Statement by Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy
and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director
For Immediate Release: June 17, 2019
Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107
(Washington, DC)—Iran announced Monday that in 10 days it will exceed a limit on enriched uranium set by the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s decision to breach caps imposed by the accord is a troubling but predictable response to the Trump administration’s systematic campaign to deny Iran any benefit from the nuclear deal over the past year.
Specifically, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced June 17 that Iran has quadrupled its production of 3.67 percent enriched uranium and will cross the limit of 300 kilograms of uranium gas enriched to that level set by the nuclear deal in 10 days. Iran first threatened to breach this cap May 8, one year after U.S. President Donald Trump violated the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions and withdrawing from the agreement.
While any violation of the deal is concerning, breaching the limit on low-enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.
Currently, as a result of restrictions put in place by the deal, it would take Iran about 12 months to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon. That timeline will decrease if Iran produces enriched uranium in excess of 300 kilograms, but it takes roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent in gas form to produce enough weapons-grade uranium (over 90 percent enriched uranium-235) for one bomb.
However, Kamalvandi also reiterated that if the Europeans, Russia, and China do not take additional steps to secure sanctions relief envisioned by the deal by July 7, Iran will take actions that pose a more significant and immediate proliferation risk.
Kamalvandi noted that Iran is considering two scenarios for increasing the level of uranium enrichment beyond the 3.67 percent cap set by the deal. He said Iran may pursue five percent enrichment for its operating nuclear power reactor at Bushehr or 20 percent enrichment to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor. These steps would shorten the time it takes Iran to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon.
While Iran’s frustration with Trump's reckless and irresponsible pressure campaign is understandable, we strongly urge Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal. It remains in Iran’s interests to abide by the limits of the agreement and to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s more intrusive monitoring and verification.
We also urge the Trump administration to rethink its failing Iran’s policy, which has put an effective nonproliferation agreement in jeopardy, increasing the risk of a new nuclear crisis and the threat of conflict in the region.
It may still be possible to save the nuclear deal, which has successfully blocked Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. Doing so will require Tehran’s continued compliance with the accord and for the remaining parties to the agreement to ratchet up efforts to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran and to pressure the United States to return to compliance with its commitments. Such developments could serve as a foundation for the United States and Iran to engage in negotiations that address other areas of tension in the region.