Vienna, Austria – Uranium enrichment is a process that is necessary to create an effective nuclear fuel out of mined uranium by increasing the percentage of uranium-235 which undergoes fission with thermal neutrons.

Enriched uranium is a type of uranium in which the percent composition of uranium-235 has been increased through the process of isotope separation. Naturally occurring uranium is composed of three major isotopes: uranium-238, uranium-235, and uranium-234.

Iran began increasing enrichment after the US abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal, Iran intends to start enriching uranium to 20% purity, the UN’s atomic watchdog says – its most significant breach of an international nuclear deal so far.

This remains short of the 90% required to make a nuclear bomb. But under the 2015 agreement Iran was supposed to keep enrichment below 4%.

Iran began breaching the deal after President Trump took the US out of it and re-imposed crippling sanctions. However the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China all hope it can be revived.

Iran tells UN Agency it will enrich Uranium back to pre-nuclear deal level of 20%.

Iran says it intends to start enriching uranium to 20% at its Fordow nuclear facility, exceeding regulations set by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action known as the Iran nuclear deal. Iran has previously suggested this increase could be a possibility.

Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility

The nuclear deal includes regulations that Iran cannot enrich uranium past 3.67% and that it specifically cannot conduct any enrichment at Fordow, which is located beneath a mountain near the city of Qom.

The interior of the Fordow uranium conversion facility in Qom, Iran

Iran has already breached parts of the agreement since the Trump administration withdrew in 2018, including increasing enrichment of uranium to 4.5%. Bringing enrichment to 20% would be the highest the country has gone since the agreement was established in 2015. In order to manufacture a nuclear weapon, it must hit 90%.

The development was made public by the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, which is the UN’s nuclear watchdog. In a statement, the organization said it was notified on New Year’s Eve and was not given information on when the enrichment would occur.

The move is part of larger Iranian legislation passed in December 2020 which was done in response to the murder of Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran has accused Israel of the assassination.

“Iran has informed the Agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the agency said.

The law also vows to stop UN nuclear facility inspections if oil and banking sanctions on Iran are not removed by February.

“The Agency has inspectors present in Iran on a 24/7 basis and they have regular access to Fordow,” the IAEA statement said.

“In line with standard safeguards practice, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi will promptly report any relevant developments to IAEA Member States, as he did today regarding Iran’s letter,” it added.

The unraveling of the Iran nuclear deal is expected to pose challenges for President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office in January 2021. Biden has expressed interest in rejoining the agreement if Iran stops its current trajectory and follows the regulations.

During an interview in mid-December 2020, Grossi expressed doubt that the incoming Biden administration would be able to repair the current Iran nuclear deal and would instead need a new set of terms.

“I cannot imagine that they are going simply to say, ‘We are back to square one’ because square one is no longer there,” Grossi said.

Iran says it will enrich uranium up to 20 percent, UN nuclear watchdog says.

Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it intends to produce uranium enriched to up to 20 percent purity, well beyond the threshold set by the 2015 Vienna accord, the UN nuclear watchdog said Friday.

“Iran informed the agency of its intention to enrich uranium at a rate of up to 20 percent in its Fordow underground plant, to comply with a law recently passed by the Iranian parliament,” an IAEA spokesperson told AFP.

The letter dated December 31 “did not state exactly when this enrichment activity would begin”, the spokesperson added.

Russian ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov reported the information earlier on Twitter, citing a report submitted by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi to the board of governors.

“It is an additional blow,” a diplomat based in Vienna said, as Iran continues to retaliate to US sanctions by progressively abandoning limits on its nuclear activity laid down in the deal.

According to the latest report available from the UN agency, published in November 2020, Iran was enriching uranium to levels greater than the limit provided for in the Vienna agreement (3.67 percent) but not exceeding the 4.5 percent threshold, and still complied with the Agency’s very strict inspection regime.

But there has been turmoil since the assassination in late November 2020 of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

In the aftermath of the attack, blamed on Israel, hardliners in Iran pledged a response and parliament passed a controversial law calling for the production and storage of “at least 120 kilograms per year of 20 percent enriched uranium” and to “put an end” to the IAEA inspections intended to check that the country is not developing an atomic bomb.

The Iranian government opposed the initiative which was also condemned by the other signatories to the accord who called on Iran not to “compromise the future”.

The other signatories to the deal – China, France, Germany, Russia and Britain – have been playing for time, in advance of Joe Biden’s inauguration as US president.

The Democrat has shown himself to be determined to save the pact.

Biden, who takes office on January 20, has signaled US would rejoin the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear program.

The deal has been unravelling ever since President Donald Trump dramatically withdrew from it in May 2018 and imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said the change of administration in the US means that there is “a last window” for progress that “shouldn’t be wasted”.

Iran to ramp up uranium enrichment program.

Iran has already exceeded uranium enrichment limits for some time, but hardliners have pushed further enrichment following the assassination of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in late November 2020.

Iran is planning to enrich uranium well in excess of the limits of the 2015 Vienna accord, the UN nuclear watchdog announced.

Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it would enrich uranium up to 20% purity, well past the 3.67% threshold.

Iran has already breached the Vienna accord’s 3.67% limit, by enriching uranium to up to 4.5%.

“Iran has informed the Agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20% at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant,” said the IAEA.

The watchdog added that Iran didn’t specify the date the enrichment activity would begin.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said on state television that he had sent a letter to the IAEA regarding the increase in uranium production, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

He said his organization would carry out the wishes of the government, but that they required further instructions on exactly how to boost production.

At the same time, he confirmed his willingness with a rhetorical flourish saying: “We are military soldiers and our hands are on the trigger. The commander must give the order, so we can very swiftly start our work.”

Laws passed in retaliation

Iran has been exceeding uranium enrichment levels for a while, but hardliners in Iran pushed for a law after the assassination of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in late November 2020. Iran blamed the assassination on Israel.

At the time, Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, had said that Israel aimed to create “chaos” by carrying out the scientist’s assassination and that Iran would retaliate at “the proper time.”

In the aftermath of the assassination, Iran’s parliament passed a controversial law calling for the production and storage of “at least 120 kilograms per year of 20% enriched uranium” and to “put an end” to the IAEA inspections intended to check that the country is not developing an atomic bomb.

The Fordow site is built inside a mountain, to protect it from aerial bombardment. Iran has already started enriching IR-1 centrifuges at the site

Iran plans to enrich Uranium to 20 percent, UN Nuclear Watchdog says.

Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it intends to enrich uranium to up to 20 percent purity at its underground Fordow facility, a level far above limits set by the international nuclear accord.

The UN nuclear watchdog said on January 1 that Iran revealed its intention in a letter to the Vienna-based body.

“Iran has informed the Agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the IAEA said in a statement.

The letter, submitted on December 31, 2020, “did not say when this enrichment activity would take place,” the IAEA said.

Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA, Mikhail Ulyanov, said earlier on Twitter that IAEA chief Rafael Grossi had reported Iran’s letter to the agency’s board of governors.

Iran currently enriches its uranium stockpile up to around 4.5 percent, which is above the 3.67 percent cap imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal but below the 90 percent purity considered weapons-grade.

An increase to 20 percent would shorten Iran’s break-out time to a potential nuclear weapon, if it were to make a political decision to pursue a bomb. The Iran nuclear deal also prohibits Iran from enrichment at the Fordow facility, buried deep in a mountain to protect against air strikes.

Iran has gradually reduced its compliance with the accord since the United States unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 and started imposing crippling sanctions on Iran.

Following the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 27, 2020, Iran’s parliament passed controversial legislation that ordered an immediate ramping up of the country’s uranium-enrichment program to 20 percent and an end to IAEA inspections.

The government led by President Hassan Rohani has opposed the bill, saying it was detrimental to diplomatic efforts and no funds were allocated to implement the law.

Some analysts have suggested that Iran could use parliament’s move to gain leverage in future talks with the United States.

The remaining parties to the deal — China, France, Germany, Russia and Britain — said on December 21, 2020 that they were preparing for a possible return of the United States to the accord after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20. Biden has said he will try to rejoin the deal, which was struck when he was vice president.

Biden has suggested the United States would reenter the deal if Iran complies with the agreement, leaving other issues of concern such as Iran’s ballistic missiles and support for regional proxies to “follow on” agreements.

Iran says its missile program and regional policies are off the table, and has said it would come back into compliance once the United States and the three European countries that signed the deal fulfill their end of the agreement by providing Iran with the economic relief promised under the accord.

Iran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program was strictly for civilian purposes.

Iran confirms plan to enrich uranium up to 20 percent.

UN nuclear watchdog said Iran had communicated its intention to increase uranium enrichment from 4.5 to 20 percent

Iran confirmed a plan to increase uranium enrichment up to 20 percent as it moves to implement a recently introduced law as a counter-measure against US sanctions.

In an interview with the state television, the chief of Iran’s nuclear agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that Iran has written to the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA about the enrichment plan.

He said the letter has been dispatched to the Vienna-based organization through the Iranian envoy and the country is ready to raise the level to 20 percent in accordance with the recent legislation “very soon”.

Salehi noted that a final nod from President Hassan Rouhani is required before the move is implemented.

The nuclear chief said the process will be implemented under the supervision of the IAEA inspectors, who he said need to “unseal things that had been sealed”.

The IAEA said Iran had communicated its intention to enrich up to 20 percent purity, a level it achieved before the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

“Iran has informed the Agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the agency said in a statement.

Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran was allowed to enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent. The threshold was, however, breached by Iran in response to the US withdrawal from the deal, raising the level to 4.5.

The plan to increase the level from 4.5 to 20 percent, which is considered “highly enriched uranium”, had been in the pipeline for some time but the final trigger was the assassination of prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November 2020.

Following the incident that drew strong reaction from Iran, the country’s parliament introduced a strategic plan to counter sanctions, which called for accelerating nuclear activities and ending voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol.

The bill was finally turned into a law after the country’s top supervisory body, the Guardian Council, gave its approval, despite resistance from the government.

The implementation of the plan is likely to further heighten tensions between Iran and the West at a time when the new administration in Washington had hinted at the possibility of US returning to the 2015 accord.

The Rouhani government says it is willing to return to full compliance of the deal, which means scaling down uranium enrichment back to 3.6 percent, if the US “unconditionally” returns to the deal.

However, the Iranian government might face resistance from the conservative-dominated parliament that strongly opposes the idea of more negotiations with the US.

The international community has often expressed fear that Iran intends to build a bomb, for which uranium enrichment must reach to 90 percent. Iran, however, has denied that it intends to build a bomb.

Tensions have been running high between Iran and the US, especially in the restive Persian Gulf and Iraq, in recent weeks, ahead of the first anniversary of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

Iran to increase uranium enrichment in breach of nuclear deal
Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Fordow was meant to have been turned into a research and development site.

Iran has signalled that it intends to start enriching uranium to 20% purity, in its most significant breach yet of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had informed it of plans to enhance enrichment at its Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant, 20 miles northeast of the city of Qom.

In a statement, the agency said: “Iran has informed the agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20% at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.”

The IAEA did not say when Iran plans to boost enrichment but its inspectors are in the country and have regular access to Fordow.

The enrichment plant is about the size of a football field, shielded by mountains and protected by anti-aircraft guns.

Under the 2015 nuclear deal, no enrichment is to take place there and it was meant to have been turned into a research and development site.

The agreement also set other conditions, including a 3.67% limit on the purity to which Iran can enrich uranium.

It has gone to 4.5% so far, well short of the 20% it achieved before the deal and the 90% that is weapons-grade.

The Iranians began violating the agreement after US President Donald Trump pulled his country out in 2018, leaving only the other signatories – Iran, the European Union and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Joe Biden has vowed to re-join the deal when he takes over from Mr Trump later this month, but Iran’s further breach will make this more difficult for him.

It is also thought the move from Iran is aimed at pressuring Europe into easing sanctions, something that was meant to happen in exchange for Iran’s compliance with the deal.

However, the US re-imposed sanctions after it pulled out.

Experts say Iran has enough low-enriched uranium for at least two nuclear weapons, although Iran has always said its nuclear program is peaceful.

What is Iran planning?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had informed it of its plans to enrich to a purity of up to 20% at its Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant, a facility built deep inside a mountain.

But the agency added: “Iran’s letter to the agency … did not say when this enrichment activity would take place.”

Iran breached the 3.67% purity cap imposed by the nuclear deal in 2019 but the enrichment level had remained steady at up to 4.5% since then.

However the increase to 20% was mandated in a law passed by Iran’s parliament last month in response to the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

The bill required the Iranian government to resume enriching uranium to 20% if sanctions on the country’s oil and financial sectors were not eased in two months.

It also mandated the blocking of UN inspectors from Iran’s nuclear facilities at Natanz and Fordow.

What is enriched uranium?

Enriched uranium is produced by feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges to separate out the most suitable isotope for nuclear fission, called U-235.

Low-enriched uranium, which typically has a 3-5% concentration of U-235, can be used to produce fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.

Highly enriched uranium has a concentration of 20% or more and is used in research reactors. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more.

Why do limits on uranium enrichment matter?

Observers say increasing enrichment could shorten Iran’s “break-out time” – the time it would theoretically take to develop a nuclear bomb.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

But suspicions that Iran was developing a nuclear bomb prompted the EU, the US and the UN to impose sanctions in 2010.

The 2015 deal – signed with China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US – was designed to constrain the programme in a verifiable way in return for sanctions relief.

What are the prospects for reviving the deal?

President Trump pulled out of the agreement in May 2018, calling it “decaying and rotten”.

But President-elect Joe Biden has said he would return the US to the agreement – negotiated under President Obama – and would lift sanctions if Iran returned to “strict compliance with the nuclear deal”.

After Trump, what will Biden do about Iran?

Mr Biden, who is due to be sworn in as US president on 20 January 2021, told the New York Times last year that “it’s going to be hard”, but that “the last goddamn thing we need in that part of the world is a build-up of nuclear capability”.

For its part, Iran has expressed interest in once again complying with the agreement should there be a return to full implementation by the US.

If Mr Biden “returns to the situation as it was in 2017, then so will we,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in December 2020.

Iran nuclear crisis: Law aims to boost enrichment and block inspectors

Iran has moved to stop UN inspections of its nuclear sites and step up uranium enrichment under a new law approved by its parliament.

The bill would require the government to resume enriching uranium to 20% – well above the 3.67% agreed under a 2015 nuclear deal – if crippling sanctions are not eased in two months.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said he opposed the implementation of the law.

It comes after the targeted killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in a mysterious attack on a road outside the capital Tehran. Iran believes Israel and an exiled opposition group used a remote-control weapon to carry out the shooting.

Israel has not publicly commented on the allegations of its involvement.

How will Iran respond to nuclear scientist’s killing?

Fakhrizadeh played a crucial role in Iran’s nuclear programme, but the government insists its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful.

It has been subjected to crippling Western sanctions aimed at preventing it from developing nuclear weapons.

What does Iran’s new law mean for its nuclear program?

Under the law, ratified by Iran’s Guardian Council, Iran would give two months for the European signatories of the 2015 nuclear agreement to work to ease sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors imposed when the US abandoned the deal in 2018.

If the sanctions had not been eased by the deadline, the government would then increase uranium enrichment to 20% and install advanced centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, at its nuclear facilities at Natanz and Fordow.

It would also block UN inspectors from accessing these sites.

“Today in a letter, the parliament speaker officially asked the president to implement the new law,” Iran’s Fars news agency reported.

Before the law was ratified, President Rouhani said his government did not agree with the legislation, which he described as “damaging for diplomacy”.

Iran’s President Rouhani said his government did not agree with the Iranian parliament’s draft bill to increase nuclear activities

US President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement in May 2018, and reimposed strict economic sanctions against Iran.

President-elect Joe Biden has said he would return the US to the agreement – negotiated under Barack Obama – and would lift sanctions if Tehran returned to “strict compliance with the nuclear deal”.

Mr Biden, who is due to be sworn in as the 46th US president on 20 January 2021, told the New York Times that “it’s going to be hard”, but that “the last goddamn thing we need in that part of the world is a build-up of nuclear capability”.

Iran breached the 3.67% cap in July 2019 and the enrichment level has remained steady at up to 4.5% since then.

Low-enriched uranium – which typically has a 3-5% concentration of uranium-235 – can be used to produce fuel for power plants. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more.

Suspicions that Iran was using its nuclear programme as a cover to develop a nuclear bomb prompted the EU, US and UN to impose sanctions in 2010.

The 2015 deal was designed to constrain the programme in a verifiable way in return for sanctions relief.

Iran nuclear deal: Why do the limits on uranium enrichment matter?

President Hassan Rouhani says Iran is retaliating against US sanctions

European powers have triggered a formal dispute mechanism over Iran’s rolling back of key commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, pushing it closer to total collapse.

Since July 2020, Iran has gradually lifted all limits on its production of enriched uranium, which it has said it is entitled to do in response to sanctions the US reinstated when it abandoned the accord in 2018.

France, Germany and the UK said they did not accept Iran’s argument and had started the dispute process with the aim of saving the deal through dialogue.

Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

What is enriched uranium?

Enriched uranium is produced by feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges to separate out the most suitable isotope for nuclear fission, called U-235.

Low-enriched uranium, which typically has a 3-5% concentration of U-235, can be used to produce fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.

Highly enriched uranium has a concentration of 20% or more and is used in research reactors. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more.

Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile was limited to 300kg for 15 years under the nuclear deal.

Under the nuclear deal, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium only up to a 3.67% concentration; to stockpile no more than 300kg (660lbs) of the material; to operate no more than 5,060 of its oldest and least efficient centrifuges; and to cease enrichment at the underground Fordo facility.

Another part of the deal instructs Iran not to accumulate more than 130 tonnes of heavy water, which contains more hydrogen than ordinary water, and to redesign its heavy-water nuclear reactor at Arak. Spent fuel from a heavy-water reactor contains plutonium, which can be used in a nuclear bomb.

What has Iran done?

In response to what it considers as the failure of other parties to abide by the nuclear deal, Iran has taken five steps to “reduce” its commitments:

On 1 July 2019, it lifted the limits on its stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water
On 7 July 2020, it began enriching uranium to 4.5% concentration so it could provide fuel for the Bushehr power plant – beyond the 3.67% cap
On 6 September 2020, it lifted “all limits” on research and development of centrifuge technology and began to install more advanced centrifuges
On 5 November 2020, it resumed enrichment at Fordow
On 5 January 2020, it lifted the limit on the number of centrifuges in operation

Iran said the fifth step meant there were no longer any restrictions on its enrichment program and that operations would “proceed based on its technical requirements from now on”.

But it added that it would continue to co-operate with the global watchdog that monitors the nuclear deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and that it was ready to reverse the five steps if the US sanctions were lifted.

Why do Iran’s actions matter?

The Arms Control Association, a US-based advocacy group, said in December 2019 that the steps Iran had taken until then appeared to be designed to increase pressure on European powers to deliver on sanctions relief and were “not indicative of a dash to a nuclear bomb”.

“While concerning, the breaches do not pose a near-term risk and are quickly reversible, supporting [President Hassan] Rouhani’s assertion that Iran will return to compliance with the [nuclear deal] if its conditions are met,” it added.

Iran is allowed to operate 5,060 uranium enrichment centrifuges at Natanz.

The ACA noted that the breach in July of the 300kg enriched uranium stockpile limit only marginally shortened Iran’s “break-out time” – the time it would theoretically take to acquire enough fissile material for one bomb.

To manufacture one bomb, Iran would need to produce 1,050kg of 3.67% enriched uranium and would then need to further enrich that to 90% or more, the ACA said. In November, the IAEA said Iran had 372kg of low-enriched uranium.

Iran’s decision to increase the level of uranium enrichment could also pose a long-term proliferation risk, according to the ACA.

That is because going from uranium’s natural state of 0.7% concentration of U-235 to 20% takes about 90% of the total effort required to get to weapons-grade.

Before the nuclear deal, Iran had a sufficient amount of 20% enriched uranium and number of centrifuges that its “break-out time” was estimated to be about two to three months.

The deal slowed the “break-out time” to at least a year. But the reversal of Iran’s commitments on enrichment could speed that up.

The use of advanced centrifuges, which can enrich uranium faster and more efficiently, would allow Iran to accumulate enriched uranium more quickly.

The resumption of enrichment at Fordo is troubling because the facility is built beneath a mountain and is relatively protected from a military strike.

Why did Iran stop abiding by its commitments?

The Iranian economy has slumped since President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and began reinstating sanctions. He said the deal was flawed and that he wanted to force Iran’s government to renegotiate the terms – something it refused to do.

The other parties to the deal – the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia – criticised Mr Trump’s decision and said they remained committed to the deal.

In May 2019, the White House stepped up pressure on Iran by ending exemptions from secondary sanctions for countries still buying Iranian oil.

It also ended exemptions for countries participating in deals under which Iran exchanged its surplus low-enriched uranium for un-enriched ore concentrate known as “yellowcake” and sold its surplus heavy water. Such transfers allowed Iran to continue production of both materials without exceeding the stockpile limits.

Iran’s President Rouhani subsequently said it would retaliate against the US sanctions by suspending its commitment to comply with the stockpile caps.

Donald Trump’s decision to end sanctions waivers for importers of Iranian oil sparked protests.

Officials noted that article 36 of the nuclear deal allowed one party to “cease performing its commitments… in whole or in part” in the event of “significant non-performance” by other parties. They said the US had violated the deal the previous year and that European countries had failed to deliver its promised benefits.

The EU set up a mechanism for facilitating trade, known as Instex, which essentially allowed goods to be bartered between Iranian and foreign companies without direct financial transactions. It became operational in June 2019, but Iran said it did not meet its needs.

Following Iran’s decision to lift the last limit on uranium enrichment in January 2020, France, Germany and the UK said they had “no choice” but to trigger the deal’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism.

“Iran’s actions are inconsistent with the provisions of the nuclear agreement and have increasingly severe and non-reversible proliferation implications,” they said.

“We do this in good faith with the overarching objective of preserving the [nuclear deal] and in the sincere hope of finding a way forward to resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic dialogue, while preserving the agreement and remaining within its framework,” they added.

Iran warned the Europeans that if they abused the mechanism they would face “consequences”, but stressed it would also “welcome any practical initiatives”.

If the steps Iran has taken are judged to constitute “significant non-performance”, the other parties can ask the UN Security Council to “snap back” the sanctions that were lifted. No member of the Security Council could veto such a move.

The international community does not believe that, pointing to evidence collected by the IAEA suggesting that until 2003 Iran conducted “a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device”. Some of those activities continued until 2009, according to the IAEA.

In 2018, Israel displayed what it said were archives it secretly took from Iran which showed Iran continued to pursue nuclear weapons knowledge after 2015 – though Iran called the accusation “ridiculous”.

The US intelligence community nevertheless assessed in January 2019 that Iran was “not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device”.

In November 2019, the IAEA called on Iran to explain why it had “detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic [human induced] origin at a location in Iran not declared to the agency”.

The IAEA did not name the location. But inspectors were believed to have taken samples from a location in Tehran’s Turquzabad district, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there was a “secret atomic warehouse”.