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Iran

Triggers, Redlines, and the Fate of the Iran Nuclear Accord

Why action now by Congress could be counterproductive.

December 2017
By Richard Nephew

Following President Donald Trump’s decision no longer to certify that the Iran nuclear accord is in the
U.S. national security interest, the conversation in Washington has focused on what Congress can and ought to do next.

Given the centrality of the issue of when certain restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities expire under the accord, there is a possibility that Congress will seek to pass legislation to address the perceived problem by attempting to unilaterally change the terms of the 2015 agreement. Republican Senators Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) said they would introduce legislation1 that creates triggers or redlines for the automatic snapback of U.S. sanctions suspended pursuant to the agreement, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), although there is a chance that they will hold off moving forward for some time due to lack of support.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) with President Donald Trump at the White House on August 2. Cotton has been a leading voice in the Senate urging the president not to certify Iranian compliance with the nuclear accord, so that Congress can act.  (Photo credit: Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty Images)These triggers or redlines could be simple (e.g., focused on uranium centrifuge numbers) or complex (e.g., related to stages of ballistic missile development). Yet, the concept is the same across the board: manage the political problem of a president who campaigned against the nuclear agreement having to validate Iranian compliance, which is occurring, while devolving responsibility for the response to that compliance away from the chief executive and legislative branch to a set of “dead man’s switches.”

Separate and apart from the wisdom of this approach, discussion of such options misses the real point concerning Iran and the challenge if Iran’s nuclear program expands in the future. The central challenge is not in figuring out how the United States could respond in such a scenario; it is in ascertaining how best to achieve the goal of preventing Iran’s nuclear program from expanding in the first place. In legislating on the topic of nuclear redlines and Iranian sunsets, Congress may be able to cobble together a framework for managing the U.S. policy response. By doing so, however, Congress might eliminate any chance for negotiations with the Iranians to arrest this problem. In fact, legislating on Iranian behavior without any thought as to how Iran will actually be convinced to agree is not only somewhat pointless, it is also counterproductive in the extreme.

The Trouble With Triggers

To start, it is worth reviewing the text of existing U.S. law, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA). In essence, it lays out the process whereby the JCPOA would be evaluated by Congress for its suitability and then enforced into the future. Congress was not entirely clear as to what would be involved in the JCPOA, as specific provisions were still under negotiation with the Iranians and U.S. partners in the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) when the legislation passed. Nevertheless, as a result of extensive briefings provided by the Obama administration, Congress had a decent idea that the agreement would involve U.S. and UN Security Council sanctions relief being traded for Iran accepting restrictions on its nuclear program, as well as additional monitoring and transparency.

Congress therefore gave itself a broad mandate to review the JCPOA and its constituent parts and the president a broad obligation to confirm on a regular basis that Iran was living up to its responsibilities under the deal. The result was a series of reporting requirements imposed on various parts of the U.S. executive branch and intelligence community, as well as the quarterly certification requirement that Iran was complying with its obligations and that sanctions relief under the JCPOA was in the U.S. national security interest. It is this latter point that the president has now refused to certify.

The rest of that law, however, is constructed as a way of signaling to Iran what would happen if it were to cheat on its obligations and to simplify the process of mounting that response. The concept is that a sanctions snapback strategy might be required if Iran starts to break out of its nuclear restrictions and that it would be prudent for that process to be as expedient as possible. Congress therefore defined cheating in broad terms, speaking of “material breaches,” “compliance incidents,” and even “potentially significant breaches.”

Congress wisely left the determination of what constitutes what in the hands of the president and the executive branch, requiring information about any such problems but avoiding prescription. Congress even acknowledged the possibility that a breach or compliance issue might arise but be “cured” by Iran, noting in essence that mistakes or provocations were to be expected during the JCPOA and that flexibility ought to be afforded to the president and his diplomats to fix them.

By discussing redlines and triggers, Congress may undo this effective and prudent setup to our collective detriment. First and foremost, if drawn tightly, such redlines and triggers could create unwarranted and unnecessary crises with Iran even where fundamental risks from the nuclear program are not present. Triggers and redlines are intended to serve as a forcing function in which A automatically results in B. For example, a redline may be drawn that Iran may not possess more than 300 kilograms of enriched uranium in forms other than fuel in perpetuity. If the amount of enriched uranium was reported at 301 kilograms, although this has no significance from the perspective of weapons breakout, the result would be the same as if Iran possessed 1,000 or 10,000 kilograms of enriched uranium in the same form: snapback of U.S. sanctions and likely a confrontation with Iran. At the same time, if the decision is made to have a redline that is looser than the underlying JCPOA requirement, say, a redline at 350 kilograms rather than 301, then the approach opens up areas of “acceptable” marginal behavior, giving Iran the impression that it can play within the range of 300-350 kilograms.

Some may argue that this is precisely why a tight trigger ought to be agreed, to stop Iran from playing games on the margins of the JCPOA. Proponents of this strategy might note that Iran played such games on heavy-water production in 2016, edging just over the permissible threshold of heavy-water possession on two occasions, and that it is precisely this kind of behavior that merits prevention. The theory goes that if Iran sees a tight trigger, it will be dissuaded from testing the fences that ring it in the JCPOA.

But, there are few scenarios in which a numerical benchmark is obtainable. Many of the issues in the JCPOA depend on interpretation of data where there may be no consensus or no judgment. On transparency and verification, for example, throughout the JCPOA, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is called on to conduct inspections and complementary access visits in order to verify various aspects of the agreement. As a matter of logical necessity, it is up to the IAEA to make the call as to whether it assesses Iranian compliance with those elements or not. Member states can object to the IAEA assessment and render their own verdicts, but this too is a subjective appraisal. It is impossible, therefore, to have a trigger attached to such access that is immune from interpretation unless it is so mundane as to be meaningless (e.g., numbers of inspector visits).

This opens up another problem: what happens if part of the JCPOA is not captured under an explicit trigger? Just as with the concept of a 350-kilogram limit on enriched uranium, any indication given to Iran that some provisions are less important than others could convey an unhelpful signal to Iran that noncompliance in one area would be treated differently than noncompliance in another. Even if a catchall provision were to be retained, the damage might still be done, as it is human nature to take signals from perceived prioritization. After all, laws are written to forbid specific crimes rather than to encourage people to behave as good citizens.

Last but not least, if a trigger and redline approach operates as intended, then it eliminates the opportunity for diplomacy and negotiation in managing incidents that might emerge. Automaticity in the design of snapback means by its very definition that once an assessment of noncompliance is made, there would be limited opportunities for the Iranians to make redress. Presumably, they could do so before such a determination was reported to Congress, although this would create all the same problems as under the present system and as outlined above with respect to a more flexible interpretation of noncompliance.

After that, unless there is significant leeway accorded to the president on enforcement of snapped-back sanctions, which would reduce the credibility of threat itself, the die would be cast. This might be fine if the intent is to police behavior without concern for the consequences of violations, but it is worth underscoring that it is not in the interest of the United States for there to be violations in the first place. The entire basis of the accord was that the imposition of consequences for Iran’s violations of its obligations was less valuable than a resolution of the underlying nuclear problem with Iran. That would not necessarily be the case with a less flexible approach.

In all of this, an analogy with U.S. nuclear strategy in the 1950s and 1960s may be warranted. Advocates of the trigger and redline approach lament the flexible response arrangements of the present, but it is not apparent that going to a “massive retaliation” strategy would accomplish much more than raising real risks of a rapid and unintended escalation into a crisis with Iran.

Of course, some advocates of triggers and redlines have underscored that their interest is not necessarily in going after Iran today but rather laying out a set of requirements on Iran for the future. This trigger and redline approach would be potentially different because it would not be intended to resolve implementation problems but rather to police Iranian behavior after Iran’s affirmative obligations under the JCPOA start to lapse.

In this conception, the redlines and triggers would not really come into play until such time as Iran’s nuclear program begins to change and expand toward the later years of the JCPOA restrictions, or roughly 2023 forward. Options could include things such as a decision to snap-back sanctions if Iran fields advanced centrifuges in greater numbers than research and development scale starting in 2028 or a decision to reimpose sanctions if Iran declined to source its future power reactors from foreign vendors, instead preferring to build and fuel its own.

From a nonproliferation perspective, both of these Iranian steps are objectionable in their own ways. Other examples of potentially problematic Iranian nuclear activities that could occur as restrictions lapse abound, such as a decision by Iran to restart R&D on spent fuel reprocessing or the production of uranium enriched to a level higher than 3.67 percent U-235. For this reason, it is in the U.S. interest to avoid these outcomes and to work to prevent these developments.

The Matter of Iranian Honor

Those inclined to pursue a redline and trigger approach appear to believe that the most effective way forward is to threaten Iran into cooperation. They are arguing implicitly that an Iran that knows the potential consequences of its activities is an Iran that will stay meekly in its box, abiding by foreign-imposed restrictions.

Unfortunately, that is not likely to take place. Iran’s very core identity is that of a revolutionary state that resists the imperialistic tendencies of the West and those of the United States in particular. This identity was forged in the resentments that were engendered in a history of colonialism and foreign power domination, most recently experienced in the U.S. and UK-assisted coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and in the predatory oil investment arrangements that Iranians felt were foisted on them throughout the 20th century.

Iranian soldiers march Sept. 22 past President Hassan Rouhani during the annual military parade in Tehran marking the anniversary of the outbreak of its 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Rouhani vowed that Iran will boost its ballistic missile capabilities despite criticism from the United States.  (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)Taking aside completely whether a U.S. decision to impose penalties against Iran for nuclear activities that, to a certain extent, were determined to be acceptable in the JCPOA would be a violation, the simple reality is that an overt imposition of obligations on Iran from the outside is the completely wrong way to start this conversation with Iran. Throughout the 2002-2015 period, when various attempts at negotiation with Iran were made, the Iranians were unambiguous about precisely one thing: they would not accept any arrangement in which they were forced to obey the demands of an outside power.

The Iranian system imposed this constraint, and Iranian negotiators observed it religiously. It is this reason, for example, that the JCPOA and the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) that preceded it included so many references to Iran undertaking voluntary actions or making a decision as to what it would do. The legal impact of these decisions was the same as a prohibition, but the phrasing was an essential element of getting Iran to agree.

U.S. negotiators were confronted with this challenge early on in the JPOA’s restrictions on its enrichment plants and the Arak heavy-water reactor. The United States wanted to have a concrete requirement on Iran not to expand its enrichment plants or to construct the reactor, which would be capable of producing weapons-usable plutonium. Iran would not agree to such blunt language. In the end, the United States agreed to accept a statement that “Iran announces that it will not make any further advances of its activities at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, Fordow, or the Arak reactor, designated by the IAEA as IR-40.”2 The United States then used IAEA inspector access and U.S. intelligence resources to verify that this announced intention was observed.

The result was that Iran was able to frame its commitment in its own way, and the United States got the desired end result. Proponents of a trigger and redline approach might argue that they too would be fine with such an outcome and that their concept would not inherently preclude Iran making a similar declaration in the future. Yet, by framing the very discussion of this approach as coercing Iran’s future behavior, Congress would nonetheless feed into the internal deliberations in Iran as to why it would be taking or, more likely, forgoing nuclear steps in the future. This would make the jobs of those future Iranian leaders more difficult if not impossible, especially if the next few years involve a more general increase in tensions between the United States and Iran.

An important difference must be made between legislating what the United States wants and getting what the United States wants. Congress naturally has the ability under the U.S. Constitution to set conditions for what the U.S. executive branch can offer insofar as sanctions relief is concerned or even what would constitute an acceptable policy toward Iran. Historical precedent has tended to accord a president latitude in implementing his own foreign policy, which Congress has largely respected. Yet, Congress cannot legislate what a foreign government will do, only what the United States will do in response. The problem therefore emerges: how to get Iran to sign on to U.S. requirements and preferences.

The prevailing theory of the redline approach is that the threat of overwhelming U.S. sanctions pressure will be sufficient. This is a dubious proposition. U.S. sanctions prior to the 2013 JPOA were hardly light in touch, driving the Iranian economy into recession and depriving it of more than $50 billion in oil revenues in 2012 alone. Some have argued that Iran would have accepted deeper concessions in JCPOA negotiations had sanctions not been held back in 2013, but this is at best conjecture and speculation, if not wishful thinking. This author’s own assessment is that sanctions had delivered as much pressure as was going to be achievable and that they were a wasting asset.

Either way, the sanctions pressure was able to bring Iran along only so far, and bringing more to bear would require not only snapback but far deeper sanctions against Iran. Given international hesitancy to support the Trump administration approach, it is a purely hypothetical exercise to suggest that even snapback would be effective, much less obtaining the comprehensive global embargo against Iran that would be necessary for a sanctions-focused strategy to have even a chance of succeeding.

Getting the Best of Both Worlds

As was hinted in the description of what Iran accepted in JPOA language, the right answer is to get Iran to believe it is in its own interest to take the required steps and to be able to sell the result at home. This requires more tact and diplomacy and less rigid demands from the outside, but has the hope of creating actual solutions with Iran and a more sustainable agreement to boot.

To start, Congress should not change the approach of a flexible response to compliance standards embodied in INARA, and it should not adopt rigid redlines to manage Iran’s future nuclear program. Instead, Congress should maintain its more general view of how Iranian compliance under the JCPOA should be judged and should outline the broad strokes of U.S. priorities for future negotiations with Iran.

Activists participate in a protest in front of the White House October 12 denouncing President Trump's anticipated decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)Congress can offer legislation that mandates reimposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran long into the future if evidence emerges that Iran is once again violating its nonproliferation commitments or that the IAEA is unable to provide assurances as to the absence of undeclared Iranian nuclear activities after the JCPOA’s expanded verification requirements end. This would be the establishment of a redline but one sufficiently distant and broad so as to permit latitude for executive branch performance. Alternatively and preferably, Congress can simply wait to see what happens, content in the knowledge that a massive snapback of sanctions remains a U.S. policy option in perpetuity, provided there is adequate cause and scope.

Privately, Congress can register with the administration its views as to what would constitute sufficient measures for a long-term arrangement, charging the administration to seek negotiations with Iran and other U.S. partners in its pursuit. The administration can define core elements for such an arrangement, prioritizing those measures that would provide expanded confidence as to Iran’s nuclear intent, and then seek a variety of ways for bringing them about. These could include enhancements to the IAEA’s standard safeguards practices, improved global export controls, regional arrangements, and even a direct agreement with Iran.3

Such a strategy would not generate immediate headlines nor would it satisfy the visceral desire on the part of some to see Iran acquiesce to the demands of the United States. Yet, it might just have a chance of securing the kind of steps and commitments on Iran’s part that would be necessary to convert the JCPOA into a longer-term, more sustainable nonproliferation instrument.

ENDNOTES

1. “Fixing the Iran Deal: Background and Key Elements,” n.d., https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/INARA%20Amendment%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.

2. “Appendix C: Text of the Joint Plan of Action,” Arms Control Association, June 23, 2014, https://www.armscontrol.org/reports/Solving-the-Iranian-Nuclear-Puzzle/2014/06/APPENDIX_C-Text-of-the-Joint-Plan-of-Action.

3. Robert Einhorn and Richard Nephew, “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Prelude to Proliferation in the Middle East,” Brookings Institution, May 31, 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-iran-nuclear-deal-prelude-to-proliferation-in-the-middle-east/.


Richard Nephew is a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. Previously, he was principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the Department of State from 2013 to 2015. Nephew also served as the lead sanctions expert for the U.S. team negotiating with Iran on the nuclear deal. From May 2011 to January 2013, Nephew served as the director for Iran on the National Security Council Staff.

 

Posted: December 1, 2017

Iran’s Leader Sets Missile Range Limit

Iran is focusing on accuracy gains rather than extending range.

December 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country will not develop ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 2,000 kilometers, reinforcing prior statements by officials and military leaders about missile range limitations.

Although that constraint leaves the United States out of range, most of the Middle East, including regional U.S. military facilities and Israel, are within the 2,000-kilometer range. Further, there was no indication that Khamenei’s order, citied by Iranian officials, precludes Iran from continuing to develop satellite launch rockets, a capability that would inform any attempt to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles.

A military truck carries a Qadr medium-range ballistic missile past a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a military parade in Tehran September 22, 2015. One version of that missile has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, according to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  (Photo credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)Iranian government officials have said repeatedly that Iran would abide by such a limit voluntarily and focus on improving accuracy. A statement by the supreme leader in this regard carries greater political significance. Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests appear to confirm that Tehran is concentrating on accuracy rather than trying to extend the range of its systems.

A June 2017 report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee found that Iran’s current ballistic missile inventory includes systems with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, but did not discuss any missiles that exceed that range. The report did mention that Iran’s space launch vehicles could provide a pathway to longer-range ballistic missiles, but many experts note that there are significant technological differences between space launch vehicles and ballistic missiles.

Iran’s ballistic missiles are not covered by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the deal, called on Iran to refrain from ballistic missile testing on systems “designed to be capable” of delivering nuclear weapons.

U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the nuclear deal for failing to include ballistic missiles and, in an Iran policy speech on Oct. 13, directed his administration to work with Congress to “fix” what he described as “flaws” in the agreement, including the issue of ballistic missiles. (See ACT, November 2017.)

Washington’s EU partners in the nuclear agreement—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—said in a statement responding to Trump’s speech that they are willing to work on ballistic missile restrictions outside of the deal.

Khamenei, however, said that Iran’s ballistic missiles are non-negotiable and “not to be bargained for.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani similarly emphasized that Iran’s ballistic missiles are necessary for state security and that production of ballistic missiles is not a violation of international law.

Although Resolution 2231 only “called” on Iran to refrain from ballistic missile activities, including development and testing, there is a clear prohibition on transfers or exports of ballistic missiles and related technologies without advance approval from the UN Security Council. A similar process is required for a range of armaments.

Yet, a U.S. statement tying a missile fired on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Iran raises concerns that Iran may have violated the restriction prohibiting transfers. The Saudi military intercepted a missile from Yemen targeted at Riyadh’s international airport on Nov. 4.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigan, head of U.S. Air Force Central Command in Qatar, said on Nov. 10 that there have been Iranian markings on missiles used by the Houthis against Saudi and Saudi-backed forces in the war in Yemen. He said the markings “connect the dots to Iran.” Other countries, including Saudi Arabia and France, also linked the missile to Iran in earlier statements.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said in Iran on Nov. 5 that accusations that the missile came from Iran are “baseless” and contended that Yemen can produce its own ballistic missiles.

Iran allegedly has transferred missile components in violation of Resolution 2231, according to a June report from the UN secretary-general assessing implementation of the resolution. The report referenced two cases in which missile components were seized in Ukraine. Additionally, the report noted letters from authorities in Yemen and the United Arab Emirates alleging that arms of Iranian origin were seized in Yemen.

IAEA Points to Iran’s Compliance

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, presenting findings that point toward Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said on Nov. 14 that his “assessment of the current situation” is that Iran is meeting its nuclear-related commitments. Speaking at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, Amano said that the IAEA is “confident” that it can “detect diversion of nuclear material or misuse of nuclear facilities and any nuclear activities and materials that are not included in Iran’s declaration in a timely manner.”

In the Nov. 13 report, the IAEA noted that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235 totaled 96.7 kilograms, well below the 300-kilogram limit, and its stockpile of heavy water was 114.4 metric tons, below the limit of 130 metric tons. Further, Iran was abiding by the limitations on operating centrifuges, which caps Iran’s use of centrifuges for enriching uranium to 5,060 IR-1 machines, according to the report.       

In a new development, Iran provided the IAEA in an Oct. 29 letter with preliminary design information for a light-water critical reactor, which it proposes to build in the “near future” for research purposes, consistent with the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Annex I of the accord notes that Iran will “rely on light water for its future nuclear power and research reactors,” and Annex III says that the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) “will facilitate Iran’s acquisition of light water research and power reactors.”

The report is the first since U.S. President Donald Trump withheld a certification to Congress on the nuclear deal. Although Trump did not do so on the grounds that Iran was violating its commitments, he said that Iran had “intimidated international inspectors into not using the full inspection authorities that the agreement calls for.”

Amano, however, said that inspectors have had access to all the necessary sites and noted that inspectors are now spending 3,000 workdays a year on the ground, twice the number in 2013.

Amano also sought to dispel doubt over the agency’s authority to monitor Iran’s compliance with the accord’s Section T, which prohibits Iran from undertaking activities that “could contribute to the design and development” of a nuclear device, including experiments with certain types of explosives.

That provision includes no specific reference to IAEA verification, and Russia has interpreted that to mean the Vienna-based agency has no authority over it. Western powers disagree with Russia. Amano in September sought clarification from the P5+1 on the IAEA’s role in implementing Section T. U.S. Ambassador the United Nations Nikki Haley in September accused Russia of trying to use the issue to “shield” Iran from inspections.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Posted: December 1, 2017

Timeline of Nuclear Diplomacy With Iran

Nuclear/Ballistic Missile Nonproliferation

Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102

Updated: November 2017

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, U.S. Secretary of State' John Kerry, and European Union High Representativ Catherine Ashton meet Sept. 25 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.Iran and six world powers known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) reached a historic nuclear deal on July 14, 2015 that limited Iran's nuclear program and ehanced monitoring in exchange for relief from nuclear sanctions. Prior to that, Iran had been engaged in efforts to acquire the capability to build nuclear weapons for more than two decades. Although it remained uncertain whether Tehran would have made the final decision to build nuclear weapons, it had developed a range of technologies, including uranium enrichment, warhead design, and delivery systems, that would give it this option in a relatively short time frame. Tehran maintains that its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful.

What follows is a chronological recount of the most significant developments in Iran’s nuclear program, international efforts to negotiate a settlement to address this controversial issue, and implementation of the agreement reached by Iran and the P5+1 on July 14, 2015.

 


Skip To: 1970's, 1980's, 1990's, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

 

November 1967: Iran’s first nuclear reactor, the U.S. supplied five-megawatt Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) goes critical. It operates on uranium enriched to about 93 percent (it is converted to run on 20 percent in 1993,) which the United States also supplies.

1970's

February 1970: The Iranian parliament ratifies the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

1974: Shah Reza Pahlavi establishes the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and announces plans to generate about 23,000 megawatts of energy over 20 years, including the construction of 23 nuclear power plants and the development of a full nuclear fuel cycle.

1979: The Iranian Revolution and the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran result in a severing of U.S.-Iranian ties and damages Iran’s relationship with the West. Iranian nuclear projects are halted.

1980's

January 19, 1984: The U.S. Department of State adds Iran to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, effectively imposing sweeping sanctions on Tehran.

1987: Iran acquires technical schematics for building a P-1 centrifuge from the Abdul Qadeer Khan network.

1990's

1992: Congress passes the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act of 1992, which prohibits the transfer of controlled goods or technology that might contribute “knowingly and materially” to Iran’s proliferation of advanced conventional weapons.

1993: Conversion of the TRR is completed by Argentina’s Applied Research Institute. It now runs on fuel enriched to just less than 20 percent, 115 kilograms of which is provided by Argentina; the contract for the conversion was signed in 1987.

August 5, 1996: The U.S. Congress passes the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, also known as the Iran Sanctions Act, that penalizes foreign and U.S. investment exceeding $20 million in Iran’s energy sector in one year.

2002

August 2002: The National Council of Resistance on Iran, the political wing of the terrorist organization Mujahideen-e Khalq (MeK), holds a press conference and declares Iran has built nuclear facilities near Natanz and Arak.

2003

 

September 12, 2003: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopts a resolution calling for Iran to suspend all enrichment – and reprocessing- related activities. The resolution requires Iran to declare all material relevant to its uranium-enrichment program and allow IAEA inspectors to conduct environmental sampling at any location. The resolution requires Iran to meet its conditions by October 31st 2003.

October 21, 2003: Iran agrees to meet IAEA demands by the October 31st deadline. In a deal struck between Iran and European foreign ministers, Iran agrees to suspend its uranium–enrichment activities and ratify an additional protocol requiring Iran to provide an expanded declaration of its nuclear activities and granting the IAEA broader rights of access to sites in the country.

2004

June 18, 2004: The IAEA rebukes Iran for failing to cooperate with IAEA inspectors. Iran responds by refusing to suspend enrichment-related activities as it had previously pledged.

November 14, 2004: Iran notifies the IAEA that it will suspend enrichment-related activities following talks with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. According to the so-called Paris Agreement, Iran would maintain the suspension for the duration of talks among the four countries. As a result, the IAEA Board of Governors decides not to refer Tehran to the UN Security Council.

2005

February 27, 2005: Russia and Iran conclude a nuclear fuel supply agreement in which Russia would provide fuel for the Bushehr reactor it is constructing and Iran would return the spent nuclear fuel to Russia. The arrangement is aimed at preventing Iran from extracting plutonium for nuclear weapons from the spent nuclear fuel.

August 8, 2005: Iran begins producing uranium hexafluoride at its Isfahan facility. As a result, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom halt negotiations with Tehran.

September 24, 2005: The IAEA adopts a resolution finding Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement by a vote of 22-1 with 12 members abstaining. The resolution says that the nature of Iran’s nuclear activities and the lack of assurance in their peaceful nature fall under the purview of the UN Security Council, paving the way for a future referral.

2006

February 4, 2006: A special meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors refers Iran to the UN Security Council. The resolution “deems it necessary for Iran to” suspend its enrichment-related activities, reconsider the construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor, ratify the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, and fully cooperate with the agency’s investigation.

February 6, 2006: Iran tells the IAEA that it will stop voluntarily implementing the additional protocol and other non-legally binding inspection procedures.

April 11, 2006: Iran announces that it has enriched uranium for the first time. The uranium enriched to about 3.5 percent was produced at the Natanz pilot enrichment plant.

 

June 6, 2006: China, France, Germany, Russia the United Kingdom, and the United Sates (the P5+1, referring to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) propose a framework agreement to Iran offering incentives for Iran to halt its enrichment program for an indefinite period of time.

July 31, 2006: The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 1696, making the IAEA’s calls for Iran to suspend enrichment –related and reprocessing activities legally binding for the first time.

August 22, 2006: Iran delivers a response to the P5+1 proposal, rejecting the requirement to suspend enrichment but declaring that the package contained “elements which may be useful for a constructive approach.”

December 23, 2006: The UN Security Council unanimously adopts Resolution 1737, imposing sanctions on Iran for its failure to suspend its enrichment-related activities. The sanctions prohibit countries from transferring sensitive nuclear- and missile-related technology to Iran and require that all countries freeze the assets of ten Iranian organizations and twelve individuals for their involvement in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

2007

March 24, 2007: The UN Security Council unanimously adopts Resolution 1747 in response to Iran’s continued failure to comply with the council’s demand to suspend Uranium enrichment.

August 21, 2007: Following three rounds of talks in July and August, the IAEA and Iran agree on a “work plan” for Iran to answer long-standing questions about its nuclear activities, including work suspected of being related to nuclear weapons development.

December 3, 2007: The United States publicly releases an unclassified summary of a new National Intelligence Estimate report on Iran’s nuclear program. The NIE says that the intelligence community judged “with high confidence” that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 and assessed with moderate confidence that the program had not resumed as of mid-2007. The report defines Iran’s nuclear weapons program as “design and weaponization work” as well as clandestine uranium conversion and enrichment. The NIE also said that Iran was believed to be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015.

2008

March 3, 2008: The UN Security Council passes Resolution 1803, further broadening sanctions on Iran. It requires increased efforts on the part of member states to prevent Iran from acquiring sensitive nuclear or missile technology and adds 13 persons and seven entities to the UN blacklist.

June 14, 2008: The P5+1 present a new comprehensive proposal to Iran updating its 2006 incentives package. The new proposal maintained the same basic framework as the one in 2006, but highlighted an initial “freeze-for-freeze” process wherein Iran would halt any expansion of its enrichment activities while the UN Security Council agreed not to impose additional sanctions.

2009

February 3, 2009: Iran announces that it successfully carried out its first satellite launch, raising international concerns that Iran’s ballistic missile potential was growing.

April 8, 2009: Following an Iran policy review by the new Obama administration, the United States announces that it would participate fully in the P5+1 talks with Iran, a departure from the previous administration’s policy requiring Iran to meet UN demands first.

June 12, 2009: Iran holds presidential elections. Incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is declared the winner amid many indications that the election was rigged. This sparks weeks of protests within Iran and delays diplomatic efforts to address Iran’s nuclear program.

September 25, 2009: United States President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that Iran has been constructing a secret, second uranium-enrichment facility, Fordow, in the mountains near the holy city of Qom. IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire said that Iran informed the agency September 21 about the existence of the facility, but U.S. intelligence officials said Iran offered the confirmation only after learning that it had been discovered by the United States.

October 1, 2009: The P5+1 and Iran agree “in principle” to a U.S.-initiated, IAEA-backed, proposal to fuel the TRR. The proposal entails Iran exporting the majority of its 3.5 percent enriched Uranium in return for 20 percent-enriched uranium fuel for the TRR, which has exhausted much of its supply. This agreement was later met with domestic political opposition in Iran, resulting in attempts by Tehran to change the terms of the “fuel swap.”

2010

February 9, 2010: Iran begins the process of producing 20 percent enriched uranium, allegedly for the TRR.

May 17, 2010: Brazil, Iran, and Turkey issue a joint declaration attempting to resuscitate the TRR fuel-swap proposal. In the declaration, Iran agrees to ship 1,200 kilograms of 3.5 percent enriched uranium to Turkey in return for TRR fuel from France and Russia. France, Russia, and the United States reject the arrangement, citing Iran’s larger stockpile of 3.5 percent-enriched uranium and the failure of the declaration to address Iran’s enrichment to 20 percent.

June 9, 2010: The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 1929, significantly expanding sanctions against Iran. In addition to tightening proliferation-related sanctions and banning Iran from carrying out nuclear-capable ballistic missile tests, the resolution imposes an arms embargo on the transfer of major weapons systems to Iran.

June 24, 2010: Congress adopts the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act; tightening U.S. sanctions against firms investing in Iran’s energy sector, extending those sanctions until 2016, and imposing new sanctions on companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran.

July 26, 2010: The EU agrees to further sanctions against Iran. A statement issued by EU member state foreign ministers refers to the new sanctions as “a comprehensive and robust package of measures in the areas of trade, financial services, energy, [and] transport, as well as additional designations for [a] visa ban and asset freeze.

September 16, 2010: The Stuxnet computer virus is first identified by a security expert as a directed attack against an Iranian nuclear-related facility, likely to be the Natanz enrichment plant.

2011

January 21-22, 2011: Following a December meeting in Geneva, the P5+1 meets with Iran in Istanbul, but the two sides do not arrive at any substantive agreement. Iran’s two preconditions for further discussions on a fuel-swap plan and transparency measures, recognition of a right to enrichment and the lifting of sanctions, were rejected by the P5+1.

February 16, 2011: U.S. intelligence officials tell a Senate committee that Iran has not yet decided whether it wants to develop nuclear weapons but is keeping that option open through development of its material capabilities.

May 8, 2011: Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant begins operations and successfully achieves a sustained chain reaction two days later, according to Atomstroyexport, the Russian state-owned company constructing and operating the plant.

June 8, 2011: Iran announces that it intends to triple the rate of 20 percent-enriched uranium production using more-advanced centrifuge designs. It also says it will move production to the Fordow enrichment plant near Qom, which is still under construction.

July 12, 2011: Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov unveils a proposal wherein Iran would take steps to increase cooperation with the IAEA and carry out confidence-building measures in return for a gradual easing of sanctions.

October 21, 2011: EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, sends a letter to Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili calling for “meaningful discussions on concrete confidence-building steps” to address international concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

November 8, 2011: The IAEA releases a report detailing a range of activities related to nuclear weapons development in which Iran is suspected to have engaged as part of a structured program prior to 2004. The report raises concerns that some weapons-related activities occurred after 2003. The information in the report is based primarily on information received from other countries, but also includes information from the agency’s own investigation. The findings appear consistent with the U.S. 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.

December 31, 2011: As part of the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress passes legislation that will allow the United States to sanction foreign banks if they continue to process transactions with the Central Bank of Iran.

2012

January 2012: The EU passes a decision that will ban all member countries from importing Iranian oil beginning July 1, 2012. Other provisions of the decision will prevent member countries from providing the necessary protection and indemnity insurance for tankers carrying Iranian oil.

January 29-31, 2012: Following an exchange of letters between Iran and the IAEA, it was agreed that an Agency team would travel to Tehran to begin discussions on the IAEA’s investigations into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program laid out in the November 2011 IAEA report.

February 15, 2012: Jalili responds to Ashton’s Oct. 21 letter, while Iran simultaneously announces a number of nuclear advances, including the domestic production of a fuel plate for the TRR.

April 14, 2012: Iran meets with the P5+1 in Istanbul for talks both sides call “positive.” They agree on a framework of continuing negotiations with a step-by-step process and reciprocal actions.

May 23-24, 2012: Iran and the P5+1 meet in Baghdad for a second set of talks.

June 18-19, 2012: Talks between Iran and the P5+1 continue in Moscow. Representatives discuss the substance of a P5+1 proposal and an Iranian proposal. Ashton and Jalili announce that will determine if political-level talks will continue after a technical-level meeting in July.

July 3, 2012: Experts representing the six parties meet in Istanbul to discuss the technical aspects of the P5+1 proposal and the Iranian proposal.

July 24, 2012: Schmid and Bagheri meet in Istanbul to discuss the outcome of the technical level experts meeting and confirm that Ashton and Jalili will talk to determine the future of the negotiations.

August 30, 2012: The IAEA reports that Iran increased the number of centrifuges installed at the Fordow enrichment plant and is continuing to produce uranium enriched to 20 percent in excess of its needs for the Tehran Research Reactor.

September 2012: Ashton and Jalili meet in Istanbul to assess “common points” reached at the low-level expert talks held in early July. The meeting was not considered a formal negotiation.

September 27, 2012: In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red-line for an Israeli attack on Iran. Netanyahu defines his red-line as Iran amassing enough uranium enriched to 20 percent (approximately 250 kilograms), which, when further enriched, will be enough for one bomb.

November 16, 2012: The IAEA reports that since August, Iran completed installation of the approximately 2,800 centrifuges that Fordow is designed to hold, although the number enriching remains constant. The number of cascades producing 20 percent enriched uranium remains constant at Fordow. The report also notes that Iran installed more centrifuges at Natanz,, and continued producing uranium enriched to 20 percent.

2013

February 26, 2013: Iran and the P5+1 resume negotiations in Almaty, Kazakhstan over Iran's nuclear program. The P5+1 offers Iran an updated proposal based largely on the 2012 package.

April 5-6, 2013: Iran and the P5+1 meet again in Almaty for a second round of talks. At the end of the meetings, negotiators announce that no further meetings are scheduled and the sides remain far apart.

June 3, 2013: At the quarterly meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, Director General Yukiya Amano says that the agency's talks with Iran over clarifying the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program have not made any progress.

June 14, 2013: Hassan Rouhani is elected president of Iran. A former nuclear negotiator, he asserts that Iran will maintain its nuclear program, but offers to be more transparent.

August 6, 2013: Three days after his inaguration, Iran's President Hasan Rouhani calls for the resumption of serious negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran's nuclear program.

September 26, 2013: The P5+1 foreign ministers meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines on the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. Zarif presents the P5+1 with a new proposal that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry describes as “very different in the vision” of possibilities for the future. Zarif and Kerry meeting for a bilateral exchange after the larger group meeting. Zarif later says he and Kerry move to agree “first, on the parameters of the end game.” Zarif says Iran and the P5+1 will think about the order of steps that need to be implemented to “address the immediate concerns of [the] two sides” and move toward finalizing a deal within a year. The parties agree to meet again on October 15 in Geneva.

September 27, 2013: President Barack Obama calls Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, marking the highest level contact between the U.S. and Iran since 1979. While President Obama says that there will be significant obstacles to overcome, he believes a comprehensive resolution can be reached.

In Vienna, Iran's new envoy to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, meets with IAEA deputy director Herman Nackaerts to resume negotitations on the structured approach to resolving the agency's concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program. Both sides describe the meeting as constructive and agree to meet again on October 28.

October 15-16, 2013: Iran and the P5+1 meet in Geneva to resume negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. At the end of the talks, the parties release a joint statement describing the meetings as "substantive and forward looking." The statement also says that Iran presented a new proposal that the P5+1 carefully considered as an "important contribution" to the talks. The proposal is understood to contain a broad framework for a comprehensive agreement and an interim confidence building measure to be instituted over the next 3-6 months, but no details are given as the parties agreed to keep the negotiations confidential.

Wendy Sherman, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, says after the talks that Iran approached the meetings "with a candor" she had not heard in her two years of negotiating with Tehran. The parties agree to meet again November 7-8 in Geneva with an experts level meeting October 30-31.

October 28-29, 2013: Iran meets with the IAEA to continue discussions over the agency's investigations into Iran's past nuclear activities with possible miltiary dimensions. According to a joint statement, Iran presented a new proposal at the talks that contained "practical measures" to "strengthen cooperation and dialouge with a view to future resolutiion of all outstanding issues." Iran and the IAEA agree to meet again in Tehran on November 11.

November 7-10, 2013: The P5+1 and Iran meet in Geneva to continue negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. On November 8, with the expectation that a deal is close, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flies to Geneva to join the talks, as do the foreign ministers from the other P5+1 countries. The parties fail to reach an agreement on a first-phase deal, but announce that talks will continue on November 20 in Geneva.

Secretary Kerry says in Nov. 10 press conference that the parties "narrowed the differences" and made significant progress toward reaching an agreemend during the talks.

November 11, 2013: IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and Ali Akbar Salehi meet in Tehran to continue talks on an approach for the agency's investigations into Iran's past nuclear activities with possible miltiary dimensions. Amano and Salehi sign a Framework for Cooperation Agreement. The framework lays out initial practical steps to be take by Iran within three months, including allowing IAEA access to the Heavy Water Production Plant at Arak and the Gchine uranium mine, and providing the agency with information on new reserach reactors and nuclear power plants that Iran intends to build. The statement commits the parties to cooperation "aimed at ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme through the resolution of all outstanding issues that have not already been resolved by the IAEA."

November 20-24, 2013: Iran and the P5+1 meet again in Geneva to continue negotiations. On November 23, the foreign ministers from the P5+1 join the negotiations. Early on November 24, Iranian Minister Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, leader of the P5+1 negotiating team, sign an agreement called the Joint Plan of Action. It lays out specific steps for each side in a six-month, first-phase agreeement, and the broad framework to guide negotiations for a comprehesive solution.

The first-phase pauses further developments in Iran's nuclear program, rolls back significant elements like the stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, and requires more extensive IAEA monitoring and access to nuclear sites. In return, Iran receives limited sanctions relief, repatriation of limited assets frozen abroad, and a comittment that no new nuclear-related sanctions will be imposed on Iran for the duration of the agreement. For more details on the agreement, click here.

The plan will establish a Joint Commission to monitor the agreement and work with the IAEA. The six month period can be extended by mutual consent of both parties.

December 8, 2013: Under the terms of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement the IAEA visits the Arak Heavy Water Production Plant.

December 9-12, 2013: The P5+1 and Iran meet in Geneva at the technical level to begin discussions on the implementation of the Nov. 24 Joint Plant of Action.

December 11, 2013: Iran and the IAEA meet again in Vienna to review progress made on the six actions that Iran agreed to take as part of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement. The parties also begin discussing the next practical steps for Iran to take and initially plan to meet again on Jan. 21 to finalize the measures. The meeting is later postponed at the request of Iran to Feb. 8.

December 30-31, 2013: Technical level discussions between Iran and the P5+1 on implementing the Joint Plan of Action continue in Geneva.

2014

January 9-10, 2014: Iran and the P5+1 meet for a third time in Geneva to discuss implementation. The parties reach an agreement and return to their respective capitals for approval.

January 12, 2014: Iran and the P5+1 announce that implementation of the Joint Plan of Action will begin on Jan. 20.

January 20, 2014: Implementation of the Joint Plan of Action begins. The IAEA issues a report on Iran's compliance with the deal. The report states that Iran is adhering to the terms of the agreement, including, halting enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, beginning to blend down half of the stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to 3.5 percent, and halting work on the Arak Heavy Water Reactor. The IAEA also begins more intrusive and frequent inspections.

The United States and the European Union also issue statements saying they have taken the necessary steps to waive the specific sanctions outlined in the Nov. 24 deal and release a schedule of payments for Iran to receive oil money held up in the other countries.

February 9, 2014: Iran and the IAEA meet to discuss further actions for Iran to take under the November 11 framework agreement to resolve the agency’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. They agree on additional actions, including Iran’s past work on exploding bridgewire detonators, one of the past activities with possible military dimensions.

February 17-20, 2014: Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 on the comprehensive agreement begin in Vienna. The parties agree on an agenda and framework to guide the talks

March 17-20, 2014: The P5+1 and Iran meet in Vienna to continue negotiations.

April 7-9, 2014: Another round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 take place in Vienna.

May 13-16, 2014: The P5+1 and Iran begin drafting the comprehensive agreement.

 

May 21, 2014: Iran and the IAEA announce an additional five actions for Iran to complete before August 25. Two of the activities that Iran agrees to provide information on relate to possible military dimensions.

June 2-6, 2014: At the IAEA board meeting Director General Yukiya Amano says that Iran is complying with the terms of the interim agreement and the agency's investigation into the unresolved concerns about Iran's nuclear program. The agency's quarterly report shows that Iran has neutralized nearly all of its stockpile of 20 percent uranium gas bu dilution or conversion to powder form.

June 16-20, 2014: Iran and the P5+1 hold another round of negotiations in Vienna.

July 2-19, 2014: Iran and the P5+1 continue talks in Vienna on a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Early on June 19, the parties announce that they will extend the talks through November 24 and keep the measures agreed to in the interim agreement in place. The parties also announce additional actions that Iran will take, namely converting 25 kg of uranium powder enriched to 20 percent into fuel plates and blending down about 3 tons of uranium enriched to less than 2 percent. The P5+1 will also repatriate $2.8 billion in funds. The parties agree to resume talks in August.

August 25, 2014: Iran misses a deadline to complete actions on five areas of concern to the IAEA as part of the agreement that Iran and the agency reached in November 2013.

September 5, 2014: The IAEA's quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program shows that Iran is complying with the interim deal, but did not provide the IAEA with information about past activities with possible military dimensions (PMDs) by the Aug. 25 deadline.

September 18, 2014: Talks between Iran and the P5+1 resume in New York City on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Both sides say that little progress was made at the end of the talks.

October 14-16, 2014: Iran and the P5+1 meet in Vienna to continue negotiations. Officials say that they remain focused on reaching an agreement by the Nov. 24 deadline and progress was made during the talks.

November 9-10, 2014: Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State Kerry meet in Muscat, Oman to continue talks. P5+1 lead negotiator Catherine Ashton is also present.

November 18-24, 2014: Iran and the P5+1 meet in Vienna to continue negotiations on an comprehensive agreement. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joins the talks on Nov. 20. French Foreign Minister Fabiusu, British Foreign Secretary Hammond, and German Foreign Minister Steinmeier all join the talks between Nov. 20 and 22. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov arrives on Nov. 23 and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang on Nov. 24.

November 24, 2014: Iran and the P5+1 announce that negotiations will be extended because progress was made on the difficult issues and both sides see a path forward. The parties announce that they now aim to reach a political agreement by March and then complete the technical annexes by June 30. Both sides will continue to implement the conditions of the interim Joint Plan of Action from November 2013. Iran and the P5+1 also make additional commitments.

December 15, 2014: Talks between the P5+1 and Iran continue in Geneva. U.S. State Department officials say the talks are "good and substanative." Parties plan to meet again in January.

December 24, 2014: Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says in a letter to his foreign counterparts that Iran’s goal remains to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal that assures the world its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

2015

January 15-18, 2015: The P5+1 and Iran meet in Geneva to continue negotiations.

January 21, 2015: In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 21, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken says: "We assess that we still have a credible chance of reaching a deal that is in the best interest of America's security, as well as the security of our allies."  

January 23-24, 2015: Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and European Union Political Director Helga Schmid meet again with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi in Zurich, Switzerland.

February 18-20, 2015: Talks between the P5+1 and Iran resume in Vienna.

February 19, 2015: A report by the Director General of the IAEA confirms that Iran is upholding its commitments under the interim deal, including additional provisions from the November 2014 extension. The report notes “Iran has continued to provide the Agency with managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities.”

March 3, 2015: Prime Minister Netanyahu delivers a speech to a joint session of Congress. His speech claims that the Iran deal  “would all but guarantee that Iran gets [nuclear] weapons, lots of them.”

March 9, 2015: Senator Tom Cotton and 46 other senators sign an open letter to the Parliament of Iran. The letter warns that any deal reached without legislative approval could be revised by the next president “with the stroke of a pen.”

March 17-20, 2015: Talks between the P5+1 and Iran continue in Lausanne. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, says to reporters "We have made progress on technical issues… One or two issues remain and need to be discussed."

March 25-April 2, 2015: Negotaitions continue in Lausanne. By March 29, all of the Foreign Ministers from the seven countries involved and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini are present.

April 2, 2015: Iran and the P5+1 announce agreement on a general framework that outlines the broad parameters of a nuclear deal. The United States issues a more specific factsheet on the details. Iran and the P5+1 agree to continue meeting to finalize a deal before June 30.

April 14, 2015: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passes legislation authored by Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that will require the President to submit the deal to Congress for a vote of approval or disapproval. According to the legislation, the President will not be able to waive sanctions during the 30 day Congressional review period.

April 15, 2015: Iran and the IAEA meet in Tehran to continue discussing the agency's investigations into the possibly military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program.

April 27, 2015: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meet in New York on the sidelines of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. Technical drafting work on the annexes of the agreement is underway.

May 7, 2015: The Senate passes the Corker legislation 98-1 on congressional review of an Iran nuclear deal.

May 12, 2015: EU and Iranian negotiators meet in Vienna to continue drafting a comprehensive ageement.

June 26, 2015: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Vienna to continue negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran and the P5+1. U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz joins Kerry. 

July 14, 2015: Iran and the P5+1 announce a comprehensive deal. Iran and the IAEA announce a roadmap for the agency's investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program.

July 19, 2015: The Obama administration sends the comprehensive deal and supporting documents to Congress, beginning the 60 day review period mandated by the Iran Nuclear Deal Review Act.

July 20, 2015: The UN Security Council unanimously passes a resolution endorsing the nuclear deal and the lifting of UN Security Council nuclear sanctions once key steps are taken in the deal.

August 15, 2015: The IAEA confirms that Iran submitted documents and explanations to answer the agency's unresolved concerns about past activities that could be related to nuclear weapons development.

September 2, 2015: The 34th Senator announces support for the nuclear deal with Iran, meaning that Congress will not have the support to override a presidential veto on a resolution disapproving of the deal.

September 8, 2015: Four additional Senators announce that they will support the nuclear deal with Iran, bringing the total number to 42. This important milestone will prevent the Senate from reaching the 60 vote threshold required for ending debate and moving to vote on a resolution of disapproval.

September 9, 2015: The IAEA announces that is submitted follow-up questions to Iran based on the information provided by Iran on Aug. 15. The IAEA is ahead of its Sept. 15 deadline to submit the questions.

September 10, 2015: A vote to end debate and move to vote on a resolution of disapproval failes to reach the required 60 votes on the Senate floor. The measure fails 58-42. Four democrats joined the 54 Republicans in favor of moving to vote on the resolution of dispproval. Similar votes fail on Sept. 15 and Sept. 17.

September 11, 2015: A vote on a resolution of approval fails in the House of Representatives, 269-162, with 25 Democrats voting joining the Republicans in voting against the measure.

September 17, 2015: The congressional review period ends without passage of a resolution of approval or a resolution of disapproval.

September 20, 2015: IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and Deputy Director General Tero Varjoranta visit the Parchin site at Iran. The IAEA has concerns about Iran conducting explosive activities there relevant to a nuclear device. Amano and Varjoranta confirm that environmental sampling was done at the site under IAEA surveillence and the agency is now testing the samples.

October 4, 2015: A panel of Iranian lawmakers reviewing the JCPOA release their assesment of the deal. The report issued says that the agreement contains some security threats, such as allowing inspectors access to military sites, but should go ahead.

October 10, 2015: Iran tests a medium-range ballistic missile, the Emad. The Emad is a more precise version of the Shahab-3, believed to be capable of carrying a 750 kg payload over 1,700 kilometers. The test is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (2010), which prohibits Iran from testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. 

October 10, 2015: Iran's parliment approves a preliminary bill supporting the Iran deal. 

October 13, 2015: Iran's parliment aproves a detailed bill supporting the Iran deal.

October 14, 2015Iran's Guardian Council ratifies the bill approved by the parliment, completing Iran's internal review of the agreement. 

October 15, 2015: The IAEA announces the activities laid out in the July 14 roadmap for the investigation into the past possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program has been completed. The IAEA aims to complete its report by Dec. 15.  

October 18, 2015Iran and the P5+1 formally adopt the nuclear deal. Iran begins taking steps to restrict its nuclear program. The United States issues waivers on nuclear-related sanctions to come into effect on implementation day. The EU announces it passed legislation to lift nuclear-related sanctions on implementation day. 

October 18, 2015Iran notifies the IAEA of that it will provisionally implement its additional protocol and modified Code 3.1 to its safeguards agreement as of implementation day.

October 19, 2015The first meeting of the Joint Commission takes place in Vienna. One of the purposes of the meeting is to set up working groups called for under the deal, such as the working group on procurement and the Arak reactor modification.  

October 20, 2015The Supreme Leader issues a statement endorsing the nuclear deal and bill passed by the Iranian parliment. 

October 21, 2015The United States raises Iran's ballistic missile test as a possible violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929 at a meeting of the Security Council. 

November 21, 2015Iran tests another medium-range ballistic missile in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929. 

December 2, 2015: The IAEA issues its assesment of Iran's past activities related to nuclear weapons development (PMDs). The IAEA assess that Tehran had an organized weapons program prior to 2003 and that some activities continued, although not as an organized effort, through 2009. The report says that the agency has no credible indication that nuclear material was diverted from Iran's declared program or that any activities continued after 2009.

December 15, 2015: The IAEA Board of Governors holds a special meeting to consider the Dec. 2 report on Iran's weaponization activities. The board passes a resolution terminating past resolutions on Iran's nuclear program and ending the investigation. The board requests that the IAEA continue reporting on Iran's nuclear activities under the nuclear deal and report immediately on any concerns that arise with Iran's implementation.

December 28, 2015: Iran announces that it shipped 8.5 tonnes of low-enriched uranium, including the 20 percent enriched material in scrap and waste, out of the country to Russia. In return, Iran receives 140 tonnes of uranium yellowcake.

2016

January 11, 2016: Iranian officials announce that the Arak reactor core is being disabled. Iranian and P5+1 officials say that implementation day is close.

January 16, 2016The IAEA verifies that Iran met its nuclear related commitments. Based on the IAEA report, Zarif and Mogherini announce implementation day, triggering the lifting of sanctions. UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which the Council passed in July to endorse the deal and trigger the lifting of UN sanctions comes into effect. Prior resolutions on Iran's nuclear program are terminated. 

January 17, 2016: The U.S. Treasury Department issues an anouncement that new sanctions will be imposed on 11 individuals and entities involved with Iran's ballisitic missile programs. U.S. President Barack Obama says that with implementation of the nuclear deal Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons and that "the region, the United States, and the world will be more secure." Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a speech saying that "Iran's nuclear rights have been accepted by all." 

January 26, 2016Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, says that Iran and China had signed a basic agreement to formalize China’s assistance in redesigning the Arak reactor during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Iran the previous week. 

February 11, 2016: Abbas Qaidaari, director of the Defense and Security Studies Department at the Center for Strategic Studies in the Office of the Iranian President, writes in a piece for the Atlantic Council that “Iran’s strategic defense plan currently sees no justification” for missile ranges greater than 2,000-2,300 kilometers. Qaidaari said that although Tehran is committed to developing its “deterrent conventional defense capabilities,” it will limit its ballistic missiles to that range.

February 26, 2016The IAEA issues its first quarterly report on Iran's post-implementation day nuclear activities. The report notes that Iran is meeting its nuclear obligations, although it slightly exceeded a cap set on the stockpile of heavy water allowed under the agreement. The IAEA notes that Iran had 130.9 metric tons of heavy water, slightly above the 130 metric ton limit set by the deal, but shipped out 20 metric tons on February 24 to stay below the limit. 

March 9, 2016: Iran test launches two different variations of the Qadr medium-range ballistic missile. 

March 14, 2016U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power says she raised Iran's ballistic missile tests at a Security Council meeting, saying that the tests are inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231. 

March 15, 2016Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif defends Iran's missile launches saying that the missiles are permissible under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 because the missiles are not designed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. 

March 21, 2016: Then-candidate Trump delivers remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference, noting his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”

April 22, 2016: Officials from Iran and the United States meet in Vienna, signing a purchase agreement for Washington to buy 32 metric tons of heavy water for $8.6 million. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meet in New York to discuss implementation of the deal. In remarks after the meeting Kerry says that Washington is working to clarify confusion amongst foreign banks about the sanctions lifted in January. 

May 27, 2016The IAEA issues its quarterly report on Iran's implementation of the nuclear deal. The report shows Iran is abiding by restrictions under the agreement and inspectors have been able to access certain Iranian sites using complimentary access visits. 

July 18, 2016Iran's research and development plan for advanced centrifuge machines, leaked to the AP, is reported on in the press. 

July 29, 2016: In a statement, the IAEA notes it sent a letter to Iran denying it was the source of leaked information about Iranian plans for phasing in advanced centrifuges in 2027.

September 8, 2016: The IAEA releases its third quarterly report since JCPOA implementation day, showing Iran continues to abide by its restrictions under the JCPOA. The report notes that Iran removed 96 IR-1 centrifuges from the storage area at Natanz to replace damaged centrifuges that were enriching uranium.

September 21, 2016: The U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control grants Airbus and Boeing permission to sell planes to Iran. The licenses were made possible by sanctions waived as part of the JCPOA. 

September 22, 2016: Iran and the P5+1 meet in New York to review progress on JCPOA implementation and the pace of sanctions relief. The meeting marks the first ministerial-level meeting since the announcement of the deal’s implementation in January. Speaking to the UN General Assembly on the same day, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expresses concern over the slow pace of sanctions relief and claims the U.S. has been in lack of compliance.

September 26, 2016: Sergei Kireienko, head of Rosatom, the state-run Russian nuclear energy company, announces that Moscow purchased 38 tons of heavy-water from Iran. The material was delivered to Russia in mid-September.

November 2, 2016: IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano expresses concern to Iranian leaders regarding the size of Iran’s heavy water stock. On November 8th, the Agency confirms that Iran’s heavy water stock, at 130.1 tons, exceeds the 130 metric ton limit outlined in the deal, marking the second time Iran has exceeded the limit. On November 9th, Iran informs the IAEA of plans to remain in compliance by transferring heavy water out of the country.

November 8, 2016: Donald Trump is elected as the 45th President of the United States. During the presidential campaign, Trump referred to the JCPOA as the worst deal ever negotiated and pledged to renegotiate it. The U.S.’s European allies in the P5+1 previously signaled they would resist efforts to renegotiate the deal.

November 20, 2016: IAEA releases its fourth quarterly report on Iranian nuclear program since JCPOA implementation day. The report notes that Iran had 130.1 metric tons of heavy water, slightly over the 130 metric tons permitted under the deal. The IAEA report says Iran plans to transfer heavy water out of the country.

December 1, 2016: Congress passes a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), which becomes law on December 15th. Extension of the ISA is consistent with U.S. obligations under the JCPOA, although many of the ISA’s provisions are being waived under Washington’s commitments under the agreement.

December 6, 2016: IAEA verifies that all 11 metric tons of heavy water shipped out of Iran have reached their destination and are in storage, bringing Iran back within the limit on heavy water of 130 metric tons established by the JCPOA.

December 13, 2016: President Rouhani announces Iran will respond to Washington’s extension of the Iran Sanctions Act by researching and developing nuclear propulsion for marine vessels.

December 15, 2016: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reissues sanctions waivers early, on the same day that the ISA renewal comes into effect, to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to the JCPOA.

December 18, 2016: IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano visits Iran, meeting with President Rouhani and Ali Akhbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. Amano and Salehi discussed issues related to implementation. Further, Amano sought clarification on Iran’s announcement regarding naval nuclear reactor research and development.

December 23, 2016: The IAEA, at the request of Federica Mogherini, circulates decisions made by the Joint Commission set up to oversee implementation of the nuclear deal. The documents contain additional information on hot cells, recovering waste uranium, describing and calculating efficiency for advanced centrifuges, and utilizing the procurement channel.  

2017

January 12, 2017: In his confirmation hearing for the position of Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis tells Congress that, while he believes the JCPOA is an imperfect agreement, “when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.” His remarks echo a previous statement in April, when he noted there is “no going back” on the deal absent a clear violation of the agreement.

Iran receives the first shipment in an order of 100 planes purchased from Airbus. Sanctions waived as part of the nuclear deal allow Iran to purchase new commercial aircraft.

January 15, 2017: IAEA verifies that Tehran has taken certain steps to remove infrastructure and excess centrifuges from Fordow within the necessary timeframe required by the JCPOA (one year after Implementation Day). Secretary of Energy Moniz releases a statement noting “Iran successfully met the milestone of removing excess centrifuges and infrastructure from Fordow, demonstrating that the deal continues to limit Iran’s nuclear program so as to provide confidence that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon and maintain at least a one year breakout time.”

January 28, 2017: Iran test fires a medium-range ballistic missile, in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The test prompts former NSA Michael Flynn, on February 1, to declare the United States has placed Iran “on notice.”

February 9, 2017: EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini travels to Washington for meetings with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former National Security Advisor Micheal Flynn, and members of Congress. Mogherini notes that the JCPOA is key for the security of Europe given its geographic proximity to Iran.

February 24, 2017: IAEA releases its first quarterly report on Iranian nuclear activity in 2017, reporting on the size of Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent for the first time. The report notes that the stockpile was 101.7 kilograms. The limit established by the deal is 300 kilograms.

March 23, 2017: Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) introduces a new Iran sanctions bill, the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, targeting Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terrorism.

March 31, 2017: Former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and six former Obama administration officials release an op-ed in Foreign Policy outlining their opposition to the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017.

April 18, 2017: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a letter to speaker of the House Paul Ryan, certifies to Congress that Iran is compliant in meeting its obligations under the JCPOA.

April 23, 2017: Iran and China resolve a price dispute and complete an agreement to modify Iran’s Arak reactor. China will work with Iran to carry out modifications stipulated by the JCPOA to reduce the reactor’s output of weapons-grade plutonium.  

May 16, 2017: Ambassador Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator for the JCPOA, states her opposition to the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, noting its potential to undermine the nuclear accord.

May 17, 2017: The U.S. renews sanctions waivers as required by its JCPOA obligations, marking the first time the Trump administration has waived sanctions and taken a proactive step to implement the deal.

May 19, 2017: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is re-elected to a second term. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini congratulates Rouhani on Twitter and reaffirms the EU’s commitment to full JCPOA implementation.

June 2, 2017: The IAEA releases its second quarterly report in 2017 on Iran’s implementation of the JCPOA, reporting that Iran is meeting its obligations under the nuclear deal. 

June 15, 2017: Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 (S.722) passes the Senate by a vote of 98-2. The bill was amended to correct sections that violated the JCPOA, but Iran continued to assert that the bill contradicts the spirit of the deal. 

June 20, 2017: The UN Secretary General releases the biannual report on UN Security Council Resolution 2231, affirming that Iran is complying with the JCPOA but raising concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile activity. 

July 10, 2017: White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders says that at the G20 summit, President Trump encouraged foreign leaders not to do business with Iran, which Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif later cited as a failure on the part of the United States to “implement its part of the bargain” in an interview

July 17, 2017: The Trump administration reluctantly certifies Iran's compliance with the JCPOA, delaying the announcement for hours and issuing new non-nuclear sanctions on Iran the next day.  

July 21, 2017: The Joint Commission of the JCPOA meets for the sixth time to address the implementation of the agreement. 

July 25, 2017: The U.S. House of Representatives passes H.R. 3364, the Countering Adversarial Nations Through Sanctions Act, which would impose new sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia. 

August 31, 2017: In its third quarterly report, the IAEA finds that as of Aug. 21, Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium was 88.4 kg (194.89 pounds), well below a 202.8-kg limit, and the level of enrichment did not exceed a 3.67 percent cap. Iran’s stock of heavy water, stood at 111 tons, below the 130 ton limit.

September 20, 2017: The foreign ministers of China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly for the ministerial meeting of the E3/EU+3 and Iran. In remarks following the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini states that all agreed that all sides are implementing the JCPOA.

September 22, 2017: Iran parades its new medium-range ballistic missile tested in January, the Khoramshahr, with a range of about 2,000 km, in a military parade.

October 13, 2017: Trump declares that, as part of a broader new strategy toward Iran, he will not certify under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) that the suspension of sanctions under the JCPOA is "appropriate and proportionate" to measures taken by Iran under the deal. Trump's decertification itself does not violate the JCPOA. However, decertification opens up a window of 60 days where Congress may re-introduce sanctions waived under the nuclear deal with Iran under an expedited process. In his address, Trump encourages Congress to enact legislation against the JCPOA's "sunset clauses" which set dates after which certain restrictions under the deal on Iran's nuclear program will no longer apply. Trump says if his concerns about the deal are not resolved he will terminate the agreement.

Trump also states that he will further sanction the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for its support for terrorism, but does not designate the group as a terrorist organization.

Immediately following the announcement, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron released a joint statement expressing their continued support for the JCPOA.

November 13, 2017: The IAEA issues its fourth quarterly report for 2017 on Iran's implementation of the JCPOA. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano tells the agency's Board of Governors that the nuclear-related commitments are being implemented and that IAEA inspectors have had access to all locations they have needed to visit.

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Posted: November 29, 2017

Trump Sets U.S. Up to Violate Iran Deal

Next steps fall to Congress, as key allies appeal for U.S. to stick with the nuclear accord.


November 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

President Donald Trump directed his administration to work with Congress to address “serious flaws” in the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, but with Tehran and Washington’s negotiating partners rejecting renegotiations, his approach is unlikely to yield results and risks resulting in the United States violating the agreement.

Outlining his Iran policy in an Oct. 13 speech, Trump said he would terminate the accord if Congress and the U.S. negotiating partners in the P5+1 group—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—fail to address areas of concern, such as the expiration of certain nuclear constraints and Iran’s ballistic missile development.

President Donald Trump speaks October 13 at the White House about his decision to deny quarterly certification of the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)Trump also said he was withholding a quarterly certification to Congress tied to the nuclear deal on the grounds that sanctions relief provided to Iran was not proportionate to the restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program. That was an expected step after Trump said in July that he was unlikely to issue the certification. (See ACT, September 2017.)

The certification is a U.S. legal requirement comprised of several determinations. In addition to the determination on sanctions proportionality, the certification includes determinations related to Iran’s compliance with the deal and the national security value of the accord. In the weeks leading up to the certification deadline, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted that Iran was meeting its obligations; and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that the deal is in the U.S. national security interest, indicators that key advisers in Trump’s cabinet opposed his decision to withhold certification.

Withholding certification does not violate the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump said that the United States intends to remain party to the agreement for now, while he looks to Congress and U.S. allies to "address the deal's many serious flaws."

Despite Trump’s threats to terminate the accord if changes are not made, Washington’s negotiating partners and Iran rejected renegotiating elements of the deal. Shortly after Trump’s Oct. 13 announcement, Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief and head of the P5+1, said that the deal is working, the EU will continue to implement it, and it is “not up to a single country to terminate it.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is under pressure from regime hardliners, said Iran “will not be the first to withdraw from the deal but, if its rights and interests in the deal are not respected, it will stop implementing all its commitments and will resume its peaceful nuclear program without any restrictions.”

Washington’s actions prove that the United States is “not a reliable negotiating partner,” he said, a statement that could have ramifications for any future talks with Iran, as well as for U.S. efforts to negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement Oct. 13 expressing “concern about the possible implications” of Trump’s decision to withhold certification and encouraging him and Congress to consider “the implications to the security of the U.S. and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPOA, such as re-imposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement.”

Withholding certification allows Congress to introduce legislation within 60 days to reimpose sanctions waived under the deal using an expedited legislative process, but it appears unlikely that Congress will pursue this route, which would clearly violate the agreement.

The current approach espoused by several Senate Republicans would seek to address Trump’s concerns about ballistic missiles and limits that expire under the deal and refrain from reimposing sanctions. Still, if enacted as described, this approach would violate the terms of the accord by seeking to pressure Iran, under threat of sanctions, to abide by limits for a longer duration than required under the deal.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) released a factsheet Oct. 13 summarizing his legislative approach, titled “Fixing the Iran Deal,” which outlines that U.S. sanctions waived under the deal will be reimposed automatically if Iran takes certain steps, including activities that are permitted under the nuclear deal or will be permitted in the out years of the agreement.

For instance, the factsheet says that U.S. sanctions waived under the deal will snap back automatically if Iran’s nuclear weapons “breakout” time, commonly defined as the time it would take Iran to amass enough weapons-grade fissile material for one bomb, drops to less than one year.

For the first 10 years of the nuclear deal, the combination of limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and stockpile of enriched uranium holds Iran to a 12-month breakout time. By year 15, however, certain limits expire; and Iran could choose to expand its uranium-enrichment capacity, at which point breakout would likely drop below 12 months.

Despite the deal permitting Iran to expand uranium enrichment, U.S. sanctions would be automatically reimposed at that point, which many experts contend violates the agreement. Corker’s factsheet, however, argues that approach is “ridding the JCPOA of sunset provisions as they apply to U.S. sanctions.”

Trump did not specifically mention Corker’s initiative in his speech, but said he supported congressional efforts to “make all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity permanent under U.S. law” and “prevent Iran from developing” an intercontinental ballistic missile.

It seems unlikely that Democrats would support any approach that violates the deal. In the Senate, any such effort to bring legislation altering the terms of the nuclear deal up for a vote would require 60 votes; and key Senate Democrats, including several who opposed the deal in 2015, signaled they do not support abrogating the deal.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposed the deal in 2015, but denounced Trump’s decision to withholding certification as “reckless” and “without factual or material evidence” to warrant such a move.

Cardin said that “we will not buy into the false premise that it is Congress’ role to legislate solutions to problems of [Trump’s] own making” and that it is “up to Congress to show the world that there is bipartisan support for the United States to uphold its commitments, including the JCPOA.”

An official from a European country that participated in the negotiations told Arms Control Today on Oct. 23 that the “deal is done” and that “any efforts to unilaterally change its terms” jeopardizes the agreement.

He said Mogherini was very clear at the United Nations in September that there is “no interest in or need to renegotiate or reopen the accord.” Concerns outside of the deal, such as ballistic missiles, can be addressed separately from implementation of the agreement, he added.

May, Macron, and Merkel made a similar statement in their Oct. 13 letter, saying that they “stand ready to take further appropriate measures to address” issues such as ballistic missile development “at the same time as we work to preserve the JCPOA.”

Corker’s factsheet does not explicitly mention ballistic missiles, but in interviews following Trump’s speech, he has said his approach may reimpose sanctions automatically in response to certain ballistic missile activities conducted by Iran.

The nuclear deal does not prohibit Iran from developing ballistic missiles, but the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the deal “called upon” Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons and regulates Iran’s purchases of materials and technology relevant to developing ballistic missiles.

The United States, as permitted by the accord, continues to sanction individuals and entities involved with Iran’s ballistic missile activities.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Posted: November 1, 2017

International Support for the Iran Nuclear Deal

International support for the 2015 nuclear deal between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran remains strong, despite comments by U.S. President Donald Trump threatening the future of the agreement. The Arms Control Association will be adding international statements in support of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on this page as they are released. October 2017: General The European Union 1. The JCPOA, the culmination of 12 years of diplomacy facilitated by the EU, unanimously endorsed by UN...

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, October 20, 2017

Trump’s “Decertification” Decision Sets Washington Up to Violate the Nuclear Deal As expected, President Donald Trump announced Oct. 13 he would not issue a certification to Congress required by U.S. law that is tied to the nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). While withholding certification does not, by itself, violate the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal and Trump said the United States is staying in the agreement for now, his proposed policy toward the deal sets the United States on a course to violate the accord, further isolate Washington from...

Trump’s Stance on Iran Nuclear Deal Risks Proliferation Crisis

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Arms Control Experts Say Efforts to Pressure Iran to Renegotiate Terms of 2015 Agreement Are Irresponsible and Dangerous

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Arms Control Experts Say Efforts to Pressure Iran to Renegotiate Terms of 2015 Agreement Are Irresponsible and Dangerous

For Immediate Release: October 13, 2017

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy (202) 463-8270 ext. 102; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107. 

(Washington, D.C.)—Experts from the Washington-based Arms Control Association denounced President Donald Trump’s decision Friday to withhold a certification to Congress tied to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“The President’s gambit is irresponsible and dangerous. Any attempt by the White House or Congress to unilaterally change the terms of the highly-successful nuclear deal with Iran risks setting Washington on a course to violate the deal.” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

Trump signaled that he will withhold certification because he believes the sanctions relief granted to Iran is not proportional to the restrictions Iran is abiding by under the agreement. He further said he would push for Congress to pass legislation requiring sanctions to snap back into place if Iran does not meet additional limits that are not currently mandated in the JCPOA.

“It is critical that Congress refrain from any actions that would effectively seek to renegotiate the terms of the JCPOA. Any steps seeking to dictate an extension of the JCPOA restrictions or add additional requirements through U.S. legislation will create a major schism with U.S. allies and could push Iran to resume troublesome nuclear activities restricted under the deal,” Kimball said.

“Trump’s plan to unilaterally extend the limits of the current deal by holding Iran hostage to the threat of reimposing U.S. sanctions is a fantasy that jeopardizes an agreement that is verifiably blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy.

“Trump’s pressure-centric approach only risks undercutting Iranian incentives to remain in compliance with the accord and isolating the United States from its negotiating partners, all of whom reject reopening the agreement. With the looming threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, the United States cannot afford to manufacture a second nuclear crisis,” she added.

"If the Trump administration is truly concerned about the future of Iran’s nuclear program, Washington should meet its obligations under the deal, vigorously enforce the accord, and seek global support to build on the innovative nonproliferation elements of the agreement.” Davenport said.

“Trump’s reckless actions have consequences beyond threatening the nuclear deal with Iran. He risks triggering a spiral of proliferation and destabilizing nuclear competition in the region, and beyond,” Kimball added.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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Posted: October 13, 2017

Iran Nuclear Deal 'Sunset' Gets Scrutiny

U.S. officials make misleading statements critical of the accord's duration.


October 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

Europeans leaders are seeking to shore up support for the Iran nuclear deal amid criticism from the United States over the duration of provisions that deny Iran the capability to make nuclear weapons or avoid detection if attempting to do so secretly.

With Iran judged to be in compliance, President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials have focused their criticism of the July 2015 nuclear accord on Iranian activities not barred by it, such as developing missiles and stoking conflicts in the Mideast, and on the deal’s provisions phasing out of some nuclear constraints imposed on Iran. Trump’s hints at abandoning the deal have alarmed key European allies, who have sought to reassure him with the uncertain prospect of addressing issues outside the agreement, while continuing the current deal.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly Sept. 20. The nuclear deal “constitutes a recognized multilateral agreement, and any failure on the part of the United States in implementing it would constitute an international wrongful act and would be objected to by the international community,” he said.  (Photo credit: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)As with most arms control agreements, the nuclear deal negotiated between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran contains measures that expire over time. Other aspects that create barriers to building nuclear weapons remain in place indefinitely. European and Russian officials have pointed to the permanent provisions, said that the deal is contributing to regional and international security, and urged continued implementation of the agreement.

After a ministerial meeting of the P5+1 and Iran at the United Nations, Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief and chair of the P5+1 group, said on Sept. 20 that all parties agreed there were “no violations” of the accord. Further, Mogherini said that there was no discussion at the meeting of reopening the agreement, signaling the kind of opposition Trump can expect from European allies.

The international community “cannot afford dismantling an agreement that is working,” and “as Europeans, we will make sure that the agreement stays,” she said.

Trump has signaled he will take steps this month that could lead to the unraveling of the nuclear deal. Addressing the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19, Trump denounced the deal as an “embarrassment” and said that Washington cannot abide by an agreement if it “provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.” Given that the nuclear deal allows Iran to maintain a limited nuclear program for peaceful purposes, it is likely Trump was referring to a nuclear weapons program.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spelled out the concern about expiration dates more clearly in remarks to the press Sept. 20. Tillerson said “the sunset clause” is a “very concerning shortcoming” of the deal. “One can almost set the countdown clock to when Iran can resume its nuclear weapons programs, its nuclear activities,” he said at a press conference, “and that’s something that the president simply finds unacceptable.”

Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also called into question the duration of the nuclear deal in his Sept. 19 speech, saying it is necessary to “fix it or nix it,” adding that fixing the deal included “getting rid of the sunset clause.”

Both Tillerson and Netanyahu were misleading in giving the impression that the deal expires with a single sunset clause, when the duration terms are complex and some provisions are intended to restrict Iranian actions permanently.

Several of the key limitations on uranium-enrichment activities phase out between 10 and 15 years after implementation of the accord, which occurred in January 2016. For instance, starting in January 2026, Iran is free to enrich uranium using advanced centrifuges and install and operate a greater number of first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. Currently, Iran is restricted to using 5,060 IR-1 machines to enrich uranium. In January 2031, the 300-kilogram limit on Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will expire, and Iran will be permitted to enrich uranium to levels greater than 3.67 percent uranium-235.

The expiration of these limits will shorten Iran’s potential breakout time, the time it would take to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, to less than the current 12 months. Yet, additional barriers remain in place—some will expire subsequently, others are permanent—that are intended to prevent or deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

For instance, continuous monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge production manufacturing sites and uranium mines and mills by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors continue for an additional five and 10 years, respectively, providing intelligence on Iran’s actions. Other restrictions, such as the specific prohibition on “activities which could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device,” remain in place in perpetuity. This commitment prevents Iran from pursing activities in the future relevant to building a nuclear weapon but claiming the purpose was for conventional military applications.

Iran also may be permanently subject to the more intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms permitted under the additional protocol to Iran’s safeguards agreement. The additional protocol gives the IAEA more information about and access to nuclear-related facilities in Iran.

Currently, Iran is implementing its additional protocol on a voluntary basis. Under the nuclear deal, Iran must seek ratification of the additional protocol within eight years of the deal’s adoption, by October 2023. Once
ratified, the additional protocol is permanent. At the IAEA annual general conference in Vienna, the European Union said on Sept. 18 that “early ratification by Iran” of the additional protocol is “essential.”

Iran also committed under the nuclear deal to implement the modified Code 3.1 safeguards provisions, which require a state to report on a new nuclear-related facility as soon as the construction decision is made. Implementation of this measure will give the IAEA early notice of construction affecting Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Taken together, these additional restrictions and transparency measures provide the international community with a powerful set of tools to detect and deter an Iranian attempt to pursue nuclear weapons development well beyond the initial 15-year period now at issue. Further, Mogherini noted that the text of the deal “reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

European members of the P5+1 and Iran, while clearly stating that the current nuclear deal must remain in place, have not dismissed future negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programs or other activities in the region. Iran has made clear that any future negotiations would require reciprocal concessions.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he agreed with Trump that the deal is “not sufficient,” but said that stopping the deal would be a bad option. He said the best way to address concerns is to sustain the nuclear deal and work to build on the existing deal.

The deal does not preclude negotiating an extension to the limits or a deal on other measures that would provide disincentives to the pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran in the future. “Different issues can be discussed in different formats,” said Mogherini.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New York Times on Sept. 21 that if “you want to have an addendum, there has to be an addendum on everything.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Posted: October 1, 2017

Listen to our European Partners: Sustain the Nuclear Deal with Iran

Before taking action to undermine or violate the nuclear deal with Iran, President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress would be wise to heed the words of Washington’s European partners in the deal, namely that the agreement is working and renegotiation is futile. Ambassador David O’Sullivan of the European Union, Ambassador Peter Wittig of Germany, Ambassador Gerard Araud of France, and Ambassador Kim Darroch of the United Kingdom, joined forces to deliver these messages at the Atlantic Council Sept. 25 , just three weeks ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline for Trump to issue or withhold a...

Grasping at Straws

The Trump Administration and its supporters outside of the U.S. government are laboring mightily to convince the international community that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a bad deal for the United States. Unfortunately for them, Iranian compliance keeps getting in the way. We can see this in the way in which senior U.S. government officials speak to issues of Iranian compliance. During press availability on the margins of the UN General Assembly, Secretary of State Tillerson was careful to note that Iran is in “ technical ” compliance with the JCPOA, but argued that this...

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