Iran’s Fifth Step Away from Nuclear Deal

On January 5, Iran announced its fifth step away from its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Tehran said it would not abide by restrictions on uranium enrichment capacity, percentage of enrichment, stockpile size of enriched material, and research and development. But Foreign Minister Zarif implied that Iran would continue to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor its nuclear program. He also left the door open to returning to full compliance if sanctions are lifted.   

The leaders of Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement on January 6 calling for de-escalation in the Middle East after the United States killed an Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, in IraqThe European powers also urged Iran to “reverse all measures inconsistent with the JCPOA.”  

France warned that it was considering launching the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism given Iran’s repeated violations of the deal. The mechanism could lead to the snapback of U.N. sanctions, which could kill the agreement.  

Russia and China appeared to be less concerned with the near-term proliferation risk posed by Iran. Their representatives highlighted Iran’s willingness to comply with the agreement under the right conditions. 

Iran did not specify its next steps on enrichment, so the potential impact on its “breakout time” – the time required to amass enough weapons-grade fuel for a weapon – was not clear. The Arms Control Association’s Kelsey Davenport and Julia Masterson outlined potential scenarios. 

The ambiguity of the announcement gives Iran considerable latitude to calibrate its actions. Iran could choose to remain on its current trajectory by slowly installing additional IR-1 machines and enriching uranium to less than five percent. Similar to Iran’s earlier steps, this will slowly and transparently erode the 12-month breakout time, or the time to produce enough nuclear material for one bomb, established by the JCPOA. The action would also be reversible, in line with Iran’s earlier violations, to keep open the option of returning to compliance with the accord. 

Alternatively, if Iran wants to increase pressure more quickly, it could quickly install and begin operating its more advanced IR-2s and remaining IR-1s. There is also the possibility of further violating the provisions of the JCPOA that Tehran breached in 2019. Iran exceeded the limit on uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent uranium-235 in July by slightly increasing levels to 4.5 percent. Resuming enrichment to 20 percent uranium-235, for example, could significantly shorten the breakout time. Iran enriched to the 20 percent level before negotiations on the JCPOA and officials have threatened to return to it. 


Britain, France and Germany 

Joint statement from President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Johnson 

We have condemned the recent attacks on coalitions forces in Iraq and are gravely concerned by the negative role Iran has played in the region, including through the IRGC and the Al-Qods force under the command of General Soleimani. 

There is now an urgent need for de-escalation. We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and responsibility. The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped.  

We specifically call on Iran to refrain from further violent action or proliferation, and urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with the JCPOA. 

Jan. 6, 2020, in a joint statement 



Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian 

"The latest decisions mean that the Iranians can now enrich uranium without any constraints, with the quantities they want, in the areas they want, and with the number of centrifuges they want." 

"The repeated violations leave us today asking about the long-term validity of this accord. We are considering launching the dispute mechanism resolution ... we will take a decision in the coming days." 

—Jan. 6, 2020, in an interview with BFM TV 


European Union 

Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell Fontelles 



Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

The Iranian government’s decision announced on January 5 to continue the suspension of its voluntary commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme is the result of accumulating contradictions within the deal, which all the remaining signatories should continue working to settle. We see no other effective formula for saving the nuclear deal. 

We believe that the preservation of the comprehensive arrangements and their sustainable implementation should remain the main goal for all the partners. We call on all the countries involved to be guided by these considerations and not to create additional tension and uncertainty with regard to the JCPOA, which is a global achievement. 

We have taken note of Iran’s official statement to the effect that the latest suspension is the final one. We expect the IAEA to confirm this. 

It is even more important that Tehran has proclaimed readiness to resume its full commitment to the JCPOA as soon as its legitimate concerns are lifted regarding other signatories’ failure to comply with the deal’s conditions. It is true that there are omissions in this regard, which have been put on the agenda more than once. We hope that the much needed solutions will be eventually found. Much depends on our European colleagues in this respect. 

Iran’s statement that it no longer considers itself to be bound by any restrictions under the JCPOA should be viewed in the context of the related developments, beginning in May 2018 when the United States unilaterally withdrew from the deal. The subsequent massive US attacks on the JCPOA and the countries that continued to abide by the arrangements, which were sealed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, have seriously complicated the implementation of the nuclear deal. These are the root causes for the current JCPOA crisis. All members of the international community are fully aware of this, which means that responsibility for the crisis cannot be shifted onto Iran. 

In itself, Tehran’s refusal to abide by the JCPOA restrictions on the development of its uranium enrichment facilities and technology does not pose the threat of nuclear proliferation. All of Iran’s actions have been taken in close interaction with and under permanent control of the IAEA. We have taken note of Iran’s stated commitment to cooperation with the IAEA and its readiness to maintain this cooperation at the level that is unprecedented when it comes to the scale and depth of IAEA inspections. 

We would like to point out that the suspension is reversible and only concerns those JCPOA elements that exceed the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the IAEA Safeguards Agreement. Iran accepted them in 2015 in order to reach a compromise and based on the balance of interests and the principle of reciprocity under the deal. Iran is not to blame for the disruption of this balance. 

Russia remains fully committed to the JCPOA and its goals and is ready to continue working towards their achievement. The challenges which the international community has come across during the implementation of the comprehensive arrangements call for political will and a collective response, primarily by the main JCPOA signatories. We have no doubt that when these challenges are checked Iran will see no reason to avoid compliance with the agreed commitments. We urge all our partners to continue on the path set out in the JCPOA and to create conditions for the resumption of its sustainable implementation. 

—Jan. 6, 2020, in a statement 


Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna 



Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang 

“China noted Iran's announcement of taking the fifth step to cut its JCPOA commitments. As we also noted, according to Iran, that would be its last step to reduce commitments. Iran will continue its cooperation with the IAEA and resume its compliance with the deal under certain circumstances. We believe that despite its reduction in commitments due to external reasons, Iran has demonstrated a restrained attitude and its political will to implement the JCPOA effectively and in full. It has not violated its obligations under the NPT. 

“At present, the situation in the Middle East is becoming more complex, posing grave challenges to the JCPOA. The US has unilaterally withdrawn from the JCPOA, ignored international law and its international obligations, imposed maximum pressure on Iran, and obstructed other parties in keeping their commitments. Such practices are the root cause of current tensions and should be the first thing for all parties to consider if we want to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue objectively and fairly. All parties to the JCPOA should remain calm and rational, stick to the right direction of a political and diplomatic settlement, resolve differences on the implementation of the deal through consultations under the JCPOA Joint Commission, stay focused, avoid taking any measure that may complicate the situation, and strive to preserve the JCPOA. 

“I want to stress that the hard-won JCPOA, endorsed and adopted by the UN Security Council, is an important outcome of multilateral diplomacy, an important pillar for the international non-proliferation system and peace and stability in the Middle East, and a significant part of the international order based on international law. The international community should have the bigger, long-term picture in mind, firmly uphold the JCPOA, and work for amelioration in the Iranian nuclear issue and the situation in the Middle East. China will continue to remain in close communication and coordination with relevant parties and make tireless efforts to this end.” 

—Jan. 6, 2020, in a press conference