What You Need to Know About the Iran Nuclear Deal


Get up to speed with the recent Iran nuclear deal news here. Updated 12 April 2024.

Photo: U.S. State Department

Has Iran left the nuclear deal?

Although Iran has violated the deal since the Trump Administration abandoned it and reinstated sanctions in 2018, it has not formally left the agreement. Negotiations between China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States to restore the agreement were underway for two years and were close to reaching a deal in August 2022 but they broke down. In the meantime, Iran has continued to walk back from its commitments under the agreement. In 2023, the United States and Iran again began unofficial talks, although both sides have denied that they are pursuing an interim deal. Iran's failure to comply with investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency into its past undeclared nuclear activity has been a recent source of tension.

Is Iran complying with the nuclear deal?

Since July 2019, Iran has taken a number of steps that violate the agreement. Iran has increased its enrichment of uranium-235 to 60% and 20% instead of the 3.67% agreed to under the JCPOA and has exceeded the limit on its uranium stockpile agreed to under the JCPOA. It also has installed and operates centrifuges in excess of JCPOA limits and has re-started enrichment at the Fordow facility. In addition, IAEA inspectors have not had access to Iran’s nuclear sites since February 2021 and Iran disconnected cameras to provide the IAEA with recordings of activities in June 2022. Iran took some steps following a March 2023 agreement with the IAEA to increase inspections, but this still falls short of what is necessary to comply.

What does the Iran nuclear deal do?

Put simply, the Iran nuclear deal imposes limits on the Iranian nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. More specifically, the agreement blocked Iran’s access to the enriched uranium and plutonium required to make nuclear weapons by imposing lots of time-bound limits, including on the number and type of centrifuges it can possess to enrich uranium, its stockpile of enriched uranium and heavy-water, and a time-bound ban on heavy-water reactors in Iran. Some provisions of the deal were permanent, including extensive access for international nuclear inspectors. 

But don’t the limits on Iran’s nuclear programme expire?

Many of the significant provisions in the Iran deal limiting Iran’s nuclear programme would have lasted 15 years, others 25, had all parties continued to comply with the agreement. Limits on the quantity and level of enrichment of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium, for example, would have been good for at least another several years - perhaps longer, if deal parties were able to negotiate a follow on agreement. Trump’s reckless decision to leave the deal and Iran’s response mean that a number of the deal’s restrictions expired in 4 years instead of 15.

Is Iran going to develop nuclear weapons now?

The United States and the IAEA continue to assess that Iran is not currently pursuing weapons-related activities. Steps towards the capacity to produce nuclear weapons are still very concerning, including Iran’s enrichment of uranium to higher levels and rejection of international inspections.

Preventing countries from developing nuclear weapons only becomes harder when nuclear armed and nuclear alliance states insist that these weapons of mass murder are integral to their security. 

As a start, both the United States and Iran must return to full compliance with the Iran nuclear deal or at least work towards an interim agreement to restore access to international inspectors. But all countries must acknowledge that continuing to rely on humanity-ending weapons only makes the world less safe - and take steps to get rid of them. The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons offers a path forward to reject these weapons once and for all in a verified manner, and all countries should join this treaty without delay.