Iran Continues to Prioritize its Illicit Nuclear Program


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Jan. 16 that there is “no limit” to the country’s enrichment of uranium. (AP)



Iran continues to violate its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) commitments while stonewalling international inspectors. Its actions have already reduced Iran’s “breakout time” to a nuclear weapon. Iran’s behavior calls into question regime claims that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.


On March 9, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi issued a statement on Iran’s continued lack of cooperation “related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities at three locations that have not been declared.”


The IAEA’s recent concerns follow numerous refusals by the Iranian regime to allow the IAEA to investigate sites where inspectors discovered previously undisclosed nuclear particles—a breach of Iran’s commitments under both the NPT and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).


What steps have Iran announced so far?


Iran has openly exceeded several of the limitations laid out in the JCPOA. Iran has employed this technique to counter the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign and to pressure European allies to persuade Washington to reverse course.


In July 2019, the Iranian regime announced it had exceeded the 300-kilogram stockpile limit of enriched uranium and would begin enriching uranium at a higher concentration from 3.67% to 4.5%. These actions constitute small but important steps toward producing weapons grade uranium. As of February 2020, Iran had both increased the quality and quantity of its uranium stocks—amassing 1,021 kilograms of low enriched uranium, nearly triple the amount it had three months earlier.


Last September, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would no longer abide by the nuclear research and development restrictions within the nuclear deal—allowing the regime to advance development of more efficient centrifuges.


Later that month, the IAEA confirmed Iran had begun production of advanced centrifuge models capable of exponentially increasing the speed of uranium enrichment. If Iran can begin to utilize such advanced centrifuges, it will greatly decrease the time it would take to produce weapons-grade uranium.


In November 2019, Iran further ratcheted its pressure campaign by declaring it had renewed nuclear activities at its previously clandestine Fordow uranium-enrichment facility—which was secretly built deep under a mountain. Under the parameters of the JCPOA, Iran was barred from utilizing the facility for enrichment purposes for 15 years.


This January, Tehran announced its latest decision, stating: “The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operation.” This means that Iran no longer views itself as needing to respect the nuclear limits set out in the JCPOA.


The IAEA’s Response


The IAEA has confirmed Iran’s continued expansion of its nuclear program and its continued denial of IAEA access to its facilities.


In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposed a “secret atomic warehouse” in a suburb of Tehran that had previously contained radioactive material. Despite calls from the United States and Israel for immediate inspections, it was not until several months later that the IAEA finally visited the site in question—by which time Iran had already attempted to clear and sanitize any evidence of its undisclosed activity.


However, despite its attempts to hide the true purposes of the warehouse (Iranian officials continue to refer to the site as a “carpet-cleaning facility”), the IAEA announced last November announced that soil samples taken from the site confirm the presence of nuclear particles. In early March, the IAEA issued two reports highlighting the extent of the Iranian regime’s refusal to cooperate with inspectors and flagrant lack of response to the agency’s inquiries. The international organization identified three undisclosed locations where Iran possibly stored undeclared nuclear material.


In response to Iran’s continued failure to cooperate with the IAEA’s inquiries and uphold its commitments to the JCPOA, the European states triggered the dispute-mechanism process this January. Despite the announcement of a formal commission to deliberate potential violations, European states have repeatedly extended the deadline for the commission’s findings—highlighting a key flaw in the JCPOA in which member states are unwilling to force Iran’s hand for fear the deal could collapse.


Why This is Concerning


Despite censure from our European allies, the Iranian regime is exploiting the current chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic to ramp up its production of low enriched uranium—slowly increasing its capability to break out to a nuclear weapon.


Iran promised to come clean with its nuclear program as it negotiated the JCPOA. But its continued deceptions beg the question: What else is the regime concealing from the rest of the world?

Addressing the IAEA’s Board of Governors in March 2020, U.S. Ambassador Jackie Wolcott stressed that “Iran’s past pursuit of nuclear weapons—and its well-documented efforts to preserve and conceal information from its prior nuclear weapons work—underscores the seriousness with which the international community must view these pressing matters.”


By restarting uranium enrichment at Fordow—a location known for its impregnable structure and proximity to a military base—Iran’s leaders signal that they may well be resuming their effort to reach a nuclear weapons capability.


As the United States calls upon Iran to negotiate a new deal, Iran must fully cooperate with IAEA inspectors, allow inspectors to visit these undisclosed sites and fulfill the letter and spirit of its NPT commitments.




Type: Near East Report NER Near-East-Report

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