCPOA that were apparent from the start. Iran would not be able to hike up its stockpile of LEU, or enrich to higher levels, if enrichment had not been allowed and even legitimized by the deal. Regarding advanced centrifuges, again, Iran was allowed under the terms of the deal to work on research and development on a full range of these centrifuges, meaning that a decision to operate them was only a short step away.

Read more at The Institute For Security Studies

About the author

Emily B. Landau

Emily Landau is a senior research fellow at INSS and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program, leading its research, conference outreach, and mentorship projects.

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