Five Facts on Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

The Big InsightA renewed U.S. nuclear agreement with Iran may not endure and will likely reward an aggressive foe that is partnering with Russia and China.

The Biden administration is seeking a renewed nuclear agreement with Iran that would revive key elements of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that the U.S. exited in 2018. But the JCPOA was signed without consultations with Congress, with no bipartisan support, and without addressing Iran’s other aggressive actions against the U.S. and our allies.

  1. Iran is currently enriching uranium to levels as high as 60% purity — far exceeding the 3.67% purity permitted by the 2015 deal.

Iran has recently stepped up its uranium enrichment program. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Mohammad Eslami said last month that Iran “continues with a maximum ceiling of 60%” and will enrich most uranium to about 20% purity. Uranium at a 90% purity level is considered weapons-grade.

2. Iran currently has the capacity to enrich enough uranium to produce one nuclear bomb in about one month.

Since December 2020, when Iran adopted a law requiring a rapid acceleration of its nuclear program, it has stepped up activation of advanced centrifuges and the stockpiling of enriched uranium. Both U.S. and Israeli security officials believe Iran’s current nuclear “breakout” time is about a bit over a month.

3. Iranian oil exports fell as much as 80% under international sanctions imposed since 2017, and Iran’s currency has lost more than half its value since 2019.

U.S. economic sanctions on Iran have had a devastating impact. While Iran currently exports about one million barrels of oil per day, the number has dropped lower than 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) and is still down significantly from the 2.13 million bpd of 2017 — and the 2.54 million bpd of a decade ago. The rial is currently the second weakest circulating currency in the world, and annual inflation is running above 42%.

4. The U.S. State Department has designated Iran as a State Sponsor of Terrorism since 1984 and designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2019.

In 2019, the State Department cited the Corps’ role in the deaths of 603 U.S. soldiers in Iraq along with terror plots in Bahrain, Bulgaria, Germany, Kenya, Turkey, and elsewhere, as well as a plan for “a brazen terrorist attack against the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. on American soil” in 2011. Iran is insisting that the Biden administration remove the designation against the Corps as part of any new nuclear agreement — a move that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid say would be “an insult to the victims” of Corps-backed terrorism.

5. Iran and Russia are in the final stages of negotiating a 20-year mutual cooperation agreement that could include sales of jet fighters and a missile defense system.

Under the emerging agreement, Iran could receive the S-400 missile defense system and Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets in exchange for favorable terms for oil and gas sector deals. The agreement would follow a 25-year agreement between Iran and China — which also included military, defense, and security cooperation — that was inked last year.

This article first appeared on Real Clear.


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