Iran Announces End Of Restrictions Imposed By Nuclear Deal

In response to the American assassination of a top General, Iran has announced the end of yet more restrictions imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal.

In the latest escalation in reaction to the U.S. assassination of Major General Qassim Suleimani, Iran has announced the end of restrictions nuclear research imposed by the Joint Comprehensive Action (JCPOA) the nuclear deal that was negotiated between the Islamic Republic and world powers under the Obama Administration:

When President Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, he justified his unilateral action by saying the accord was flawed, in part because the major restrictions on Iran ended after 15 years, when Tehran would be free to produce as much nuclear fuel as it wanted.

But now, instead of buckling to American pressure, Iran declared on Sunday that those restrictions are over — a decade ahead of schedule. Mr. Trump’s gambit has effectively backfired.

Iran’s announcement essentially sounded the death knell of the 2015 nuclear agreement. And it largely re-creates conditions that led Israel and the United States to consider destroying Iran’s facilities a decade ago, again bringing them closer to the potential of open conflict with Tehran that was avoided by the accord.

Iran did stop short of abandoning the entire deal on Sunday, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and its foreign minister held open the possibility that his nation would return to its provisions in the future — if Mr. Trump reversed course and lifted the sanctions he has imposed since withdrawing from the accord.

That, at least, appeared to hold open the possibility of a diplomatic off-ramp to the major escalation in hostilities since the United States killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the second most powerful official in Iran and head of the Quds Force.

But some leading experts declared that the effort to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions through diplomacy was over. “It’s finished,” David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that tracks nuclear proliferation, said in an interview. “If there’s no limitation on production, then there is no deal.”


Iran’s announcement means that it will no longer observe any limits on the number of centrifuges it can install to enrich uranium or the level to which it enriches it.

Iran did not say if it would resume production at 20 percent, a major leap toward bomb-grade uranium, or beyond. But by allowing inspectors to remain in the country, as the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Tehran would, Iran will have witnesses to its own “maximum pressure” campaign against the West.

The primary American objective in the 2015 agreement was to keep Iran at least a year away from getting enough fuel to fashion a warhead.

Even before Sunday’s announcement, a series of steps by Tehran discarding elements of the agreement had reduced that warning time to a matter of months. The risk now is that uncertainties about how close the Iranians are to their first weapon will grow, and perhaps become fodder for calls in the United States and Israel to take military action.
In essence, Iran is saying it now can produce whatever kind of nuclear fuel it wants, including bomb-grade material.

This isn’t the first announcement that the Iranians have made about surpassing the limitations of the JCPOA over the course of the past year. In May of last year, for example, Iran announced that it had technically surpassed the JCOPOA limits regarding heavy water only to pull back from the brink after getting some concessions from European JCPOA signatories. In two announcements back in July, more than a year after President Trump had announced that the United States was backing out of the agreement notwithstanding the fact that, by all accounts, Iran was complying with its obligations, Iran quietly slipped past two important restrictions. In the first announcement, Tehran announced that it would exceed a key limitation on how much nuclear fuel it can possess. The second announcement, coming just days later, the Islamic Republic announced that it would breach the limits on uranium enrichment,

While significant in that they were the first announcements that Iran was moving beyond the agreement in the wake of the U.S. repudiation and the sanctions that were imposed on the country as a result, experts pointed out that in many respects they were also rather minor and easily reversible. Instead, many experts viewed the moves as efforts on the part of Tehran to goad American allies such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, into attempting to reverse the Trump Administration’s decision or at the very least to decline to join the United States in reimposing sanctions that had been lifted pursuant to the JCPOA. Additionally, notwithstanding the twin announcements in July Iran continued to allow the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) to continue to monitor Iranian nuclear research sites as established under the agreement. This will apparently continue even after this latest announcement, something that has led some experts to conclude that Tehran is still acting in a manner that would allow it to slip back into compliance with the JCPOA in the future pending how the United States and Europe respond.

Given the attack we unleashed on Friday, this move isn’t surprising. Making another provocative move under the JCPOA that could easily be reversed is the kind of move that Tehran can make in response to that attack. It’s unlikely to be the only response, though, and American officials are apparently concerned about everything from attacks on American forces and contractors in Iraq and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf to attacks on military targets in the area as well as potential cyber attacks on American targets in the Middle East or even in the United States itself. All of this because of the course that the President has set us on seemingly without caring about the consequences.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Iran, Iranian Nuclear Program, JCPOA, National Security, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Making another provocative move under the JCPOA that could easily be reversed is the kind of move that allows Tehran to continue playing the role of “Adult in the Room” that the US has ceded to them.

  2. Slugger says:

    Nuclear weapons must be easy to make. North Korea is not a vibrant center of technology. Iran will make nukes if we create a world in which they want nukes. Can we bomb them out of that idea? After having been bombed, what will be their attitude toward bombing others? Our government appears to have given up on negotiations as an approach to Tehran preferring pressure, economic and military, instead. Taking a step back away from confrontation doesn’t appear to be an option either. Somehow we need a cooling off period. They haven’t retaliated as yet; I hope that there is a diplomatic offensive going on to calm things.

  3. Hal_10000 says:

    Neocon logic:

    1) Tear up a deal Iran is in compliance with.
    2) Kill their #2 man.
    3) Iran backs out of deal.
    4) Say, “See, they were never serious about the deal!”

    If it were any more circular, it would be a singularity.

  4. Mike in Arlington says:

    @Slugger: I don’t think the basic technology behind nuclear weapons is terribly complicated. If you think about it, they are basically 50s and 60s technology, and a lot of that knowledge has been more or less public for decades.

    Getting and then processing the raw materials is where things get difficult and expensive because the materials present certain challenges (e.g. you can’t machine Plutonium in an oxygen rich atmosphere because it will rapidly oxidize). It took us a long time (and lots of trial and error) to learn to tweak our designs to be able to generate really powerful weapons. Somewhat recently, NK received a bunch of help to advance their weapons technology a ton and jumped from relatively small weapons to 100KT+ weapons that can be a real threat.

  5. Kathy says:


    Nuclear weapons must be easy to make.

    Sort of.

    The hardest part is obtaining the fissile material, be it plutonium or enriched uranium. Once you have that, it’s mostly a straightforward, largely known, engineering problem.

    If you want a fusion bomb (ie hydrogen bomb), then you also need tritium, a hydrogen isotope with two neutrons. You need a particular kind of nuclear reactor to make that. It’s also harder to make a fusion bomb, as the fission bomb merely detonates the latter(*), and even a little helium-3 contamination in your tritium can make the whole thing fizzle.

    The thing to keep in mind is that the theory is old, c. 1930s, and the engineering is late 1940s. Tools that can shape metal with high precision are far more common these days, and cheaper. So are other components. But no one publishes nuclear weapons designs. So you need to develop your own, and then test how well or badly it works compared to expectations. Then you need to refine it and do more tests.

    (*) And having tritium and limited supplies of enriched uranium, you may also want to do a tritium-boosted fission bomb, which requires less uranium for the same bang, but is also more complex.

  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Mike in Arlington:

    In addition to what Mike and Kathy offered, North Korea has accomplished the difficult tasks and has built up an arsenal of nuclear weapons, the only question being, have they mastered the delivery technology. While NK’s geographic isolation and Chinese opposition to proliferation will keep NK from selling equipment and fuel to Iran, they’ve probably already sold the intellectual technology saving the Iranians lots of experimentation.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: Apparently the Pakistani bomb guy, A. Q. Khan, sold his designs.

  8. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Mike in Arlington: True. The basic physics and chemistry have been widely shared knowledge for decades. It’s moving to production that is the tricky part.

  9. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kathy: Designs and production processes have changed over the decades.The US originally produced tritium in heavy-water reactors, with the tritium extracted and purified at the Savannah River Site. Nowadays, the production process can be run in light-water reactors.

  10. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08: Here’s a quote (taken from Wikipedia) by Khan that might be very relevant in the near future…

    [P]akistan’s motivation for nuclear weapons arose from a need to prevent “nuclear blackmail” by India. Had Iraq and Libya been nuclear powers, they wouldn’t have been destroyed in the way we have seen recently…. If (Pakistan) had an [atomic] capability before 1971, we [Pakistanis] would not have lost half of our country after a disgraceful defeat.

    — Abdul Qadeer Khan, statement on 16 May 2011, published the Newsweek

    Every American military adventure abroad increases the pressure on states like Iran to develop nuclear weapons. More so for our Rogue State behavior. It should be part of the calculus for these operations, but it isn’t.

    The American Century is ending, and being belligerent is just going to waste what authority we have.

    Nuclear de-escalation on the Korean Peninsula is now harder, and if Venezuela and Cuba are not developing nuclear weapons, they should be. North Korea, hurt by sanctions, might be willing to sell designs. And that is not a world we want.

    I don’t think the answer is appeasement, but we should be conserving our power and using it wisely. And predictably. Not in a fit of reaction to whatever provocations. We should be stronger than that.

    I’d compare our situation to the Queen of England’s. She has enormous power under the constitutional monarchy, but if she uses it capriciously to dissolve parliament, the next parliament will start limiting her power.

    (I do think she should have used a bit of it during the Brexit shenanigans. Unless she is in favor of Brexit, she should have made it known that she would prefer a referendum on the final deal — big enough to be worth expending some power on, and a small enough push to avoid a pushback)


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