What You Need to Know About the Iran Nuclear Deal


Get up to speed with the recent Iran nuclear deal news here. Updated January 8, 2020.

Photo: U.S. State Department

Has Iran left the nuclear deal?

No. Iran announced on 5 January that its fifth step to reduce its adherence to the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), would be to no longer be bound by the restriction on the number of centrifuges to have to enrich uranium. In previous announcements starting in May 2019, Iran stated it would no longer be bound by the restrictions in the agreement on uranium enrichment capacity, percentage of uranium enrichment, amount of enriched uranium material, and research and development. In January, Iran stated that it will continue to abide by some terms of the deal, such as cooperation with international nuclear inspectors, who were granted increased access under the agreement.

The United States, which possesses about 6,185 nuclear weapons, formally withdrew from the Iran deal on 8 May 2018.

Is Iran complying with the nuclear deal?

Iran is currently exceeding some restrictions on its nuclear programme imposed by the nuclear deal.

After the United States left the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and violated it by re-imposing the sanctions waived under the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency, an international nuclear watchdog, continued to regularly report that Iran was meeting its nuclear obligations under the deal for over a year. However, since July 2019, the IAEA has reported on activity in Iran that slightly exceeds the terms of the agreement, including enriching some uranium to about 4.5% uranium-235 instead of the 3.67% uranium-235 allowed in the deal. Experts assess uranium must be enriched to at least 90% uranium-235 to be used in weapons. Iran contends that it is not violating the nuclear deal, because U.S. non-compliance allows it to “cease performing its commitments...in whole or in part” under Article 36 of the deal.

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, with which Iran is still complying.

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 ten years - perhaps longer, if deal parties were able to negotiate a follow on agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump’s reckless decision to leave the deal and Iran’s response mean that a number of the deal’s restrictions are no longer being adhered to after just four years, instead of 15.

Is Iran going to develop nuclear weapons now?

Iran has given no indication that it intends to develop a nuclear weapon at the moment - quite the opposite. Iran’s early January announcement clearly stated that Iran would return to implementing nuclear restrictions should it receive meaningful sanctions relief, as granted by the deal. Iran also continues to cooperate with international nuclear inspectors.

However, 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. 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. If 2020 is any indication of where this new decade is going, we can’t waste any time to change course.