Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than at any point in its history. Tehran can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb in less than 10 days—a timeframe so short that international inspectors may not detect such a “breakout” move. Building a bomb would take another 1-2 years, but once the nuclear material is moved to covert facilities for weaponization, detecting and disrupting those processes would be much more challenging. Despite the seriousness of this proliferation threat, prospects for a diplomatic resolution are waning as the Biden administration appears unwilling to make the difficult decisions necessary to resolve this crisis.
The swiftest, most effective way to quell the escalating proliferation risk and verifiably limit Iran’s program is to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That deal resolved a decades-long crisis spurred by Iran’s illicit attempt to build nuclear weapons prior to 2003, and proved to be an effective bulwark against any future moves to a bomb—until U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in May 2018 and embarked on a “pressure campaign” ostensibly designed to push Iran into new negotiations. Predictably, following the U.S. reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions (and others), Tehran responded by building up its nuclear program in violation of the JCPOA’s limits to gain its own leverage.
Read the full op-ed, published June 23, 2022, in Just Security.