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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Iran

Latest ACA Resources

Last Reviewed: 
December 2022

 

Iran is not a nuclear-weapons state, although it pursued an organized program to develop nuclear warheads in violation of its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) commitments until 2003. In response to Iran's NPT violations, the Security Council passed a series of sanctions beginning in 2006 to push Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program. In July 2015, Iran reached a deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with a group of countries known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States). Iran adhered to the terms of the JCPOA from the deal's implementation in January 2016 through May 2019, as verified by all quarterly IAEA reports. Iran began to breach the accord in May 2019, one year after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the agreement and re-imposed sanctions. Iran has engaged in indirect negotiations with the United States on restoring the JCPOA beginning in April 2021, but talks stalled in August 2022. When fully implemented, the JCPOA imposes limits on Iran's nuclear activities and subjects it to stringent IAEA monitoring.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) opened an investigation in 2018 into evidence that Iran violated its safeguards obligations by failing to declare all of its nuclear materials and activities from the pre-2003 period. The IAEA concluded in May 2022 that Iran conducted uranium metal activities that should have been declared under its NPT required safeguards agreement. The IAEA still is still investigating the presence of uranium at three undeclared locations. The IAEA's Board of Governors has censured Iran three times—once in 2020 and twice in 2022—for failing to comply with the agency's inquiries and provide technically credible explanations for the presence of uranium at the undeclared sites. 

Iran’s active ballistic missile program is one of the largest deployed missile forces in the Middle East, with over 1,000 short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles as well as a space-launch vehicle that could potentially be converted into an ICBM. Under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA, Iran is prohibited from transferring nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, UAVs, and certain related technologies until Oct. 2023 without Security Council approval. The UN Secretary General, however, has investigated a number of alleged violations of those restrictions. 

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1970

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

- - -

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

- - -

- - -

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

 

- - -

- - -

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1973

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

- - -

- - -

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Not a member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Not a member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Not a member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Not a member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signed an additional protocol in Dec. 2003 and implemented it voluntarily until February 2006 after the IAEA Board of Governors resolution referring Tehran to the UN Security Council. As part of the July 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to implement its Additional Protocol and seek to ratify it within eight years. However, Iran suspended implementation of the Additional Protocol in February 2021, pursuant to its 2020 nuclear law. 

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Not a participant

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Not a participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Not a participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540

Iran has filed the requested reports on its activities to fulfill the resolution.

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

Iran does not possess nuclear weapons but it conducted activities in the past relevant to developing a nuclear warhead, including uranium enrichment and studies on ballistic missile mating and re-entry. These activities, which violated Iran's NPT commitments, resulted in the Security Council requiring Iran to halt certain nuclear activities and cooperate with the IAEA in 2006. Iran's failure to do so led to a series of Security Council resolutions sanctioning Iran. In a 2007 unclassified National Intelligence Estimate, the U.S. national intelligence community concluded that Iran had the technical capacities to build a nuclear weapon if the political decision were made to do so. 

In July 2015, after a decade of intermittent negotiations, Iran along with the “P5+1” (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) concluded the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), frequently referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. As part of the JCPOA, Iran provided the IAEA with additional information about its nuclear weapons-related activities, although Tehran continued to deny that the work was for nuclear weapons. The IAEA published a report in December 2015 detailing Iran's nuclear activities relevant to warhead development. The report makes clear that Iran did not fully disclose the extend of its weaponization-related activities. 

The JCPOA restricts Iran’s nuclear activities and puts in place monitoring and verification measures in addition to Iran’s safeguards. On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the JCPOA and reinstate U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime. Iran began to breach the accord one year later, in May 2019, though it remains a party to the deal. By the end of 2022, Iran was closer to a nuclear weapon than at any point in its history and enriching uranium to 60 percent, an unprecedented level for a non-nuclear weapon state. For more on the deal see the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action at a Glance.   

Delivery Systems

Ballistic Missiles

  • Iran’s missile program is largely based on North Korean and Russian designs and has benefitted from Chinese technical assistance.
  • With approximately 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the program is one of the largest deployed ballistic missile forces in the Middle East.
  • Iran’s current focus appears to be on enhancing the accuracy of short and medium-range ballistic missile systems and the development of cruise missiles.
  • Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that Iran would refrain from manufacturing ballistic missiles exceeding a range of 2,000km, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of the Revolutionary Guard, told reporters on Oct. 31, 2017. The limitation is not legally binding, but Iran's missile development does appear to be focused on systems with less than a 2,000 km range.
  • UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA in 2015, annulled a 2010 resolution that prohibited Iranian tests of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and “calls upon” Iran not to test any ballistic missiles that are “designed to be nuclear capable.” Resolution 2231 also kept in place sanctions preventing Iran from transferring materials and technologies relevant to developing ballistic missiles.
  • Iran has continued ballistic missile testing in the wake of the nuclear deal. In response, the United States has designated additional entities for contributing to Iran’s ballistic missile program.
  • Iran’s ballistic missile program includes the following systems:
    • Fateh-110: The Fateh-110 is an operational ballistic missile with an estimated range of 200-300km.
    • Shahab-1: The Shahab-1 is an operational ballistic missile with an estimated range of 300km.
    • Qiam-1: The Qiam is an operational ballistic missile with an estimated range of 500-1000km.
    • Shahab-2: The Shahab-2 is an operational ballistic missile with an estimated range of 500km.
    • Fateh-313: The Fateh-313 is an operational ballistic missile with an estimated range of 500km.
    • Zolfaghar: The Zolfaghar is an operational ballistic missile with an estimated range of 700km.
    • Shahab-3: The Shahab-3 is an operational ballistic missile with an estimated range of 800-1,200km.
    • Emad-1: The Emad-1 is a ballistic missile under development with a range of up to 2,000 km. First tested in 2015, Iran claims the Emad-1 is a high-precision missile. It is a variant of the Shahab-3. 
    • Ghadr-1: The Ghadr-1 is a medium-range missile under development with an estimated range of up to 2,000 km. The missile is a modified version of the Shahab-3.
    • Khoramshahr: The Khoramshahr is a ballistic missile under development with an estimated range of 2,000 km. 
    • Sejjil-2: The Sejiil is a ballistic missile under development with an estimated range of 1,500-2,500km. First tested in 2007, the Sejill is a two-stage solid fuel-propelled missile. The Sejjil-2 has not been tested since 2011 and reports indicate Iran has a hard time producing the solid-fueled motors because of sanctions.  

Space-Launched Vehicles (SLV)

  • Safir: The Safir is a two-stage, liquid-fueled space launch vehicle (SLV) that Iran has used to successfully launch four satellites beginning in 2009. At least four other launches using the Safir failed to deliver satellites into orbit.  
  • Simorgh: The Simorgh is a two-stage SLV that is more powerful than the Safir. It was first used in 2016. Simorgh launches in 2017 and 2020 were unsuccessful in placing a satellite in orbit. 
  • Ghaem-100: The Ghaem-100 is a three stage, solid-fueled SLV that Iran first tested in November 2022.  

Cruise Missiles

  • Iran possesses the following cruise missiles:
    • Kh-55: An air-launched nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of up to 3,000 km which was illegally procured from the Ukraine in 2001.
    • Ra'ad: The Ra'ad is an operational anti-ship cruise missile with an estimated rage of 350 km. 
    • Khalid Farzh: Iran’s most advanced missile with a range of about 300 km capable of carrying a 1,000 kg warhead.
    • Nasr-1: A domestically produced missile which is claimed to be capable of destroying warships and military targets up to 3,000 tons.
    • Ya-Ali: The Ya-Ali is an operational land-attack crusie missile with an estimated range of 700 km.
    • Soumar: The Soumar is a cruise missile with an estimated range of 2,000 km. 
       

Fissile Material

  • During the latter half of 2002, the IAEA began investigating two Iranian nuclear facilities that were being built in secret: a heavy-water production plant near Arak and a gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility near Natanz.
  • In September of 2009, the discovery of Fordow, a secret nuclear facility under construction near Qom, deepened international suspicions about Iran’s uranium enrichment activities.
  • In 2010, Iran scaled up some of its uranium enrichment from less than 5 percent to 20 percent, the level required for Iran’s research reactor.
  • Under the Iran deal, Iran’s enriched uranium is capped at 3.67 percent. However, since it began violating the JCPOA, Iran has enriched up to 20 and 60 percent uranium-235 purity. Iran has no civil need for uranium enriched to 20 and 60 percent. 
  • Much of the uranium-enrichment program is based on equipment and designs acquired through former Pakistani nuclear official A.Q. Khan’s secret supply network.
  • Iran initially relied on its IR-1 centrifuge, a variant of Pakistan’s P-1 centrifuge, known to be crash-prone and unreliable. As part of its breaches of the JCPOA, Iran has begun to enrich with additional, advanced machines, including IR-2m, IR-4, and IR-6 models. These machines allow Iran to enrich uranium more efficiently.
  • As of November 2022, Iran could breakout, or produce enough weapons grade uranium for a bomb (25 kg enriched to above 90 percent), in less than a week. When the JCPOA was fullly implemented, Iran's breakout was about 12 months. 

The Road to the JCPOA

  • In 2006, the Security Council first adopted a resolution calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment-related activities and cooperate fully with the IAEA.
  • When Iran refused to comply, the Security Council passed additional resolutions that included sanctions targeting Iranian entities and individuals believed to be involved in Iran’s proliferation-related activities.
  • In 2009, Russia, France, and the United States negotiated a fuel swap deal with Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country in exchange for fuel for a reactor that produces medical isotopes. The deal fell through when Iran tried to change the terms.
  • In 2012, the P5+1 continued diplomatic efforts and met with Iran on four separate occasions. These talks were suspended for the 2013 Iranian elections though they did lay the groundwork for what would become the JCPOA.
  • After President Rouhani was elected in June of 2013, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met for a bilateral exchange. A day later, President Obama called President Rouhani, marking the highest level contact between the U.S. and Iran since 1979.
  • Negotiations to curb the Iranian nuclear program took place in October and November 2013 and an interim agreement was reached November 24. Secret talks between Iran and the United States took place prior to the negotiations of the interim deal and contributed to its success. Implementation of the interim agreement began on January 20, 2014. The interim agreement was extended twice before the comprehensive agreement was finalized. Along the way all parties implemented changes and did not violate the interim agreement. Learn more about the interim agreement here.
  • The final agreement is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and was finalized on July 14, 2015. The implementation schedules and enforcement options are governed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which was adopted unanimously on July 20, 2015. Learn more about the JCPOA here.   
  • The IAEA reports quarterly on Iran's adherence to the JCPOA. Two reports in 2016 noted slight excesses in heavy-water. Iran rectified this by selling or shipping abroad part of its stocks. The P5+1 and Iran subsequently clarified the heavy-water limit. 
  • On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the JCPOA and reinstate U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime. 
  • Iran announced its first breach of the nuclear deal on May 8, 2019. Iran has since continued to violate the terms of the JCPOA, but has pledged to revert to compliance with the deal in exchange for sanctions relief. For more, see The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) at a Glance, and Timeline of Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran.

Proliferation Record

  • In 2000, Iran exported rockets and several ballistic missile components to Libya.
  • Iran has been accused of violating a Security Council resolution barring arms transfers to Hezbollah.
  • According to a 2012 report by a designated panel of experts, Iran has been a major supplier of weapons to the Syrian government. The report describes three illegal transfers, two to Syria and one to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • Under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, Iran is prohibited from importing or exporting nuclear-capable delivery systems or certain components that could be used to develop nuclear-capable delivery systems without Security Council approval. That prohibition expires in October 2023. The UN Secretary General has investigated allegations that Iran has violated Resolution 2231 by provide missiles and related components to several non-state groups, including the Houthis for use in the Yemen and against targets in Saudi Arabia. Ukraine, the United States, and several European countries have also accused Iran of violating Resolution 2231 by selling armed drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine. While Iran has admitted to selling drones to Moscow, Iranian officials deny that the transfer violations Resolution 2231.  

Biological Weapons

  • Iran has ratified the Biological Weapons Convention but the United States maintains Iran’s biotechnology infrastructure gives it the ability to produce small quantities of biological weapons agents for offensive purposes.
  • According to a 2004 CIA report, Iran has previously conducted offensive biological weapons agent research and development and continues to seek dual-use biotechnology.
  • U.S. officials accused Iran of “probably” pursuing an offensive biological weapons capability in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention in 2011. Iran denied the allegation.
  • In its 2021 compliance report, the U.S. State Department found that Iran’s activities “continue to raise concerns regarding its compliance with Article I of the BWC,” and, therefore, “the United States continues to assess that Iran has not abandoned its intention to conduct research and development of biological agents and toxins for offensive purposes.”

Chemical Weapons

  • Iran has signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention.
  • A 2009 unclassified U.S. intelligence report says that “Iran maintains the capability to produce chemical warfare agents” as well as the ability “of weaponizing [chemical weapons] agents in a variety of delivery systems."
  • Having suffered chemical weapon attacks during the eight year Iran-Iraq war, Iranian officials frequently speak about the dangers of chemical weapons.
  • The United States has sanctioned companies for providing dual-use chemicals to Iran.
  • The United States accused Iran in 2021 of non-compliance with the CWC for an incomplete stockpile and facilities declaration and alleged concern that Iran may be pursuing pharmaceutical-based agents for a military purpose.

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone

  • Iran was one of the first states to formally call for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, joining with Egypt to propose the goal to the UN General Assembly in 1974. Tehran consistently makes statements at disarmament fora expressing its support for the zone concept.  
  • Iran participates in the annual conference on establishing a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone held by the UN Secretary General. 

Conference on Disarmament

  • At the 2012 Conference on Disarmament, Iran said it was not opposed to negotiations of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) but that it should not infringe on any state’s right to use fissile material for peaceful purposes or naval propulsion.

Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

  • Iran played an active role in the negotiations for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons in March and June-July 2017, calling often for a comprehensive and verifiable treaty, but has not signed or ratified the treaty.