"I greatly appreciate your very swift response, and your organization's work in general. It's a terrific source of authoritative information."

– Lisa Beyer
Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
Kelsey Davenport

U.S. Seeks Iran Arms Embargo Extension | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, May 14, 2020

U.S. Seeks Iran Arms Embargo Extension The United States is considering a range of options to prevent the October 2020 expiration of a UN embargo that restricts arms sales to and from Iran. Those options include making a legal case that the United States remains a bona fide participant of the nuclear deal with Iran that it withdrew from in May 2018 in order to use a Security Council provision to block the embargo’s expiration. The embargo’s October 2020 expiration date is written into UN Security Council Resolution 2231 , which endorses and helps implement the nuclear deal, formally called...

Video Short: U.S. Policy Toward Iran and the Nuclear Deal



My name is Kelsey Davenport and I am the director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

Why did the Trump administration withdraw the United States from the 2016 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran?

The 2015 multilateral nuclear deal with Iran resolved a decadeslong crisis over that country's nuclear program by putting in place intrusive monitoring and stringently limiting Iran's nuclear activities. Despite international inspectors and the U.S. intelligence community assessing that Tehran was complying with that deal, President Trump repeatedly referred to the agreement as a failure and in May of 2018 withdrew the United States from the agreement and we imposed US sanctions on Iran. The Trump administration has subsequently pursued a maximum pressure campaign against Tehran designed to push Iran to negotiate not only on its nuclear program but restrictions on its ballistic missile activities and activities in the region.

How have Iran and the other parties to the agreement responded to Trump's actions?

Unsurprisingly, there were many parties to the deal, and Iran opposed the U.S. withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions. Now, for the first year after Trump embarked on this pressure campaign, Iran continued to abide by the deal and worked with the Europeans, Russia, and China to try and reconstitute some sanctions relief envisioned by the agreement. However, after a failure to develop any meaningful trade within that year, Iran began to take steps in May of 2019 to violate the deal. Now, these steps have been incremental, they are quickly reversible, and they don't constitute an immediate proliferation risk. It's clear that what Iran is trying to do is pressure the remaining parties to the deal to deliver on sanctions relief so that the deal delivers some benefits to Iran.

How can the United States and Iran step back from confrontation and prevent a new proliferation crisis?

The Trump administration's current maximum pressure campaign toward Iran increases the risk that the JCPOA will collapse and that a conflict will ignite in the region. A much more effective approach for the United States would be to return to compliance with the JCPOA alongside Iran and for both sides to agree to engage in negotiations that address areas of mutual concern. This could include a longer-term framework to guide Iran's nuclear program and addressing areas like Iran's ballistic missile activities and Iran's activities in the region. In return, the U.S. is going to have to put something on the table that's attractive to Iran—likely more effective sanctions relief. But if the United States takes this approach, it could meet U.S. security needs and prevent a new nuclear crisis from igniting in the Middle East, a crisis that the United States and the international community can ill-afford at this time.

For more information about the status of the nuclear deal with Iran and updates on other important arms control issues, visit armscontrol.org/getthelatest for our updated news and analysis.


Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, discusses the aftermath of the Trump administration withdrawing the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 multilateral agreement that placed limits on Iran's nuclear program.

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Iran Announces Nuclear Goals

May 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran’s nuclear agency announced that it has developed a new type of centrifuge and described an ambitious plan for expanding its uranium-enrichment program, but it is unclear if or when Tehran’s leaders will take steps to scale up the country’s enrichment capacity.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran speaks to the media in June 2018. In April, he said Iran would continue its uranium enrichment activities. (Photo: Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA)In a March 27 announcement, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said that a new generation of centrifuge machines will be unveiled at the Natanz enrichment facility “in the near future.”

Under the terms of the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is permitted to design new centrifuges, but must seek approval before building prototypes and testing new models.

It does not appear that Tehran sought or received authorization to build the new centrifuges from the Joint Commission, the body set up by the JCPOA to oversee implementation of the deal. Iran announced in September that it would no longer be bound by the JCPOA’s restrictions on centrifuge research and development and has taken steps since then to breach the accords’ limits on installing and operating advanced machines. (See ACT, October 2019.)

Breaching the research and development limitations on centrifuges was the third step Iran took to reduce compliance with the JCPOA in response to the U.S. decision to violate the nuclear deal by reimposing sanctions and withdrawing from the accord in May 2018. (See ACT, June 2018.)

Iran may have intended to display the new centrifuge during an April 8 ceremony marking the country’s National Nuclear Technology Day, an annual event during which officials recap accomplishments over the past year and set priorities for the nuclear program. But Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the AEOI, announced that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani decided to delay the April 8 ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic.

AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi delivered a speech on April 8 marking National Nuclear Technology Day and outlining the priorities for the country’s nuclear program in the coming year. Salehi said that Iran would accelerate R&D projects and continue enrichment activities over the next year. He did not provide any details, but Kamalvandi claimed on April 8 that Iran can produce up to 60 advanced centrifuges each day.

Kamalvandi also said that achieving an enrichment capacity of 250,000 separative work units (SWUs) is attainable but that Iran’s goal is one million SWUs.

An SWU is the measure of work required to enrich uranium. Under the JCPOA, Iran is limited to enriching uranium with 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges, which equates to less than 5,000 SWUs, for 10 years.

It is unclear why Iran would set such a high goal for its enrichment program or what the time frame is for achieving one million SWUs. Iranian officials consistently state that Tehran is willing to return to compliance with the JCPOA if its sanctions relief demands are met.

The terms of the JCPOA limit Iran’s uranium enrichment through 2031, and even after that, it is not clear that Tehran will need to produce one million SWUs to meet its need for enriched uranium fuel.

Iran’s current nuclear power reactor is fueled by Russia, and the JCPOA requires the parties to the deal to ensure Iran can access fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Future nuclear reactors under construction at Bushehr have lifetime fueling contracts with Russia.

Additional priorities that Salehi spelled out in his April 8 address include the continued construction of the two new reactor units at Bushehr and modification of the Arak reactor as required by the 2015 nuclear deal. Modifying the Arak reactor to a design that produces significantly less plutonium is required by the JCPOA.

The U.S. State Department announced on March 30 that it was renewing sanctions waivers allowing certain nuclear cooperation projects outlined in the nuclear deal to continue for another 60 days. The announcement did not specify the projects, but it is likely that the Arak reactor modification project is covered by the waivers, and it noted that the United States “can adjust these restrictions at any time.”

Construction of the two new units at Bushehr, however, is not covered by U.S. sanctions waivers. In May 2019, the State Department announced that activities to expand the Bushehr site “will be exposed to sanctions.” It does not appear that the U.S. announcement has stopped Russian state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom from continuing to work on the new units at Bushehr.

In November 2019, Salehi and Alexander Lokshin, deputy head of Rosatom, participated in a ceremony when concrete was poured for the base of the second reactor unit.


Inspections Continue in Iran Despite Virus

International inspectors will continue to have access to Iran’s nuclear facilities during the coronavirus pandemic, Tehran confirmed in March.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi (left) greets Iran's ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi at a Jan. 30 reception. The IAEA and Iran have pledged to maintain the agency's inspection activities in Iran. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)As of mid-April, Iran had confirmed more than 75,000 cases of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Despite limitations on travel, Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on March 20 that “there are no limitations” for inspectors traveling to Iran and throughout the country monitoring the nuclear program.

The IAEA said in an April 7 press release that “safeguards inspections worldwide are continuing but with some travel disruption.” The release did not specifically mention Iran.

In addition to on-site inspections, the IAEA uses remote monitoring technologies, such as cameras and online enrichment monitors, to track Iran’s nuclear activities.

In a March 23 video, the IAEA noted that it continues to use satellite imagery to implement safeguards and it can continue to monitor stockpiles of nuclear material remotely.

In the video, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that “safeguarding nuclear materials all over the world will not stop for a single minute.”

The IAEA is providing more than 40 countries with kits and resources to test for the coronavirus. Gharibabadi said on April 3 that the IAEA was sending equipment to Iran that will be useful in containing the country’s outbreak.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced it would unveil a new generation of uranium enrichment centrifuges.

Iran Launches Military Satellite

May 2020

Iran launched its first military satellite into orbit using a new space launch vehicle on April 22.

The launch of the Noor-1 satellite was conducted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s (IRGC) space program using a new three-stage Qased launch vehicle. The Qased’s second stage is a solid-fueled missile that the IRGC unveiled in February.

IRGC Aerospace Force Brig. Gen. Amir Hajizadeh said April 24 that the launch was a success and that Iran is receiving signals from the satellite. He said the IRGC intends to launch a second satellite into a higher orbit in the “not-too-distant” future.

Iran has launched satellites into orbit in the past, including a failed attempt Feb. 9, for communications and remote sensing purposes, but this is the first in the military program. (See ACT, March 2020.)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the launch in an April 25 statement and said it proves that Iran’s space program is “neither peaceful nor entirely civilian” as Tehran has claimed. He told reporters that the launch was inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and said Iran needs to be “held accountable for what they have done.”

Resolution 2231 calls upon Iran to refrain from activities relevant to developing ballistic missiles designed to be nuclear capable, but the language is non-binding. Satellite launch vehicles and ballistic missiles do share features, but there are differences in their technical requirements and trajectories.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Iran Launches Military Satellite

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Iran Delays Announcing Nuclear Achievements | The P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert

Iran Delays Announcing Nuclear Achievements The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced March 27 that it developed a new advanced centrifuge and would unveil the machine in April, but it appears that event may have been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The AEOI may have intended to display the new centrifuge during a ceremony marking the country’s National Nuclear Technology Day, an annual event during which officials recap the country’s nuclear accomplishments of the past year. National Nuclear Technology Day was scheduled for April 8, but Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman...

Another War With North Korea Would Make Coronavirus Look Like A Picnic

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IAEA Urges Iran to Cooperate

April 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

Tehran is refusing to cooperate with an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into possible undeclared nuclear materials and activities in Iran, saying that the agency’s evidence is biased.

Amb. Jackie Wolcott, U.S. representative to the IAEA, attends an agency meeting in July 2019. She raised "very serious concerns" about Iran's compliance with its IAEA nuclear safeguards agreement. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi laid out the agency’s attempts since January 2019 to get information from Tehran about the possible storage and use of nuclear materials at three locations in Iran in a March 3 report to the agency’s Board of Governors.

In December, Grossi said that Iran was not responding satisfactorily to IAEA questions and revealed in February that he may ask for support from the agency’s 35-member Board of Governors if Tehran continued to refuse to cooperate with IAEA requests.

Iran has “not engaged in substantive discussions” to clarify agency questions about possible use and storage of nuclear materials and has “not provide access to these locations,” Grossi said on March 9. He called on Tehran to “cooperate immediately and fully” with IAEA efforts.

As a state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is required to implement a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. A safeguards agreement includes a declaration detailing the country’s nuclear activities and the locations of nuclear materials. The IAEA is responsible for verifying that a country’s nuclear materials are accounted for and being used for peaceful purposes.

As part of its implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran also agreed to provisionally implement an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The additional protocol gives the IAEA access to additional information about a country’s nuclear program, provides expanded access for inspectors, and allows for greater use of environmental sampling to test for the presence of nuclear materials.

The March 3 report says that the IAEA requested access to two of the sites in January 2020 to take environmental samples, but Iran has not allowed inspectors to visit those locations. The agency also observed activities that appeared consistent with sanitization efforts at one of the sites, the report said.

Iran dismissed the allegations of concealment as based on false reports from countries hostile to Iran. “Any absurd claim made by any regime or individual should not be the basis of the agency’s questions,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi said on March 11.

He may be referring to information that Israel stole from Iran in 2018 and later shared with the IAEA. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the documents provide details about Iran’s past nuclear weapons work and has urged the IAEA to follow up on the information.

The March 3 report did not reference material provided by any state, but noted that all safeguards-relevant information provided to the IAEA is subject to “an extensive and rigorous corroboration process.”

Based on the IAEA report and Iran’s communications with the agency, it appears that the locations in question may be storing materials from Iran’s past nuclear weapons program and are not being used for ongoing or recent illicit nuclear activities.

In a Jan. 28 letter to the IAEA, Iran said it “does not consider itself obliged to respond to such allegations” because Tehran met its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal to cooperate with the IAEA investigation into past nuclear activities.

The 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, required Iran to comply with the IAEA investigation into what was then known as the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program prior to receiving any sanctions relief.

The IAEA published a report in December 2015 concluding that Iran had a nuclear weapons program prior to 2003 and that some of the activities continued through 2009, but that there was no evidence of weaponization activities after 2009 or any credible indication that nuclear materials had been diverted for those programs.

Although the report closed the IAEA investigation into Iran’s past nuclear weapons activities, the agency is still required to investigate any evidence of undeclared nuclear activities.

Jackie Wolcott, U.S. representative to the IAEA, told the IAEA Board of Governors on March 11 that the IAEA report raises “very serious concerns regarding Iran’s compliance with its safeguards obligations” and noted that Iran “could be” violating its safeguards agreement.

She said that “any further delay, denial, or deception by Iran that inhibits” IAEA work “would require that the board appropriately escalate this issue.”


Tehran has stonewalled efforts to investigate allegations that it may be storing undeclared nuclear materials or information.

India Intercepts Suspected Missile Gear

April 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

India seized Chinese-manufactured equipment bound for Pakistan in February that officials claimed could be used for Islamabad’s ballistic missile program.

A solid-fuel Shaheen 2 missile is displayed in a Pakistani military parade in March 2018. On Feb. 3, Indian authorities confiscated equipment they said was bound for Pakistan's missile program (Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) said that an industrial autoclave was found on a ship that left Jiangyin Port, China and was headed to Karachi, Pakistan. The ship was detained in India’s Kandla Port on Feb. 3 when the autoclave was confiscated on the basis of an intelligence tip-off, according to Indian officials quoted in the press. The ship was then allowed to continue to Pakistan.

The DRDO said the autoclave seized from the ship was listed as an industrial dryer. Autoclaves are a dual-use technology that can be used in the production of rocket motors for ballistic missiles. India passed a law in 2005 that prohibits the trans-shipment of materials and technologies relevant to developing weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian disputed the Indian description of the seized machine and said on March 5 that it was a heat-treating furnace, not an autoclave. Zhao said that the furnace “is by no means a piece of military equipment or a dual-use item,” and therefore not subject to nonproliferation export controls.

He said that the machine was produced by a private company in China and was declared correctly.

“As a responsible major country, China has been strictly fulfilling the international nonproliferation obligations and international commitments,” he said.

The U.S. intelligence community has documented Chinese support for Pakistan’s ballistic missile program in the past. China has also provided essential technology to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

Indian authorities confiscated equipment they said was intended for Pakistan’s missile program.


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