Back in the Saddle: Iran Enhances Its Nuclear Program Once Again

Though Iran does not yet possess a nuclear bomb, it is moving toward that goal at an increasing and alarming pace. Since the U.S. withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018, Iran has “received” liberties which allow the country to get closer to developing a nuclear warhead. Iran is estimated to be only a month away from producing enough fuel for a weapon, though the construction of the bomb would take longer. 

According to the JCPOA, Iran should enrich uranium to no more than four percent potency (significantly less than the 90 percent required for a bomb). Despite the fact that the new administration of President Ebrahim Raisi, elected in August of this year, claims to be open to negotiations, enrichment is reported to have reached 60 percent.

As long as Iran guarantees “full compliance” with the JCPOA pact, President Joe Biden plans to revive the agreement. Yet at the same time, the Biden administration has imposed new restrictions on Iran, including preventative measures to stop Iran from using its assets in South Korean and Japanese banks to purchase COVID-19 vaccines and forcing the U.K. to cease repayment of old Iranian debt.

How did Iran get here? Iran’s nuclear technology began in the 1950s, when the Shah of Iran received technical assistance from the U.S. through the 1953 “Atoms for Peace” program which aimed “to share nuclear materials and technology with other countries.” However, the program ended with the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Despite this, Iran’s interest in nuclear technology did not cease, allowing them to construct an extensive nuclear fuel cycle with sophisticated enrichment capabilities. 

From 2002 to 2015, international sanctions were imposed on Iran due to these advancements. The P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany) and Iran signed an agreement in July 2015, formally known as JCPOA or the Iran nuclear agreement. As part of the agreement, Iran must redesign its facilities, limit its enrichment capability, and open the facilities for international investigation in order to lift its nuclear-related sanctions. However, the Trump administration decided to withdraw from the pact in 2018. Iranian nuclear activity has revived following the U.S. departure and attacks on prominent Iranians.

But why were these efforts directed towards restricting Iran’s nuclear development? The JCPOA aimed at slowing down Iran’s nuclear development to the extent where pursuing a nuclear weapon would take at least a year, giving world powers time to appropriately respond. U.S. intelligence agencies predicted that if no agreement was reached, Iran could create enough nuclear material for a bomb in a matter of months. Iran’s efforts to become a nuclear-weapons state alarmed negotiating countries, who feared a new crisis in the region. Proponents of the agreement claim that it would help avoid a resurgence of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, reducing the likelihood of conflict between Iran and its regional enemies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian president Raisi insists that the nuclear negotiations in Vienna will resume “soon,” though an exact time has not yet been announced. Since Iran, according to latest developments, is getting closer to nuclear breakout capability (when it’ll be able to create a nuclear weapon), some believe that Iran is just dragging its feet until it’s able to build a bomb.

By: Ani Bayramyan