On December 28, Iran took a key step towards implementation of the nuclear deal by exporting more than 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Russia. Tehran must shrink its low-enriched uranium stockpile to 300 kg by Implementation Day, which could come as early as January. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the move. “The shipment today more than triples our previous 2-3 month breakout timeline for Iran to acquire enough weapons grade uranium for one weapon,” he said.
UPDATE: On January 7, Kerry said, “We are days away from implementation if all goes well.” On January 11, Fars News reportedthat Iran had removed the core of the Arak heavy water reactor and filled it with cement, one of the final steps required to start implementation. But the state news agency, IRNA, issued a contradictory report shortly afterwards. An unnamed senior official from Iran's atomic energy agency said that the reactor would be decommissioned in the coming days, but that the core’s removal had not yet been completed. In a speech, President Hassan Rouhani said he was hopeful that sanctions would be lifted within the next few days.
An Update on Progress Toward Implementation Day of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)
Five months after we, the European Union, and our P5+1 partners finalized the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, I remain so proud of our team in achieving what was truly one of our most important accomplishments of 2015 – ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful going forward. As we get closer to Implementation Day, the next major milestone in the JCPOA, I am pleased to report that we have seen important indications of significant progress towards Iran completing its key nuclear commitments under the deal.
Implementation Day will come when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifies that Iran has completed all of these nuclear commitments, which increase Iran’s breakout time to obtain enough nuclear material for a weapon to one year, up from less than 90 days before the JCPOA.
One of the most significant steps Iran has taken toward fulfilling its commitments occurred today, when a ship departed Iran for Russia carrying over 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium materials. The shipment included the removal of all of Iran’s nuclear material enriched to 20 percent that was not already in the form of fabricated fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor. This removal of all this enriched material out of Iran is a significant step toward Iran meeting its commitment to have no more than 300 kg of low-enriched uranium by Implementation Day. The shipment today more than triples our previous 2-3 month breakout timeline for Iran to acquire enough weapons grade uranium for one weapon, and is an important piece of the technical equation that ensures an eventual breakout time of at least one year by Implementation Day.
A number of commercial transactions made this shipment possible, with many countries playing important roles in this effort. Russia, as a participant in the JCPOA and a country with significant experience in transporting and securing nuclear material, played an essential role by taking this material out of Iran and providing natural uranium in exchange.
Kazakhstan contributed significantly to this effort as well, providing some of the natural uranium material that Iran has received in exchange for its enriched material, and helping to facilitate the shipment. Kazakhstan’s contribution builds on its hosting of early rounds of the P5+1 talks that led to the successful conclusion of the JCPOA. I spoke with Foreign Minister Idrissov today to convey the thanks of the United States for all of these efforts. Azerbaijan also played a key role in facilitating the shipment.
I also want to extend the sincere and full gratitude of the United States to the Kingdom of Norway, a country long committed to non-proliferation and a country that matches that commitment with actions. In this vitally important case, Norway contributed critical funding to the commercial transactions involved in reducing the amount of enriched uranium in Iran, and also provided expertise in managing some of these transactions. These efforts represent a significant contribution by Norway to a safer world, and the collaboration between the U.S. and Norway in this endeavor continues a long history of cooperation on non-proliferation of nuclear material. I spoke today with Foreign Minister Brende to thank him personally for his leadership in this area.
The IAEA now must verify that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is 300 kg or less, as well as confirm that Iran has met all of its other key nuclear steps in the JCPOA before Implementation Day can occur. These steps include removing much of Iran’s uranium enrichment infrastructure, which we understand Iran is moving quickly to achieve. Iran also must remove and render inoperable the existing core of the Arak Reactor, effectively cutting off Iran’s plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon. We will continue to consult closely with both the IAEA and other P5+1 members as we move toward verification by the IAEA that Iran has met all of its key nuclear commitments.
The IAEA is also continuing its own preparations to implement the extensive monitoring and verification regime of Iran’s entire nuclear program, as specified in the JCPOA. On December 15, the IAEA’s Board of Governors passed a consensus resolution to turn the Agency’s efforts to full implementation of the JCPOA and the enhanced monitoring and verification tools it provides. By Implementation Day, all of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities, including its uranium mills and centrifuge production facilities, will be under the JCPOA-required expanded monitoring. The IAEA will also employ modern technologies, such as electronic seals, in these monitoring efforts and will have an increased number of inspectors on the ground in Iran.
The United States remains fully committed and on track to implement its sanctions related commitments provided for under the JCPOA, once we reach Implementation Day, as well as all of our other commitments under the deal. Our team is working hard to be prepared for Implementation Day, and when that day comes, the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions per the JCPOA will take effect. It is not the policy of the United States to prevent permissible business activities with Iran.
As we move ever closer to the implementation of the JCPOA, we will remain vigilant to ensure that its implementation achieves exactly what we set out to do from the very beginning of these negotiations, to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is and always remains exclusively for peaceful purposes.
Press Briefing Remarks
On the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, I talked this morning with Foreign Minister Zarif, not only on the subject of the implementation, but also on the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the region and Iran. But the foreign minister made it clear to me they intend to complete their obligations with respect to implementation day as rapidly as possible, and we are currently engaged ourselves in making certain that we’re prepared to move on that day. And I think it could come, without being specific, sooner rather than later.
On the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, may I point out we have already seen very significant results. Iran has shipped overseas most of its stockpile of enriched uranium, and with that – it shipped out of Iran in one fell swoop, one shipment on a ship, a Russian ship that will take those materials and eradicate them, transition them, transform them from the potential of any kind of bomb manufacturing. With that, Iran literally shipped out its capacity currently to build a nuclear weapon.
We went from two months of potential breakout time, two to three months, to nine months overnight. And in the next days with the completion of their tasks, we will meet our target at being more than a year of breakout time.
Now, as implementation day approaches, obviously it’s our task to continue to ensure that Iran lives up to its commitments while building on our own commitment at the same time to address the questions of Iran’s activities, whether it’s missile activities or other activities in the region. And we will continue to do that, I can assure you, as well as continue to press for the return of Americans who have been unjustly detained.
—Jan. 7, 2016, in a press briefing