Iran’s nuclear program has now exceeded limits that were set in the 2015 international deal, with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif saying Monday that the country has more than 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of low-enriched uranium.
The limit is part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Obama-era agreement from which President Trump withdrew the U.S. According to Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency, Zarif said that because of Trump’s move, and the U.S. sanctions that target anyone doing business with Iran, his country isn’t seeing economic benefits — and that under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran is allowed to exceed restrictions on enriched uranium.
What kind of nuclear material does Iran have?
The low-enriched uranium is a key part of the JCPOA deal. On its own, the material isn’t regarded as dangerous.
“This is good for mainly producing electricity at this level,” NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports. But, he adds, “the worry was that if this stockpile kept growing and growing, it would be easier for Iran to someday decide perhaps to enrich it even further, to the point where it might be used in a nuclear warhead.”
What is Iran doing?
In early May, Iran said it would invoke Article 36 of the JCPOA. That’s the part of the international accord that, according to Iran, gives it the option to boost its nuclear holdings if foreign governments don’t deliver on the economic commitments they promised.
Iran made that announcement after the Trump administration canceled U.S. waivers that had allowed some countries to buy Iranian oil. Those sanction exemptions expired in early May, prompting Iran’s response.
Rather than withdrawing from the JCPOA entirely, Iran said it would stop sending its low-enriched uranium overseas — a move that allowed the levels of uranium to accrue and surpass the limit set by the accord.
As he confirmed the news that Iran had gone over a threshold in the nuclear deal, Zarif said the country will move to surpass the next ceiling on its enriched uranium stockpile.
The 300-kg limit was set to keep Iran about a year away from amassing the material it would need if it wanted to build a nuclear weapon. The country’s leaders have said their nuclear program isn’t meant to produce weapons — but the JCPOA deal was meant to ensure that doesn’t happen.
By banking low-enriched uranium, Iran is “trying to pressure Europe” to deliver sanctions relief, NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel reports. He adds, “Iran is really trying to get Europe to pony up and give them something for staying in the deal. And they’re crossing these limits one at a time, ratcheting up the pressure on the Europeans.”Share