Iran Deal Passes One-Year Checkup

On March 8, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. The report, finalized in February and released to the public last week, provides a clean bill of health for the Iran deal, and highlights that the IAEA is dutifully monitoring Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA. With this report in mind, the United States should continue to focus on enforcing the deal, and reject calls to withdraw from it.

Under the deal, Iran is required to severely restrict its nuclear materials and activities in return for relief of sanctions on its nuclear program. Sanctions for Iran’s support of terrorism and its human rights violations are still in place. The restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program verifiably prevent it from obtaining enough fissile material to create one nuclear weapon for at least 10 years and intrusive inspection measures make it very difficult for Iran to cheat without the international community knowing. As part of the deal, Iran has provisionally adopted the IAEA Additional Protocol, which grants inspectors increased access to its nuclear facilities. These inspectors report to the Board of Governors of the IAEA and the UN Security Council, allowing the international community to respond in the case of a violation of the deal.

The IAEA report indicates several developments regarding Iran’s behavior under the JCPOA.

Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU): Iran’s stockpile of LEU has been reduced to 101.7 kg after an IAEA-requested reassessment determined that an estimated 99.9 kg of enriched uranium are stuck in pipes at the Enriched UO2 Powder Plant and are thus unrecoverable. The unrecoverable uranium is not counted as part of Iran’s stockpile, which remains at about half the limit of 202.8 kg.[1] This quarterly report marks the first time that the IAEA specified the amount of uranium that Iran possesses. Previous reports only stated that Iran was below the limit of LEU.

Heavy Water: Iran has reduced its heavy water stock to 124.2 metric tonnes. Iran slightly exceeded the limit of 130 metric tonnes in both February and November 2016. On both occasions, Iran quickly returned to compliance by shipping a portion of its stockpile abroad. These violations do not represent a material breach of the agreement.

Enrichment: Iran has not enriched uranium above the 3.67% cap at the designated Natanz Enrichment facility. Furthermore, Iran has not pursued reconstruction of the Arak research reactor, which was rendered inoperable when its core was filled with concrete last year. While operational, the Arak reactor was capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. 

In light of Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, U.S. withdrawal from the deal would be counterproductive and detrimental to American national security. The Iran nuclear deal was made possible by the cooperation of numerous international actors, including the E.U., Russia, and China. If the U.S. terminates the deal without cause, it would lose the support of many if not all of these partners, weakening any sanctions it unilaterally imposes. And unilateral military options are less effective than implementing the agreement, according to numerous retired generals and admirals.

Even opponents of the JCPOA now recognize that it is currently the best option on the table. For instance, when asked about the Iran Deal during his confirmation hearing, Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated, “When America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.” Similarly, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), called on President Trump to enforce the agreement, saying, “Nothing bad is going to happen relative to nuclear development in Iran in the next few years. It’s just not.”

President Trump should take these statements and the IAEA report seriously as he develops a policy towards Iran. Withdrawing from the agreement – or undermining the agreement through actions unrelated to the deal – would lead to serious consequences for U.S. and international security, and should only be considered if Iran reneges on its own commitments. Thus far, the evidence is clear: Iran is complying with the agreement and its pathways to a nuclear bomb remain verifiably restricted.

[1] The treaty text stipulates that Iran “will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kg of up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) or the equivalent in other chemical forms.” 300 kg of UF6 is equal to 202.8 kg of LEU.