While Iran relaunched uranium enrichment, the international nuclear deal reached in Iran today seems to be severely compromised.
Iran relaunched on Thursday uranium enrichment activities, hitherto frozen, confirming a further reduction of its nuclear commitments. How did we get there, and what is left of the 2015 Iran International Nuclear Agreement?
International agreement weakened by US withdrawal
This agreement was concluded on July 14, 2015 in Vienna between the Islamic Republic and the "5 + 1" group (China, United States, France, Great Britain, Russia and Germany). The preamble of the text notes that "Iran reaffirms that it will never seek and in any case to develop or acquire nuclear weapons". Iran agrees to guarantee the exclusively civilian nature of its nuclear program by severely restricting its activities in this area.
Iran also agrees to submit to the strictest inspection regime ever developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, Tehran obtains the lifting of some of the international sanctions stifling its economy.
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On May 8, 2018, US President Donald Trump unilaterally leaves his country the Vienna Agreement, concluded under his predecessor Barack Obama. Washington then reactivates from August 2018 the sanctions that had been lifted under the agreement.
These have since been regularly extended and hardened to force Tehran to negotiate a new text which, according to the United States, would offer "better guarantees". The return of sanctions deprives Tehran of the economic benefits it expected from the agreement; the Iranian economy has since sank into a violent recession.
Iran reduces its commitments
On May 8, 2019, Iran announces that it is beginning to gradually reduce its commitments made in Vienna to compel Europeans, Chinese and Russians to keep their promises to help Tehran to circumvent US sanctions.
Tehran says that if it fails to meet its demands, it will cut out new provisions of the agreement every 60 days. The fourth phase of this "reduction of commitments" plan was launched last Tuesday.
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Today, Iran no longer respects the limit imposed by the agreement on its stocks of enriched uranium (300 kg). It has also freed itself from the ceiling prohibiting it from enriching the uranium in isotope 235 at a rate higher than 3.67%. Since September, the country produces enriched uranium at its plant in Natanz (center) with centrifuges prohibited by the agreement. It allows a limited number of first-generation centrifuges (IR-1), but Iran now uses more modern machines.
In derogation of the provisions of the agreement on research and development, Iran has also started to develop and test even more advanced centrifuges. In application of the fourth phase of its plan, Tehran announced that it revived on Thursday the enrichment of uranium in its underground plant in Fordo (center), with IR-1 centrifuges.
Iran also indicated in May that it no longer felt bound by the agreement's limit on its heavy water reserves (1.3 tons), but has not yet announced that it has exceeded this threshold.
Is the Vienna agreement violated?
The United States says that Iran is violating the Vienna agreement, but Tehran denies it. Iran blames its other partners for not doing "every possible effort" (as provided for in Article 28) to allow the full implementation of the agreement.
Tehran says it is acting under Articles 26 and 36, allowing it to suspend its commitments "in whole or in part" in case of failure of its partners to their obligations. Emmanuel Macron reacted Wednesday by saying that Iran had "decided to leave the framework" of the agreement.
On Thursday, the United States called for "harsh" measures to put pressure on Iran after resuming its uranium enrichment activities. "It is now time for all nations to reject the nuclear blackmail of this regime and take tough measures to increase pressure," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
What's left of the deal today?
A key element remains in effect today: the IAEA inspection regime. Even though Tehran announced on Thursday that it has withdrawn the accreditation of an inspector of this UN agency for an incident "last week" during a "check" at the plant Natanz.
The provisions concerning the Arak reactor (240 km south-west of Tehran), to be converted, with the help of foreign experts, into a research reactor that is incapable of producing plutonium for use are also continuing to apply. military. In addition, the five States still parties show their commitment to the text and their intention to save it, even if everyone agrees that it is a little more difficult every day.
Finally, Iran is far from having returned to the situation that prevailed before the agreement. It limits its enrichment rate of uranium to 4.5%, below the threshold of 20% that it has a time practiced, and very far from the 90% necessary for a military use. And the total installed capacity of its centrifuges is officially lower than today to what it was before the agreement.