Iran announced Sunday that it was moving forward with breaching critical commitments of the 2015 nuclear accord by enriching uranium to levels that could eventually be used for a nuclear weapon, in an aggressive move that brings the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) closer to collapse.
In an interview with state media, nuclear agency spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi confirmed that the Islamic Republic had surpassed the 3.67 percent enrichment cap. “This morning Iran passed the 4.5 percent level in uranium enrichment,” he said, warning that the next step in breaching the agreement could see Iran enriching uranium to 20 percent or more.
To reach weapons-grade levels, uranium must be enriched to over 90 percent. But due to the nature of the enrichment process, experts warn that once Iran reaches 20 percent, it can very rapidly breach the so-called weaponization threshold.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, confirmed last week that the country had already exceeded the 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium allowed under the JCPOA.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi vowed in a press conference that the Islamic Republic would keep reducing its commitment to the nuclear accord every 60 days if the country’s demands were not met.
Iran announced last month that it would be breaking some commitments of the deal in protest against increased U.S. sanctions and the failure by European co-signatories to shield Iran’s economy from these wide-ranging punitive measures.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded to the announcement by saying the latest breach would only lead to “further isolation and sanctions.” He added that, “Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the world.”
Sanctions are critical to holding Iran accountable for its illicit nuclear and non-nuclear activities and for reaching an agreement that will truly prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities as well as containing Iran’s ballistic missile program, destabilizing behavior, and pursuit for regional hegemony.