A New Nuclear Deal with Iran?

Since May 2018, President Trump has sought a new and broader deal with Iran that would cover its controversial nuclear program as well missile tests, regional intervention, support for terrorism, and human rights abuses. French President Emmanuel Macron has launched behind-the-scenes diplomacy to define the parameters of a new deal, while preserving the 2015 pact in the meantime. The following are comments from Iran and the six world powers that were party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and a timeline of key diplomatic developments.

 

United Kingdom

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

“Whatever your objections to the old nuclear deal with Iran, it’s time now to move forward and do a new deal.”

—Sept. 23, 2019, to Sky News in New York City

“I think there's one guy who can do a better deal ... and that is the president of the United States. I hope there will be a Trump deal.”

—Sept. 23, 2019, to NBC News
 

Iran

President Hassan Rouhani

“What we believe in is that the JCPOA is not a maximum form of agreement. It is what was impossible at its time. What was attainable at its time and agreed upon by all involved parties. And it must be implemented. Now, if we wish to take a step above and beyond the JCPOA, that is possible. But the proper foundation would lie upon the full and exact implementation of the JCPOA first, which means we must all be united in the equal implementation of it. But at the same time, we can talk and conduct talks about actions above and beyond. And we made it very specific in which fields or on which subject matters we were willing to talk. Vis-a-vis the missiles, it is to everyone's benefit for them to not ask us because they would end up owing us much much more than fathomable because the Americans and the Europeans have been sending and are sending so many weapons, and missiles, and missile systems to the region. If they wish to even start talking about missile activity, the first thing they should do logically is stop the distribution and sale of those weapons to the region.

“Perhaps, in the same way that they are selling weapons to our neighbors, they should make them available for sale to us as well. Those limitations within the JCPOA according to the U.N. agreement is coming to an end in a short period of time. So, again I do think they should not touch upon this topic because, as I said, they would end up owing us much due to their activities and their positions. But about other issues, I think we can talk to one and other. The limits and limitations of those talks we have spoken about the details of those talks with Europeans, and those talks have been transferred to the American side as well.”

—Sept. 26, 2019, during a press conference
 

“On behalf of my nation and state, I would like to announce that our response to any negotiation under sanctions is negative. The government and people of Iran have remained steadfast against the harshest sanctions in the past one and a half years ago and will never negotiate with an enemy that seeks to make Iran surrender with the weapon of poverty, pressure and sanction. 

“If you require a positive answer, and as declared by the leader of the Islamic Revolution, the only way for talks to begin is return to commitments and compliance. 

“If you are sensitive to the name of the JCPOA, well, then you can return to its framework and abide by the UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Stop the sanctions so as to open the way for the start of negotiations. 

“I would like to make it crystal clear: If you are satisfied with the minimums, we will also convince ourselves with the minimums; either for you or for us. However, if you require more, you should also pay more. 

“If you stand on your word that you only have one demand for Iran i.e. non-production and non-utilization of nuclear weapons, then it could easily be attained in view of the IAEA supervision and more importantly, with the fatwa of the Iranian leader. Instead of show of negotiation, you shall return to the reality of negotiation. Memorial photo is the last station of negotiation not the first one.”

—Sept. 25, 2019, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly
 

If sanctions were removed, Iran would be open to discussing “small changes, additions or amendments” to the 2015 nuclear deal. 

—Sept. 24, 2019, to reporters in New York
 

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

 

 

AMANPOUR: And actually, additionally, it seems that you have prepared, according to what has been written in "The New Yorker" quoting you, that are prepared to offer some more detail about the existing Iran nuclear deal. For instance, the Iranian parliament would enshrine the idea of the supreme leader's fatwa against nuclear weapons, enshrine it in law.

ZARIF: Yes.

AMANPOUR: That you would agree to sign on to the Additional Protocol, which is most intrusive inspections several years earlier than stated. Is that correct? Had you offered that?

ZARIF: Yes, we did offer that and that offer is still on the table, provided that the United States would also do what they're supposed to do in 2023 now, and that is to lift the sanctions though U.S. Congress. We are prepared, if President Trump is serious about permanent for permanent, permanent peaceful nuclear program in Iran and permanent monitoring of Iranian nuclear facilities, as you said, through the most intrusive IAEA inspection mechanism that exists, in return for what he has said he is prepared to do and that is to go to Congress and have this ratified, which would mean Congress lifting the sanctions and --

AMANPOUR: Is there any chance that Presidents Rouhani and Trump could meet at this General Assembly? President Trump has been tweeting. He sent out another tweet saying, I have no plans but, you know, nothing is ever off the table but maybe but maybe not. Are you saying that President Rouhani in this heightened atmosphere of tension would still be willing here at the General Assembly to meet with President Trump?

ZARIF: Provided that President Trump is ready to do what is necessary.

—Sept. 22, 2019, to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour
 

“If President Trump, for instance, wants Iran to never develop nuclear weapons he can do something tomorrow. According to JCPOA, eight years after the implementation day or the conclusion day- one of the two, probably in October 2023--we’re supposed to do two things. Iran is supposed to ratify the additional protocol and the United States Congress… is supposed to lift the sanctions. Now, if he wants more for more, we can ratify the additional protocol and he can lift the sanctions. He has said that he will take any measure to Congress. Fine. Lift the sanctions and you'll have the additional protocol…tomorrow…”

“One substantial move is on the table. There are other substantial moves that can be made.  …The Iranians want a dignified deal. Not just any deal..."

—July 18, 2019, to journalists in New York City

 

France

President Emmanuel Macron

“We have to get back around the table to have a frank and demanding discussion on the nuclear activity, Iran’s regional activities, the ballistic missile program, but also to have a larger approach on what sanctions are.”

“I hope we will be able to make progress in the coming hours.”

—Sept. 24, 2019, to reporters
 

“This morning, President Rouhani said that he was prepared to meet any political leader in the interest of his country.  And that’s what I told Minister Zarif. And this is what I mentioned to President Rouhani on the phone as well: that if he would agree to a meeting with President Trump, that my conviction was that an agreement can be met.  We know the terms, we know the objectives, but we have to just now sit around the table and make that happen. So I hope that in the next few weeks, based on our discussions, we will be able to achieve them.

“The meeting that we just mentioned between President Rouhani and President Trump, myself, and the partners who have a role to play in nuclear negotiations, would also be fully involved in these negotiations. And I think that this meeting is very important. And the last few days have clarified the situation. A lot of messages have been conveyed.  A lot of work has been done with our — between our ministers.

“Of course, I want to be very cautious and very modest.  But I think that this is going to lead to bring an end to escalation and reaching a suitable solution to this.

“We need to be sure that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon and that there will be no flare-ups in the region. And so, what we discussed very concretely was to see how we could improve very considerably, or really, in fact, build a new nuclear agreement with Iran.

“President Trump was very clear, saying that we would need a much longer timeframe for it; that there needed to be surveillance of many more sites. And this is how we can build a much further-reaching agreement in terms of our security demands.

“And on the other hand, we need to convince the Iranians to go in that direction.  And we can do that if we give them economic compensation of some form, if we make some movement in terms of lines of credit or reopening certain economic sectors.

“I can’t tell you, publicly, more about this because anything I will tell you in detail will jeopardize the conversations we’re going to have.  But this is basically what we’re discussing on the basis on our initiative. There is also a Japanese initiative. I’m talking in total transparency with the President, but we agreed on the strategic goal and I want us to go further in this framework and to make proposals.

“At a given point in time, there will have to be a meeting between the American and the Iranian presidents. And I would wish that in coming weeks such a meeting take place. France will play a role together with the other signatories who are our partners in the G7. But after that, we’ll need to create the necessary conditions because we’ll have the necessary visibility for this agreement to be signed and sealed and for this meeting between two presidents to take place.”

“I want this meeting to happen and I want there to be an agreement between the United States and Iran. And France will play the role that it’s meant to play, together with the United Kingdom, with Germany, and all of the other signatory powers and the permanent members of the Security Council.”

—Aug. 26, 2019, to reporters after the G7 summit

 

United States

President Donald Trump

“I think that Iran is a country of tremendous potential.  We’re not looking for leadership change.  We’re not looking for that kind of change. This country has been through that many times before.  That doesn’t work.

“We’re looking for no nuclear weapons, no ballistic missiles, and a longer period of time.  Very simple.  We can have it done in a very short period of time.”

“If the circumstances were correct or right, I would certainly agree to that [meeting with Rouhani].  But in the meantime, they have to be good players. You understand what that means. And they can’t do what they were saying they’re going to do because if they do that, they’re going to be met with really very violent force. We’d have no choice. So I think they’re going to be good. I really think they’d like to.”

“And I will tell you, I have very good feelings about it. I think that we’re going to do something. It may not be immediately, but I think, ultimately, we’re going to do something. As I said, Iran is a much different country than it was two and a half years ago.  And we can get that back, and I’d encourage it.”

—Aug. 26, 2019, to reporters after the G7 summit

 

 

Timeline of Diplomatic Developments

Aug. 2: Foreign Minister Zarif, in comments to The New Yorker, outlined ideas for how to end the crisis over his country’s nuclear program. He said that Iran’s parliament could codify the supreme leader’s fatwa (religious decree) forbidding the production or use of nuclear weapons. Zarif said Iran could move up the ratification of the Additional Protocol (due to occur in 2023), which would allow more intrusive international inspections forever. In return, he suggested that Trump could have Congress lift sanctions on Iran

Aug. 23: The day before the G-7 summit convened, Macron held talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Paris on how to salvage the JCPOA. “France had presented some suggestions and we presented some suggestions about how to carry out (the nuclear deal) and the steps that both sides need to take,” said Zarif. He added that the talks were productive but emphasized that the nuclear deal cannot be renegotiated. 

 

Aug. 24: Trump arrived in Biarritz, France ahead of the G-7 summit. Macron informed Trump about his discussions with Zarif. A senior French official said Macron decided to invite Zarif back to France after G-7 leaders reached “points of agreement” on Iran during a dinner. Trump said Macron asked him for approval before extending the invitation. 

Aug. 25: Zarif spoke with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian for three hours on the sidelines of the G-7 summit. He also met with British and German officials. Macron joined for the final half hour. But Zarif did not meet with any U.S. officials, according to a White House official.

Aug. 26: At a joint press conference with Trump, Macron said a “roadmap of sorts” for a meeting between Trump and Rouhani had been set after his discussions with Rouhani and Zarif. Macron outlined two proposals: The United States ease economic pressure on Iran—by lifting sanctions or creating a “compensation mechanism”—in exchange for Iran’s full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Since June, Iran has taken two steps away from its obligations under the deal. In France, Trump ruled out lifting U.S. sanctions, but he said the United States might support “a short-term letter of credit or loan” to help Iran’s economy. Trump said a loan could come from “numerous countries.”

In Iran, President Rouhani expressed his openness to a meeting. “And if I knew that I was going to have a meeting with someone that would (lead to) prosperity for my country and people's problems would be resolved, I would not hesitate,” he said. “Even if the odds of success are not 90 percent but are 20 percent or 10 percent, we must move ahead with it. We should not miss opportunities.” Rouhani said Iran would leverage both diplomacy and military power in dealing with the United States and seemed to criticize hardliners who think negotiations will not benefit Iran. “Those who think that only one of these instruments is enough are wrong,” he said.

The following week, Western and Iranian sources confirmed that France had proposed extending a $15 billion credit line to Iran, if the United States at least tacitly approves. Questions remained about who would finance it. That amount of money would account for about half of the revenue Iran would usually expect to earn from one year’s worth of oil sales. It would be a significant boost to the struggling economy.

Aug. 27: In a televised speech, Rouhani said that Iran is ready to hold talks. “But first the U.S. should act by lifting all illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on Iran.” He called on Washington to demonstrate good faith ahead of potential negotiations. “Washington has the key for positive change ... So take the first step ... Without this step, this lock will not be unlocked.” He also warned that Iran could continue to curb its compliance with the JCPOA if its economic interests are not guaranteed. Rouhani, like many other Iranian officials, reiterated that Iran would never seek nuclear weapons because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa (religious decree) in the 2003 banning them.

Sept. 1: Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, accompanied by economists and central bank officials, traveled to Paris to discuss the French proposal that would allow export of some of Iran’s oil. The talks lasted for 10 hours, according to Iranian state media. Talks also took place in Vienna, according to Iran’s foreign ministry.

Sept. 2: Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Abbas Mousavi, warned that Iran would take a third step in reducing its commitments to the JCPOA if Europe could not guarantee Iran’s economic interests. It breached two aspects of the JCPOA in July by surpassing limits on its low-enriched uranium stockpile and enriching uranium above the 3.67 percent limit. Iran had threatened to ramp up its nuclear program by September 6 if Europe did not make progress. “It is meaningless to continue unilateral commitments to the deal if we don’t enjoy its benefits as promised by the deal’s European parties,” Foreign Minister Zarif warned in a press conference in Moscow with his Russian counterpart.

Sept. 4: Trump told reporters that “anything is possible” when asked about a meeting with Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly opening. “We’re going to see what happens. They want to talk. They want to make a deal,” he said. “I very much appreciate President Macron’s involvement but we’re not dealing through President Macron, we’re dealing with people directly.”

U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook announced a reward of up to $15 million for any person who provides information that could disrupt the financial operations of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force. “Today’s announcement is historic. It’s the first time that the United States has offered a reward for information that disrupts a government entity’s financial operations,” said Hook. He also outlined Treasury designations of more than 25 entities and individuals and 11 vessels involved in what he described as an IRGC “oil-for-terror network” that illicitly shipped oil to Syria and elsewhere.

In a tweet, Zarif called the reward offer “outright blackmail.”

Rouhani announced Iran’s third step in rolling back its commitments to the JCPOA in a speech late at night on state television. “The Atomic Energy Organization [of Iran] is ordered to immediately start whatever is needed in the field of research and development, and abandon all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development,” he said. 

Sept. 5: Zarif took to Twitter again to blast U.S. policy. 

 

Sept. 6: Iran’s foreign ministry announced that it would no longer adhere to the JCPOA’s limitations on nuclear research and development. Tehran had previously warned that it would begin developing more advanced centrifuges so that it could enrich uranium faster. 

During a trip to London, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that “Iran is inching toward that place where we could have talks and hopefully it’ll play out that way.” At a press conference later in the day, he said that he based his assessment on “some of the comments made by the Iranians in the wake of the G-7.”

Sept. 7: Iran announced that it had begun using an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges and an array of 20 IR-4 centrifuges to enrich uranium. The IR-6 and IR-4 centrifuges are 10 and five times, respectively, as fast as the IR-1s. Under the JCPOA, Iran was only allowed to use 5,060 IR-1s. 

Sept. 8: Two diplomatic sources told Reuters that the IAEA found uranium traces at a site that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu alleged was a “secret atomic warehouse.” The uranium was not highly enriched but called Tehran’s transparency into question. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton demanded a report as soon as possible.

 

Sept. 10 – In a tweet, Secretary Pompeo accused Iran of not fully cooperating with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.  

 

Trump tweeted that he fired his national security advisor, John Bolton, because he “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions.” Bolton countered on Twitter that he resigned. One of the last disagreements was reportedly over whether to ease sanctions on Iran to bring Tehran to the negotiating table. Bolton had opposed the idea during a meeting in the Oval Office the day before his departure was announced. An outspoken critic of the nuclear deal, he had advocated for regime change in Tehran and use of military force against the Islamic Republic before taking office in April 2018. 

President Trump issued an executive order to update terrorism designation authorities. “The Order enhances our ability to use powerful sanctions to target terrorists and their supporters and deprive them of their financial, material, and logistical support worldwide,” said Trump. The Treasury Department designated 15 individuals and entities under the new authorities, including the IRGC Qods Force.

At a press conference to discuss the executive order’s implications, Secretary Mnuchin said Trump “is happy to take a meeting [with President Rouhani] with no preconditions. Secretary Pompeo, when asked if he could foresee a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations, said “sure.” 

Sept. 11 – In a tweet, Zarif expressed relief over Bolton’s exit from the Trump administration. But he condemned the executive order and associated sanctions on Iran’s IRGC. 

 

At the White House, reporters asked Trump if he would consider suspending sanctions to meet with the Iranians. “We’ll see what happens,” he said

Secretary Mnuchin told reporters again that Trump was prepared to meet with Rouhani with no conditions. When asked about the French proposal to extend a $15 billion credit line to Iran, he acknowledged “direct conversations” with the French. “They absolutely understand they would need waivers from the U.S., and that's not something we’re contemplating at the moment.”

Sept. 14 – The United States accused Iran of facilitating drone attacks on two major Saudi oil facilities. "Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He added that Tehran had “pretended to engage in diplomacy” with the United States.  

Iran denied any responsibility for the attacks. On September 15, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said blaming Iran would not end the regional conflict. "Having failed at max pressure, Sec Pompeo is turning to max deceit,” Zarif tweeted. 

 

Sept. 15  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned U.S. interference in the region. Rouhani said the United States was running a "war operation" by "supporting the UAE and Saudi Arabia, transferring weapons, and providing intelligence." 

President Trump walked back previous offers to negotiate with Tehran without preconditions. He blamed the “Fake News” for the reports, which he called “incorrect." 

 

The United Nations called for de-escalation and diplomacy following the drone attacks. “The Secretary-General condemns Saturday’s attacks on Aramco oil facilities in the Eastern Province in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia claimed by the Houthis”, and “calls upon all parties to exercise maximum restraint, prevent any escalation amid heightened tensions, and to comply at all times with International Humanitarian Law,” the United Nations said in a statement.  

Sept. 16  Iran ruled out the possibility of a meeting between President Rouhani and President Trump at the United Nations General Assembly the following week. “Neither is such a plan on our agenda nor will such a thing happen,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi. Trump had previously said he was open to the idea of meeting with Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. summit.  

But Trump was optimistic when asked whether diplomacy with Iran had been exhausted. “No, it’s never exhausted. ... You never know what’s going to happen. ... I know they want to make a deal. ... At some point it will work out,” he told reporters.  

Sept. 23 – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came out in support of a new nuclear deal with Iran. “Whatever your objections to the old nuclear deal with Iran, it’s time now to move forward and do a new deal,” he told Sky News in New York City. 

In an interview with CNN, Zarif repeated a few ideas for ending the nuclear crisis that he had conveyed to journalists in July. He said that Iran’s parliament could codify the supreme leader’s fatwa (religious decree) forbidding the production or use of nuclear weapons. Zarif said Iran could move up the ratification of the Additional Protocol (due to occur in 2023), which would allow more intrusive international inspections forever. In return, he suggested that Trump could have Congress lift sanctions on Iran.  

President Macron and President Rouhani met for than 90 minutes in New York. Neither leader took questions after their discussion. “The [French] president said that in the current situation, the path of de-escalation was narrow, but more necessary than ever, and that the time had come for Iran to take it,” said Macron’s office in a statement

Sept. 24 – In his U.N. address, President Trump condemned Iran’s leaders for supporting terror, destabilizing the region and cheating their citizens. "Iran’s leaders will have turned a proud nation into another cautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks upon a crusade for personal power and riches," he said in his address to the U.N. General Assembly. Trump also encouraged the international community to isolate the Islamic Republic. "No responsible government should subsidize Iran’s bloodlust," he said. "As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted. They will be tightened."

 

Sept. 25 - In a speech before the U.N. General Assembly, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would not commit to nuclear negotiations before the United States removed sanctions. "If you are sensitive to the name of the JCPOA, well, then you can return to its framework and abide by the UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Stop the sanctions so as to open the way for the start of negotiations," Rouhani said. He added that the United should "pay more" for an agreement that goes behind the 2015 nuclear deal.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced additional sanctions on “certain Chinese entities for knowingly transporting oil from Iran.” In a speech at the United Against Nuclear Iran Summit, Pompeo said Iran’s leaders respond to “strength and not to supplication.” He added that the United States would apply even greater pressure if Tehran continued to destabilize the region.  

Sept. 26 – An IAEA report revealed that Iran had further breached the 2015 nuclear deal by using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium.  Tehran had constructed additional advanced centrifuges other than the IR-1 model permitted in the JCPOA for research purposes.  The new advanced centrifuges allowed Tehran to increase enriched uranium at the Natanz site. “On 25 September 2019, the Agency verified that all of the (centrifuge) cascades already installed in R&D lines 2 and 3 ... were accumulating, or had been prepared to accumulate, enriched uranium,” the report said, according to Reuters.

In a press conference, President Rouhani reiterated that negotiations were possible if the United States were to lift all sanctions on Iran. He also hinted that Iran could “go beyond the JCPOA” but did not offer specifics. He stipulated that a broader agreement or extension of JCPOA terms would depend on the “full and exact implementation of the JCPOA first.” 

Rouhani implied that there was an understanding between Washington and Tehran about detainees, that if Iran were to release one person that the United States would reciprocate. He said that a Lebanese American with dual citizenship, Nizar Zakka, was released, but that the Americans “only tanked Iran.” He said Iran is already ready for some sort of exchange, “but the ball stands in America’s court.”

Media outlets published accounts of a last-minute push on September 24 to get Trump and Rouhani to meet that ultimately did not occur. “The real issue is sequencing,” a European diplomat said of U.S. and Iranian ultimatums. When asked if Trump offered sanctions relief to Rouhani, the diplomat said, “It depends on who you speak to.”
Iran’s supreme leader blasted the United States and European countries during a meeting with the Assembly of experts. He said they both were openly hostile to the Islamic Republic. He accused the Europeans of making empty promises, referring to their adherence to secondary U.S. sanctions on Iran. 

 

Sept. 27 – Rouhani, upon his return to Tehran, claimed that the United States had offered to lift all sanctions on Iran to start negotiations. But President Trump and the State Department denied Rouhani’s account. 
 

Oct. 2 – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he "agreed with the general framework” of a European nuclear deal plan. The proposal presented by French President Emmanuel Macron would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, secure Tehran’s support for regional peace, and immediately lift U.S. sanctions to allow Iranian oil exports. “The road is not closed, and the road is again open,” Rouhani said during a weekly cabinet meeting.  

Oct. 3 - French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned Iran and the United States that they had one month to begin negotiations for a new nuclear deal. “We consider that these initiatives, which didn’t succeed, are still on the table and it is up to Iran and the United States to seize (them) in a relatively short amount of time because Iran has announced new measures to reduce its commitments to the Vienna accord in November,” said Le Drian. 

Oct. 8 - The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced that 30 advanced IR-6 centrifuges would be operational within two to three weeks. IAEO chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran’s nuclear program had “returned to pre-JCPOA” levels. He noted that Tehran increased production of uranium enriched beyond 3.5 percent to five to six kilograms a day. 

Oct. 9 - Ayatollah Khamenei said Tehran would never pursue a nuclear weapon because its forbidden under Islamic law. “Building and stockpiling nuclear bombs is wrong and using it is haram (religiously forbidden) ... Although we have nuclear technology, Iran has firmly avoided it,” he said on state television. Khamenei had issued an oral fatwa (decree) banning nuclear weapons in 2003. 

Oct. 16 - Tehran said it would take a fourth step to reduce it commitments to the JCPOA by limiting international inspectors’ access to Iranian nuclear sites. Senior Iranian officials said the move would take place at the beginning of November. “We will certainly take the fourth step of reducing commitments to the JCPOA; Europeans have not honoured their part of the commitments and we have not seen any practical step taken by the other side,” said the spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s national security committee Hossein Naghavi-Hosseini. 

Oct. 28 Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the United States would increase economic pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program. “We will continue to ramp up, more, more, more ... I just came from a very productive working lunch with your team. They gave us a bunch of very specific ideas that we will be following up,” Mnuchin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a trip to Jerusalem. 

Oct. 29 - Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran was ready for discussions with the international community, including the United States, over its nuclear program. But Zarif said Tehran would not accept a “zero-sum game” that does not favor Iranian interests. He added that U.S. attempts to isolate Iran from any regional arrangement “will just not work.” Zarif was speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Qatar. 

Nov. 1 - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the United States to return to the 2015 nuclear deal. He criticized the latest round of U.S. sanctions and said “Iranians will never submit to bullying.” 

 

Nov. 3 - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tehran would not lift its ban on talks with the United States. He accused Washington of “aggressive, vicious behavior” and said Iran would never bow to American pressure. “Those who believe that negotiations with the enemy will solve our problems are 100 percent wrong,” he said on state television. 

Nov. 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)

Nov. 5 - President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran will 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. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Iran would begin enriching uranium to five percent at Fordo. 

Nov. 6 - Iran reportedly held International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector and confiscated her travel documents while she was at the Natanz nuclear facility. The 2015 nuclear deal allowed for periodic IAEA inspections to ensure Iran was adhering to regulations. The IAEA’s Board of Governors convened an emergency meeting on November 7 to discuss the matters.

Nov. 7 – Iran injected uranium gas into the centrifuges at FordoSecretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Tehran of extorting the international community into accepting its nuclear program and behavior in the region 

Nov. 11 –  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 IAEA also reported that its inspectors had found traces of uranium “at a location in Iran not declared to the agency.” 

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.” 

Nov. 12 - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized the European Union’s warning to Tehran over advancements of its nuclear program and accused the Europeans of failing to fulfill their commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Nov. 16 – Iran informed the IAEA that its stock of heavy water exceeded the 130 metric ton limit under the JCPOA. On the following day, the watchdog confirmed that the Heavy Water Production Plant was active and that Iran had 131.5 metric tons of heavy water. Heavy water is often used as a moderator to slow down reactions in nuclear reactors.  

Heavy water reactors can produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. But heavy water poses less of a proliferation concern than uranium because spent fuel from heavy water reactors must be reprocessed to separate the plutonium.   

Nov. 18  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States will cancel sanctions waivers for projects at Iran’s Fordow nuclear plant effective December 15. “The right amount of uranium enrichment for the world’s largest state sponsor of terror is zero ... There is no legitimate reason for Iran to resume enrichment at this previously clandestine site,” Pompeo said. The waivers had allowed foreign firms to work on Iran’s civil nuclear program without penalties. 

Nov. 27 French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that Paris would consider activating the dispute mechanism of the 2015 nuclear deal, which could eventually trigger U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic. “Every two months, there is another dent (in the deal by Iran) to the point where today we ask ourselves, and I’m saying this very clearly, about the implementation of the dispute resolution mechanism that exists in the deal,” he said. 

Dec. 2 - Rafael Mariano Grossi, the incoming chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said that he would take a “firm and fair” approach to Iran’s nuclear program. “An inspector is not a friend. He’s someone who comes and needs to ascertain the facts without bias, without agenda, in an objective and impartial way,” Grossi said. “This has to be done in firmness, but in fairness as well.” 

Dec. 3 Rafael Mariano Grossi, the incoming chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said the agency was still awaiting an explanation from Tehran after detecting uranium at an undeclared site. Israel and the United States had urged the International Atomic Energy Agency  to investigate a “secret atomic warehouse,” which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed during his 2018 U.N. address. “The process continues,” Grossi said. “We have so far not received an entirely satisfactory reply from them, but the exchanges continue.” 

Dec. 4 - President Rouhani said that Iran was still open to nuclear negotiations with the United States. He stipulated that Washington must first remove all sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic. “If America lifts the sanctions, we are ready to talk and negotiate, even at the level of heads of the 5+1 countries (major powers that were party to the 2015 nuclear deal),” Rouhani said. 

Dec. 6 - European countries condemned Iran’s violations of the 2015 nuclear deal but said the JCPOA was “still alive.” During the nuclear discussions, Tehran told European powers that it would continue to breach the deal until it served Iran’s interests. Iran had breached the JCPOA at least four times since July. 

Dec. 19 - President Rouhani said that Iran would begin to test a new type of advanced centrifuge. Use of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium would be a violation of the 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran had already breached the agreement five times since July 1. “We have had great achievements and today, Iranian new IR-6 centrifuges are working and models IR-9 are currently being tested.” 

Dec. 20 Britain, France and Germany were considering to trigger a dispute mechanism clause of the 2015 nuclear deal to put further pressure on Iran to abide by the agreement, according to diplomats. But the European powers would not rush to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran, which would reduce any chance to salvage the deal. 

2020 

Jan. 5: Iran announced that it would no longer abide by restrictions on uranium enrichment imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “The Islamic Republic of Iran, in the fifth step in reducing its commitments, discards the last key component of its operational limitations in the JCPOA, which is the limit on the number of centrifuges,” the government said. Tehran emphasized that all its actions were reversible and that it would return to the deal if sanctions would be lifted and its interests could be guaranteed. Iran said it would continue to cooperate with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. 

Jan. 8: Trump called on the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal – Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia – to withdraw from the agreement and work toward a new, more comprehensive one. “We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place,” he added. “The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer.” 

Jan. 14: Britain, France and Germany triggered the dispute resolution mechanism under the 2015 nuclear deal. It was the strongest action taken by European powers to enforce the agreement. If Iran does not return to compliance, the process could result in the reimposition of U.N. sanctions and ensure that an arms embargo does not expire in October 2020. The parties will have some 60 days to negotiate. 

Jan. 15: President Hassan Rouhani responded defiantly to Britain, France and Germany’s decision to trigger the nuclear deal’s dispute resolution mechanism. "In recent days I... made it clear to two European leaders that what we have done is reversible for one, and that everything we do regarding the nuclear issue is under the supervision of the IAEA,” Rouhani said. “If you take the wrong step, it will be to your detriment. Pick the right path. The right path is to return to the nuclear deal.” 

Jan. 16: President Rouhani announced that Iran had begun enriching more uranium now than before the 2015 nuclear deal. He did not detail how much more uranium was being enriched. Rouhani added that the country’s nuclear program was better off today than before the deal.

Jan. 25: Ali Asghar Zarean, an aide to Iran’s nuclear chief, said the country had accumulated 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, far more than the 202.8-kilogram limit under the JCPOA. The announcement suggested Tehran had significantly ramped up enrichment since November, when the IAEA said the stockpile was 372.3 kilograms.

Feb. 3: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran would bar U.N. inspectors from nuclear facilities if the country were faced with “a new situation.”  The warning came during a visit with the Josep Borrell, the new E.U. foreign affairs chief.

Rouhani added that Iran was willing to negotiate with European powers. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is still ready for interaction and cooperation with the European Union for resolving issues and, whenever the opposite side completely upholds their commitments, Iran will return to its commitments,” he said.

Feb. 4: The European Union said that it would avoid sending a dispute over the 2015 nuclear deal to the U.N. Security Council. “We are in agreement not to go directly to a strict time limit which would oblige (us) to go to the Security Council,” said E.U. foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell during a two-day trip to Tehran. After Britain, France and Germany triggered the deal’s dispute mechanism, the parties technically had a 15-day period to resolve issues with Iran. 

 

Garrett Nada, managing editor of The Iran Primer, contributed to this report. 

Photo Credits: Rouhani via President.ir; (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Tony Harp/Released)
Updated