In its quarterly report, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said that Iran had violated the 2015 nuclear deal by increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also reported that its inspectors had found traces of uranium “at a location in Iran not declared to the agency.”
The IAEA confirmed Iran’s four breaches of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) including:
• In July, Iran surpassed the limits on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
• A week later, it increased enrichment from 3.67 percent to 4.5 percent.
• In September, it began using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium.
• In November, Iran began enriching uranium at the Fordo facility.
Iran’s breaches of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) did not pose near-term proliferation threats, according to Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association. “However, in combination, Iran’s violations over the past six months are slowly decreasing Iran’s so-called breakout, or the time it would take to produce enough fissile material for one bomb. When the JCPOA was fully implemented, the breakout was 12 months,” she noted.
Iran made the incremental and calibrated moves to pressure European countries to do more to offset the negative impact of U.S. sanctions, which were reimposed in November 2018. “Tehran’s continued compliance with the intrusive IAEA monitoring and verification measures put in place through the JCPOA indicates that Iran is not racing to build a bomb but is trying to apply more pressure on the remaining parties to the deal to deliver on economic benefits agreed to in the JCPOA,” wrote Davenport.
On November 7, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Tehran of extorting the international community into accepting its nuclear program and behavior in the region. On November 11, France, Germany, Britain, and the European Union issued a joint statement saying they were “extremely concerned” by Iran’s latest moves. “Iran’s action is inconsistent with the JCPOA’s clear provisions on Fordow and has potentially severe proliferation implications,” the statement said. “We affirm our readiness to consider all mechanisms in the JCPOA, including the dispute resolution mechanism, to resolve the issues related to Iran’s implementation of its JCPOA commitments.”
The following are reactions by U.S. and European officials and a rundown of Iran’s four breaches.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
"The United States is deeply concerned with the issues the IAEA raised at a special meeting of its Board of Governors. If true, the declarations upon which Secretary Kerry anchored the JCPOA are – once again – proven to be both false and fraudulent. The IAEA announced it detected evidence of potential undeclared nuclear materials in Iran. Iran has no plausible explanation for the detected materials and must explain where these nuclear materials came from and where they are now. We also learned earlier this week that Iran had detained an IAEA inspector. This is an outrageous and unwarranted act of intimidation.
"The United States fully supports the IAEA’s monitoring and verification activities in Iran, and we are alarmed at Iran’s lack of adequate cooperation. IAEA inspectors must be allowed to conduct their critical work unimpeded. We call on Iran to immediately resolve all open issues with the IAEA and to afford Agency inspectors the privileges and immunities to which they are entitled."
—Nov. 8, 2019, in a statement
"Iran’s latest nuclear escalations reflect the regime’s intentions all along: to extort the international community into accepting its violence and terror while it undermines the sovereignty of its neighbors. Members of the international community who are rightly concerned with Iran’s latest attacks and provocations should imagine how Iran would behave with a nuclear weapon. The United States will never allow this to happen.
"Iran’s expansion of proliferation-sensitive activities raises concerns that Iran is positioning itself to have the option of a rapid nuclear breakout. It is now time for all nations to reject this regime’s nuclear extortion and take serious steps to increase pressure. Iran’s continued and numerous nuclear provocations demand such action."
—Nov. 7, 2019, in a statement
Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, United Kingdom and the E.U. High Representative
"The Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom and the High Representative of the European Union are extremely concerned by the latest announcements that Iran is restarting uranium enrichment activities at the Fordow facility, as confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its 11 November report.
"Iran’s action is inconsistent with the JCPoA’s clear provisions on Fordow and has potentially severe proliferation implications. It represents a regrettable acceleration of Iran’s disengagement from commitments under the JCPoA.
"We urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with the JCPoA, including exceeding the maximum allowed low enriched uranium stockpile and the maximum allowed enrichment limits, and not respecting the limits set by the JCPoA on nuclear R&D activities. The IAEA has confirmed in its latest reports, including in its latest quarterly report of 11 November, that Iran is carrying out all of these measures.
"We underline the importance of the full and effective implementation of the JCPoA by all sides and confirm our determination to continue all efforts to preserve the agreement, which is in the interests of all. Iran must return to full implementation of its commitments under the JCPoA without delay.
"We also call upon Iran to fully co-operate with the IAEA within the framework of the JCPoA and in accordance with all its nuclear obligations, in particular its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol. In this regard, we are deeply concerned by the lack of timely co-operation by Iran and by the recent incident reported to the Board of Governors at its extraordinary meeting on 7 November.
"We reiterate our support for the IAEA and recall our confidence in the Agency’s impartial and independent monitoring and verification of Iran’s nuclear commitments.
"We affirm our readiness to consider all mechanisms in the JCPoA, including the dispute resolution mechanism, to resolve the issues related to Iran’s implementation of its JCPoA commitments. We are in contact with the other JCPoA participants in this regard.
"The E3/EU have fully upheld their JCPoA commitments, including sanctions-lifting as foreseen under the JCPoA. It is now critical that Iran upholds its JCPoA commitments and works with all JCPoA participants to de-escalate tensions. We stand ready to continue our diplomatic efforts to create the conditions for, and to facilitate, the de-escalation of tensions in the Middle East, in the interest of preserving international peace and security. These efforts are however made increasingly difficult by Iran’s latest actions."
—Nov. 11, 2019, in a joint statement
First Breach - July 1, 2019
Under the nuclear deal, Tehran was allowed to stockpile only 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium. It was expected to sell or exchange any surplus. But on May 3, 2019, the United States vowed to sanction any country or company that helped Iran sell or exchange surplus, which left it with few alternatives to remain in compliance with the JCPOA. In retaliation, Tehran announced it would no longer honor the limit on its stockpile. On July 1, it accelerated the rate of production fourfold.
“We had previously announced this and we have said transparently what we are going to do,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on July 1. “We consider it our right reserved in the nuclear deal.” Iran also vowed to increase its uranium enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels if Europe failed to provide economic relief promised in the JCPOA.
The breach did not pose an immediate proliferation threat, according to the Arms Control Association’s Kelsey Davenport. Iran would need to produce at least 1,050 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium —nearly four times its stockpile at the time—to develop a nuclear weapon. If Iran produced enough fissile material for a bomb, it would still need to convert the gas into powder and then fabricate it into a metallic form to create the fissile core of a nuclear warhead. The uranium would then have to be fitted with explosives and integrated into a delivery system, such as a ballistic missile. The strict monitoring mechanisms set up in the JCPOA would also provide early warnings if Tehran decided to build a bomb.
Iran could quickly reverse the step by diluting the excess enriched uranium, which would return it to a natural level—and which is not restricted in the JCPOA. Tehran could undo the break in days or weeks.
Second Breach - July 8, 2019
On July 8, Iran increased enrichment from 3.67 percent--a level suitable for fueling nuclear power reactors--to 4.5 percent.
Today, Iran is taking its second round of remedial steps under Para 36 of the JCPOA. We reserve the right to continue to exercise legal remedies within JCPOA to protect our interests in the face of US #EconomicTerrorism. All such steps are reversible only through E3 compliance.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) July 7, 2019
The slight breach, by itself, did not pose a short-term proliferation risk. Enrichment was still well below weapons-grade, which is more than 90 percent enriched uranium. It was also significantly lower than the 20 percent enrichment that Iran had reached in 2010, before the JCPOA in 2015. It would also still take Iran at least a year to amass enough weapons-grade fuel for a weapon; before the deal, the so-called “breakout time” was about two to three months.
Click here for more information on the first and second breaches.
Third Breach - September 25, 2019
On September 25, Iran again breached the JCPOA by installing advanced centrifuges—20 IR-6s and 20 Ir-4s—to enrich uranium at the Natanz facility near Isfahan. The IR-6 centrifuge can enrich uranium 10 times faster than the first-generation IR-1, according to Iranian officials. The JCPOA had limited Iran to using just over 5,000 IR-1s. Centrifuges cascade together to produce fissile material. A report by the IAEA also verified that Iran had installed a cascade of 164 IR-4 and 164 IR-2m centrifuges.
Iran’s third breach of the agreement was more significant than the previous two. It accelerated the production of fissile material and decreased the breakout time needed to develop a nuclear weapon. With advanced centrifuges, Tehran could start stockpiling enriched material for an eventual bomb. “Under current circumstances, the Islamic Republic of Iran is capable of increasing its enriched uranium stockpile as well as its enrichment levels and that is not just limited to 20 percent,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said. “We are capable inside the country to increase the enrichment much more.”
On November 4, Iran began operating 30 new IR-6 centrifuges, doubling its number of the advanced machines. The chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Iran was operating 60 of the centrifuges, which are some 10 times more efficient than the IR-1s allowed under the JCPOA. The announcement coincided with the 40th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by students.
Salehi said that Iran went from producing about 450 grams (1 pound) of low-enriched uranium a day to 5 kilograms (11 pounds). He said Iran’s stockpile had grown beyond 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds). The JCPOA had limited Iran’s stockpile to 300 kilograms (661 pounds).
Fourth Breach - November 7, 2019
On November 5, President Rouhani announced that Iran would start injecting gas into 1,044 centrifuges at Fordo in one day. The heavily fortified facility, built inside a mountain, was intended to be a research facility under the JCPOA, not an active site. The IR-1 centrifuges at Fordo had been spinning but were not enriching uranium. Salehi, Iran’s nuclear chief, specified that that the centrifuges would enrich uranium up to five percent at Fordo.
Iran’s 4th step in reducing its commitments under the JCPOA by injecting gas to 1044 centrifuges begins today. Thanks to US policy and its allies, Fordow will soon be back to full operation. https://t.co/Mpkk9d0BIp— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) November 6, 2019
Rouhani emphasized that Iran could reverse course on its nuclear program if Europe finds a way to shield Iran from U.S. sanctions. “We should be able to sell our oil,” Rouhani said. “We should be able to bring our money” into the country.
On November 6, Kamalvandi clarified that uranium gas would only be injected into 696 of the centrifuges and that the remaining 348 would produce stable medical isotopes. Iran injected uranium gas into the centrifuges early on November 7.
In a report dated November 11, the IAEA confirmed that Iran increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to 372.3 kilograms (or about 821 pounds), beyond the 202.8 kilogram (about 447 pounds) limit under the JCPOA. It also reported that its inspectors had found traces of uranium “at a location in Iran not declared to the agency.”