What happened: Iran has announced its fourth major violation of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement, increasing pressure on the remaining signatories to the deal.
- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said this morning that Iran will restart operations on 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges at the underground nuclear facility at Fordow (Qom) on Wednesday. The nuclear deal prohibits uranium enrichment at Fordow until 2031.
- Yesterday, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said that Iran has doubled the number of advanced IR-6 centrifuges to 30 and is now producing more than 5 kg of enriched uranium a day – more than 10 times the level two months ago. The nuclear deal limits Iran to operating 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges and permits R&D work on a very limited number of IR-4, -5, -6, and -8 centrifuges. It is allowed to keep one IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 machine for research purposes and is permitted to feed these machines with uranium gas, but it cannot withdraw any enriched material.
- “It was not planned that we would have a chain of 30 IR-6 machines,” Salehi said, adding, “but we are stuck in a political challenge and the decision of higher officials was that with this challenge to demonstrate the potential power and the will of the Islamic Republic.”
- A senior US official responded: “We see this as a continuation of nuclear blackmail.” The US Treasury Department on Monday rolled out new sanctions against Tehran, adding to the more than 1,000 already imposed on Iran’s oil exports, its banks, financial transactions and the military leadership of the Islamic Republic.
Context: This is Iran’s fourth breach of its JCPOA commitments since President Donald Trump withdrew last May from the agreement and reintroduced sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
- Iran announced in October its decision to operationalise 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges and boost its uranium enrichment to show its ”resolve” and ability in the face of pressure from the US. This means Iran can enrich uranium from seven to 10 times faster than it could with the old IR-1 centrifuges.
- In May and July 2019 Iran announced that it would enrich and accumulate uranium beyond the thresholds designated by the JCPOA. According to the agreement, Iran can store no more than 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride enriched up to 3.67 percent uranium-235, and it may not enrich uranium to levels higher than that until 2030.
- The US is pursuing a so-called maximum pressure strategy to increase sanctions on Iran and force the country to renegotiate the nuclear deal. Iranian officials say they will only negotiate with the US if it eases sanctions and returned to the JCPOA agreement.
- The UK, France and Germany issued a statement on 23 September in response to previous violations, urging Iran to “reverse its decisions to reduce compliance with the deal and to adhere fully to its commitments under it.” They added that: “The time has come for Iran to accept negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear programme as well as on issues related to regional security, including its missiles programme and other means of delivery.”
Looking ahead: Whilst the latest violation increases the speed at which Iran can enrich uranium, Iran has yet to announce its intention to exceed the JCPOA limit of 20 per cent enrichment and move toward the 95 per cent required to produce a nuclear weapon. Were Iran to do so, it would signal a clear military intent and that could force the UK, France and Germany to impose sanctions on Iran and threaten to withdraw from the nuclear deal.