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The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) at a Glance

Last Reviewed: 
March 2022

Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director of Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102; Julia Masterson, Research Associate, (202) 463-8270 x103

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a detailed, 159-page agreement with five annexes reached by Iran and China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (a group known as the the P5+1) on July 14, 2015.

This nuclear deal was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted on July 20, 2015.

Iran’s compliance with the nuclear-related provisions of the JCPOA is verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) according to certain requirements set forth in the agreement. 

The following is a summary of the timeline, key components, and the current status of the multi-year agreement.

Timeline for Implementation

  • July 14, 2015, Finalization Day: conclusion of the agreement. Finalization day triggers Iran and the United States to begin domestic review processes of the JCPOA. Iran also begins providing the IAEA with information necessary for the agency to complete its investigation into past activities related to nuclear weapons development.
  • October 18, 2015, Adoption Day: 90 days after the passage of the UN Security Council Resolution endorsing the deal (July 20, 2015). Adoption day triggers Iran and the P5+1 to take steps (outlined below) to meet the commitments to fully implement the JCPOA.
  • January 16, 2016, Implementation Day: the IAEA certifies that Iran has taken the key steps to restrict its nuclear program and has put in place increased monitoring. The IAEA's report on implementation day triggers U.S., EU, and UN sanctions relief.
  • October 2023, Transition Day: Eight years after adoption day (or the IAEA reaching its broader conclusion on Iran's nuclear program, whichever is sooner). Transition day triggers the UN to lift missile restrictions, Iran to seek ratification of its additional protocol, the EU to terminate all remaining nuclear sanctions, United States to remove certain entities from the sanctioned list, and the United States to seek legislative termination of certain sanctions.
  • October 2025, Termination Day: Ten years after adoption day. Termination day terminates Resolution 2231 and the Security Council closes Iran's nuclear file.

Violations of the JCPOA to Date

Despite Iran’s verified compliance with the deal, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, and subsequently re-imposed all U.S. sanctions on Iran lifted by the accord.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump cited the deal's sunset provisions and its failure to account for Iran's ballistic missile program, among other things, as the impetus for withdrawal from the accord. The United States did not cite any evidence of Iranian noncompliance with the deal when it withdrew and Iran remained in full compliance with the deal for the year after U.S. withdrawal. 

In May 2019, the United States further announced the termination of designated sanctions waivers for cooperative nuclear projects detailed in the JCPOA, including the transfer of enriched uranium out of Iran, the transfer and storage of heavy water outside of Iran, and the construction of additional reactor units at the Bushehr nuclear reactor.

The Trump administration pledged at that time to extend (for 90 days) several of the waivers prescribed by the nuclear deal to allow certain nuclear cooperation projects in Iran to proceed, including waivers for the Arak reactor conversion, the Fordow facility conversion, the Bushehr reactor, and the Tehran research reactor. However, over the course of two years, the Trump administration terminated all of the waivers for cooperative nuclear projects, except for the operation of the Bushehr power plant.

Iran began to incrementally violate the agreement in May 2019. Tehran tied its decision to breach the JCPOA’s limits to the deal’s failure to deliver sanctions relief envisioned by the accord and, implicitly, U.S. withdrawal from the deal. Iran is still a JCPOA participant and says it will return to compliance with the accord if its demands on sanctions relief are met.

Below is a summary of Iran’s breaches of the accord as well as additional steps taken by the Trump administration to undermine the JCPOA since the United States formally withdrew from the deal.

  • First Breach – May 8, 2019: Iran announced it would no longer be bound by limits on heavy water and enriched uranium stockpiles. The JCPOA prohibits Iran’s stockpile from exceeding 130 metric tons of heavy water and 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235. The IAEA verified that Iran breached the uranium stockpile limit July 1, 2019, and the heavy water limit on Nov. 17, 2019. Since that time, Iran continues to produce uranium in excess of the stockpile cap, but its heavy water stockpile has fluctuated and, at times, returned to below the 130-ton limit.

  • Second Breach – July 7, 2019: Iran announced it would exceed the 3.67 percent uranium-235 enrichment limit designated by the JCPOA. On July 8, 2019, Iran reported it had begun enriching uranium to 4.5 percent uranium-235. Iran’s breach of the 3.67 percent limit was verified by the IAEA on July 8, 2019, and since then, Iran has continued to enrich uranium up to 4.5 percent.

  • Third Breach – September 5, 2019: Iran announced it would cease to honor the limitations on research and development of advanced centrifuges imposed by the JCPOA. On Sept. 7, 2019, the IAEA verified that Iran had begun to install advanced centrifuges in excess of the amount permitted by the JCPOA. On Sept. 25, 2019, the IAEA reported that Iran had begun to accumulate enriched uranium from advanced machines. Iran continues to install advanced centrifuges and to produce enriched uranium using those new machines, both in violation of the accord.

  • Fourth Breach – November 5, 2019: Iran announced that technicians would begin enriching uranium up to 4.5 percent uranium-235 at the Fordow enrichment facility. Under the JCPOA, Iran is prohibited from enriching uranium at Fordow for 15 years.. The IAEA verified on Nov. 6, 2019, the transfer of uranium gas from Natanz to Fordow. The IAEA confirmed the resumption of uranium enrichment at Fordow on Nov. 9, 2019. In response, the Trump administration announced on Nov. 18, 2019, that it would no longer waive sanctions related to Iran’s Fordow facility. That waiver expired Dec. 15, 2019.

  • Fifth Breach – January 5, 2020: Iran announced that it would no longer be bound by any operational limitations of the JCPOA, but that it would maintain compliance with its safeguards obligations under the deal. Since then, Iran has not taken any additional observed steps in violation of the deal, according to IAEA reports.

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced May 27, 2020, that the United States would terminate all remaining sanctions waivers allowing for nonproliferation cooperation projects in Iran. Pompeo said the waivers covering the conversion of the Arak reactor, the provision of enriched fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, and the export of Iran’s spent fuel would expire after a sixty-day wind-down period but clarified that the waiver covering international support for Iran’s Bushehr reactor would remain in place. Those waivers expired in late-July, 2020.

Iran’s New Nuclear Law

On Dec. 2, 2020, Iran’s Guardian Council passed new legislation mandating Iran to significantly rachet up its nuclear activities. The legislation explicitly outlines a series of phased measures to be taken in the months following the law’s Dec. 23 ratification.

Under the new law, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) is obligated to:

  • Immediately boost enrichment levels to 20 percent uranium-235, and store at least 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched fuel annually.

Status: The IAEA confirmed in January 2021 that Iran resumed enrichment to 20 percent uranium-235. According to the IAEA’s March 3 report, Iran has produced 182.1 kilograms of uranium enriched to that level. Iran also produced 33.2 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 percent. Iran notified the IAEA that it would begin enriching uranium to 60 percent in April after an act of sabotage at its Natanz enrichment facility.

  • Immediately increase Iran’s monthly uranium output and enrichment capacity by at least 500 kilograms.
  • Within two months’ time, if sanctions relief is not delivered, suspend implementation of the additional protocol to Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement and halt compliance with the additional monitoring mechanisms mandated by the JCPOA. The additional protocol and other monitoring mechanisms allow the IAEA to carry out inspections at non-declared nuclear sites in Iran on short notice to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.

Status: While Iran suspended its compliance with the additional protocol and other JCPOA-specific monitoring mechanisms on Feb. 23, 2021, the IAEA and Iran negotiated a bilateral agreement Feb. 21 allowing the IAEA to continue to carry out its necessary verification activities for 3 months. That agreement was renewed for one month on May 24, and expired June 24. For several months, Iran deniedthe IAEA access to inspect and service monitoring equipment installed in Iran pursuant to the arrangement. However, on Sept. 12, Iran agreed to allow the IAEA access to service the equipment. Tehran denied the agency access to one of those locations, the Karaj centrifuge component manufacturing workshop, on Sept. 26, adversely claiming the site was not subject to the Sept. 12 agreement.

After a months-long dispute over access to the Karaj workshop, Iran agreed on Dec. 15 to allow the IAEA to reinstall cameras at the facility before the end of December 2021. The IAEA confirmed to a reporter Jan. 7 that “by the end of December 2021, the Agency had reinstalled cameras to replace those removed from the workshop at Karaj and performed other related technical activities.”

In January 2022, Iran alerted the IAEA of its intention to close the Karaj workshop and transfer centrifuge component manufacturing activities to a different location, at Esfahan. According to the IAEA’s March 3 report, cameras were installed at the new workshop on Jan. 24, and the Karaj site has been closed.

  • Within three months’ time, enrich uranium using at least 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges.

Status: Iran installed a cascade of 164 IR-2m centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment facility in Nov. 2020, before the nuclear law was passed. Since the law’s ratification, as of Nov. 17, 2021, Iran had installed five additional cascades of 174 IR-2m centrifuges at the main enrichment facility at Natanz, which brought the total number of installed IR-2m centrifuges at Natanz to about 1,034 centrifuges.

  • Within three months’ time, enrich uranium with and conduct research and development activities on 164 IR-6 centrifuges. Within one year, increase the number of centrifuges to 1,000 IR-6 machines.

Status: It was reported Feb. 23, 2021, that Iran was in the process of installing one cascade of 135 IR-6 centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment facility, which was transferred from the pilot fuel enrichment plant. According to the IAEA’s latest report, released March 3, 2022, installation of the IR-6 cascade is planned but has yet to begin. Iran is already accumulating enriched uranium from a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges, along with several smaller IR-6 cascades, at the Natanz pilot fuel enrichment plant, totaling to about 200 machines. Iran has also installed two cascades of 166 IR-6 centrifuges at the Fordow facility, but, as of March 2022, only one is operational.

  • Within five months’ time, inaugurate a uranium metal production facility at the Esfahan fuel fabrication plant.

Status: Iran succeeded in producing a small amount of natural uranium metal Feb. 6. The IAEA reportedAug. 14 that Iran used 257 grams of uranium tetrafluoride enriched up to 20 percent uranium-235 to produce 200 grams of uranium metal enriched to that same level. On Oct. 25, the IAEA verified that Iran had produced two batches of uranium silicide containing 0.43 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 20 percent. In September, the IAEA reported that Iran has nearly completed installation of the equipment for the first stage of the three-stage process to produce uranium metal at the Esfahan Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant. In its March 3 report, the agency confirmed that, while almost complete, only slight progress had been made since the previous quarterly report. The IAEA also observed that the first stage of the process had yet to undergo testing.

Iran maintains that all activities initiated in accordance with the new law, along with all other breaches of the JCPOA, are fully reversible should sanctions be lifted.

US Snapback Attempt (2020)

The Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign came to a head on Aug. 20, 2020, when Pompeo delivered a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and to Indonesia’s Ambassador to the UN, who then presided over the Security Council, calling for the introduction of a resolution to continue the lifting of sanctions on Iran.

In doing so, Pompeo cited the text of Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorses the deal and outlines a process to reimpose sanctions on Iran.. That process, which was drafted to ensure that no veto-wielding Security Council member could block the re-imposition of sanctions, grants named JCPOA participants the right to call for a resolution to continue the lifting of sanctions on Iran which could subsequently be vetoed by the United States, France, Russia, China, or the United Kingdom. Resolution 2231 still names the United States as a participant because the text was never amended to reflect U.S. withdrawal from the deal in May 2018.

Resolution 2231 stipulates that if a vote on a resolution to continue the sanctions lifting is not called for within 30 days of notification, then all UN sanctions lifted on Iran per the nuclear deal are automatically re-imposed.

Pompeo announced on Sept. 19, 2020, that all UN sanctions lifted in accordance with the nuclear deal were re-imposed on Iran. The Trump administration subsequently threatened to penalize any individuals or states that failed to enforce the re-imposition of sanctions. However, UN Secretary-General Guterres and many UN member states—including the remaining parties to the JCPOA—dismissed the US call to re-impose sanctions, citing that the United States withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 and is therefore not entitled to trigger the reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran.

On Feb. 18, 2021, the newly inaugurated Biden administration formally rescinded Trump’s request that all sanctions lifted in accordance with the JCPOA be reimposed.