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Last Updated: July, 2017

Iranian Centrifuge Model Collection

Iran's interest in nuclear technology dates to the 1950s, when the Shah of Iran received technical assistance under the U.S. Atoms for Peace program. While this assistance ended with the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran remained interested in nuclear technology and developed an extensive nuclear fuel cycle, including sophisticated enrichment capabilities, which became the subject of intense international negotiations and sanctions between 2002 and 2015. Negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran yielded the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015, a comprehensive 25-year nuclear agreement limiting Iran's nuclear capacity in exchange for sanctions relief. On 16 January 2016, all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted in response to its progress meeting key metrics of the deal. [1]


One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: 1950s to 1988

Iran's nuclear program began in the 1950s but was slow to progress. The United States supplied the Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC) with a small 5MWt research reactor (TRR), fueled by highly enriched uranium (HEU), in 1967. In 1973, the Shah unveiled ambitious plans to install 23,000MWe of nuclear power in Iran by the end of the century, charging the newly founded Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) with oversight of this task. [2]

In the five years that followed, Iran concluded several nuclear technology related contracts with foreign suppliers and invested in education and training for its personnel. In 1976, Iran paid one billion dollars for a ten percent stake in Eurodif's Tricastin uranium enrichment plant in France and a fifteen percent stake in the RTZ uranium mine in Rossing, Namibia. [3] Tehran signed a $700 million contract to purchase uranium yellowcake from South Africa, and sent Iranian technicians abroad for nuclear training. [4] By the time of the 1979 revolution, Iran had developed an impressive baseline capability in nuclear technologies.

Much of Iran's nuclear talent fled the country in the wake of the Revolution. [5] This loss, compounded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's opposition to nuclear technology, resulted in the near disintegration of Iran's nuclear program post-1979. Work on nuclear projects that had been ongoing under the Shah, such as construction of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant was suspended. However, in 1984 Khomeini expressed a renewed Iranian interest in nuclear power, seeking the assistance of international partners to complete construction at Bushehr. [6]

Accelerating Under the Radar of the International Community: 1989 to 2003

Freed from the burden of the costly war with Iraq, Iranian leaders began refocusing on nuclear technology acquisition in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Iran signed long-term nuclear cooperation agreements with Pakistan and China, in 1987 and 1990 respectively. [7] Accords with both countries involved the training of Iranian personnel, China also agreed to provide Iran with a 27KW miniature neutron source reactor (MNSR) and two 300MW Qinshan power reactors. [8] In January 1995, Russia announced that it would complete Bushehr's construction and agreed to build three additional reactors. [9]

U.S. intelligence agencies have long suspected Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for clandestine weapons development, and the U.S. government has actively pressured potential suppliers to limit nuclear cooperation with Iran. As a result, China did not ultimately supply Iran with the research reactor (which would have been suitable for plutonium production), the two Qinshan power reactors, or the uranium conversion plant it had previously offered Iran. The United States also blocked Iran's agreement with Argentina for uranium enrichment and heavy water production facilities.

Russia and Iran signed a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement in August 1992. [10] In a follow-up agreement in 1995, Russia agreed to complete construction of the Bushehr-1 nuclear power plant and also secretly offered to supply Iran with a large research reactor, a fuel fabrication facility, and a gas centrifuge plant. [11] Hearing of these covert negotiations, U.S. President Bill Clinton expressed concerns about the technology transfers to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who eventually agreed to scale back Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation at least until Bushehr's construction had been completed. [12] Despite this top-level ban on nuclear cooperation with Iran, American officials believe that individual Russian scientists and institutes assisted Iranian engineers in sensitive areas of the nuclear fuel cycle, and with the construction of a 40MW heavy water research reactor at Arak. [13]

On 14 August 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed the existence of undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran, including Natanz Enrichment Complex, the address of the Kalaye Electric Company, a heavy water production plant under construction at Arak, and the names of various individuals and front companies involved with the nuclear program. [14] Between September and October 2003, the IAEA carried out a number of facilities inspections and met with Iranian officials to determine the history of Iran's nuclear program. In November, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution welcoming Iran's decision to sign the Additional Protocol and suspend enrichment. However, the Board noted with concern Iran's previous concealment efforts and pointed out that Iran's new declarations contradicted the Agency's previous information about its nuclear program. The Board requested that the Director General take all of the necessary steps to confirm Iran's past and present nuclear activities. [15]

At a Diplomatic Impasse with the International Community: 2003 to 2009

To avoid referral to the UN Security Council, Iran entered into negotiations with the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and agreed in October 2003 to cooperate with the IAEA, sign the Additional Protocol, and temporarily suspend conversion and enrichment activities. [16] However, Iran exploited ambiguities in the definition of "suspension" to continue to produce centrifuge components and carry out small-scale conversion experiments. [17] Faced with renewed sanctions threats, Iran concluded the Paris Agreement with the EU-3 on 15 November 2004. [18] Tehran agreed to continue the temporary suspension of enrichment and conversion activities, including the manufacture, installation, testing, and operation of centrifuges, and committed to working with the EU-3 to find a mutually beneficial long-term diplomatic solution. [19]

In early November 2004, the CIA received thousands of pages of information from a "walk-in" source indicating that Iran was modifying the nose cone of its Shahab-3 missile to carry a nuclear warhead. Furthermore, in early 2004, the IAEA discovered that Iran had hidden blueprints for a more advanced P-2 centrifuge and a document detailing uranium hemisphere casting from its inspectors. [20] Iranian officials dismissed these documents as forgeries. [21] The IAEA called on Iran to be more cooperative and to answer all of the Agency's questions about the origins of its centrifuge technology. [22] Iran amended its previous declaration and admitted that it had clandestinely imported P-1 centrifuges through a foreign intermediary in 1987. Iran also acknowledged for the first time that it had imported P-2 centrifuge drawings in 1994. [23] The Agency determined that the traces of highly enriched uranium (HEU) on Iranian centrifuge equipment most likely originated from the foreign intermediary, as they did not match any samples from Iran's declared inventory. [24]

Diplomatic progress broke down on 1 August 2005, when Iran notified the IAEA that it would resume uranium conversion activities at Esfahan. [25] On 5 August, Iran rejected the EU-3's Long Term Agreement, because Tehran felt that the proposal was heavy on demands, light on incentives, did not incorporate Iran's proposals, and violated the Paris Agreement. [26] The Board of Governors responded by adopting a resolution that found Iran in non-compliance with its Safeguards Agreement. On 28 June 2005, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13382, blocking the financial assets of individuals and entities supporting WMD proliferation. Four Iranian entities were designated as agents of proliferation concern, including the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and the Aerospace Industries Organization. [27]

In February 2006, Tehran ended its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol and resumed enrichment at Natanz. The IAEA Board of Governors subsequently voted to report Iran's case to the UN Security Council (UNSC). On 15 March, the UNSC released a Presidential Statement, calling on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA. [28] Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded by delivering a speech in April in which he discussed Iran's possession of a second uranium enrichment facility with P-2 centrifuges. [29] In June, the EU-3 together with the United States, China and Russia (P5+1) offered to provide Tehran with advanced civilian nuclear technology if Iran suspended enrichment activities and resumed implementation of the Additional Protocol. [30] Iran responded to this proposal in a letter addressed to President George W. Bush, which made only brief reference to the nuclear issue and did not address the demands of the international community. [31] In response to Iranian defiance, the UNSC unanimously passed Resolution 1696 in July, which demanded that Iran suspend enrichment activities, banned the international transfer of nuclear and missile technologies to Iran, and froze the foreign assets of twelve individuals and ten organizations involved with the Iranian nuclear program. [32] President Ahmadinejad vowed to ignore the UNSC resolution and continue enrichment. [33] That same month, Iran inaugurated a heavy water production plant at Arak, prompting yet another UNSC resolution. [34] As it had with Resolution 1696, Iran also ignored Resolution 1737 and continued to operate and expand its Natanz enrichment facility. [35]

In November 2007, Iran admitted that the foreign intermediary from its previous declarations was the illicit global nuclear trafficking network of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. Iran also admitted to purchasing a complete set of P-2 centrifuge blueprints from the Khan network in 1996, which it used when it began constructing and testing P-2 centrifuges in 2002. However, Iran refused to answer the Agency's outstanding questions about its UF4 conversion activities ("The Green Salt Project"), high explosives testing, and re-entry vehicle design. [36]

On 14 June 2008, the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, met in Tehran with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to deliver a new P5+1 incentives package. The proposal offered economic incentives, access to LWR technology, and a guaranteed nuclear fuel supply in exchange for the freezing of Iran's enrichment efforts. [37] Speaking just days before the deadline set by world powers for Iran's reply, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran would "continue with its path" of nuclear development. [38] The UN Security Council responded by adopting Resolution 1835 on 27 September 2008, reaffirming previous resolutions demanding a halt to Iran's nuclear activities. [39]

On 21 September 2009, ahead of the public revelation by the leaders of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, Iran disclosed to the IAEA that it was building a second pilot enrichment facility. [40] According to IAEA Spokesperson Marc Vidricaire, Iran's letter "stated that the enrichment level would be up to 5%," and the Agency was assured that additional information would be provided in due time. The facility was located in an underground tunnel complex on the grounds of an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) base near the city of Qom. Managed by Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) was slated to hold 2,784 centrifuges, and began operations using 696 centrifuges in late 2011. [41] Moreover, Iran contradicted its declaration to the IAEA concerning planned enrichment levels by moving 19.75% enrichment activities from Natanz to Fordow. [42] A May 2012 report from the IAEA raised concerns over the activity at Fordow, citing uranium enriched past the stated target of 19.75%, and the “difference between the original stated purpose of the facility, and the purpose for which it is now used.” [43] The plant's size, secrecy, and location on an IRGC military base led some analysts in the U.S. government to argue that Iran constructed it in order to produce HEU for nuclear weapons. [44]

In fall 2009, Iran and the P5+1 resumed talks-first on October 1 in Geneva, and then on 19 October in Vienna. During the October negotiations with the P5+1, Iran agreed to IAEA inspections at the FFEP and, in principle, to send 1,200kg of LEU to Russia for further enrichment and to France for fuel plate fabrication. [45] The Tehran Research Reactor was expected to run out of 19.7% enriched LEU fuel soon after 2009. This prompted Iran to seek a replacement for the fuel and, reportedly, to signal readiness to ship its domestically produced LEU to a third country for further enrichment. Representatives from the P5+1 and Iran tentatively agreed to this fuel swap arrangement at the meeting in Geneva on 1 October 2009. [46] Iran, however, subsequently rejected the deal and proposed instead to conduct the exchange in phases, with the first phase involving the swap of 400kg of LEU for fuel on the Gulf island of Kish. The proposal, announced by Iran's Foreign Minister Mottaki, was dismissed by the IAEA and the United States as inconsistent with earlier negotiations. [47]

Following the breakdown in negotiations, Iran informed the IAEA that it would begin enriching some of its LEU to up to 20% U-235. [48] Four days later, President Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had produced 20% enriched uranium and had the ability to enrich it further if it chose to do so. [49] Following President Ahmadinejad's announcement, France, Russia, and the United States sent a letter to the IAEA expressing their commitment to the fuel swap agreement and their resolve to ensure that the deal would be implemented in full. [50]

Tensions with the international community further increased after President Ahmadinejad announced that Iran intended to construct 10 additional uranium enrichment facilities. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the AEOI, announced that Iran had identified close to twenty sites for these future plants and that construction work on two of the plants would begin "within the year." [51] On 15 December 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill stipulating the imposition of sanctions on "foreign companies that help supply gasoline to Iran." [52]

Agency inspectors visited the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), and carried out the first design information verification inspection from 26-27 October 2009. The Agency verified that the facility was being built to house 3,000 IR-1 centrifuges. In November 2009, the IAEA Board of Governors voted to rebuke Iran for building the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant in secret. The resolution urged Iran to clarify the original purpose of the Fordow enrichment site, stop its construction, confirm that there were no more undeclared facilities, and comply with the UN Security Council Resolutions adopted earlier. [53]

Increased Sanctions and Stalled P5+1 Talks: 2010 to early-2013

In June 2010, the UN Security Council approved another set of sanctions under UNSCR 1929, primarily aimed at Iran's nuclear-related investments; three affiliates of the state-owned shipping company the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), which had already been targeted by unilateral U.S. and EU sanctions; and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. [54] In 2011, the United States increased pressure on the IRISL, and several companies and individuals were indicted on charges of aiding the IRISL in conducting fraudulent transactions through nine major banks located in New York. [55] In October 2011, the United States sanctioned a ring of six front companies in Panama which allegedly took over control of some IRISL vessels after the June 2011 indictment. [56]

In a letter dated 19 February 2010, Iran informed the IAEA that it was still seeking to purchase LEU for the Tehran Research Reactor on the international market and would be willing to exchange LEU for fuel assemblies "simultaneously or in one package inside the territory of Iran." Iran requested that the IAEA convey this message to the P5+1 but the sides were not able to restart negotiations. [57] The breakdown of talks was followed by a new nuclear fuel swap proposal brokered by Brazil and Turkey. On 17 May 2010, Brazil, Turkey and Iran issued a joint statement in which Iran agreed to export half of its LEU stock (1,200kg) to Turkey as a confidence-building measure, in return for 120kg of 20% enriched uranium for use in its medical research reactor. [58] The deal, however, was not accepted by Western countries, who saw Iran's agreement to the removal of only 1,200kg of LEU from its territory as too little, too late.

In October 2010, the P5+1 extended another invitation to Iran to discuss its nuclear program, but did not accept Iran's request for Turkey or Brazil to attend. [59] Talks resumed on 6 December 2010 in Geneva, during which the P5+1 requested assurances that the Iranian nuclear program remained peaceful and Iran requested that international sanctions be lifted. [60] Diplomats convened for the next round of talks in Istanbul, Turkey in late January 2011. The talks broke down due to Iran's insistence on the lifting of all economic sanctions as a precondition for substantive discussions on its nuclear program. [61]

On 13 July 2011, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov proposed a phased approach to addressing the nuclear dispute with Iran. Under the Russian proposal, Iran's cooperation with the IAEA would be met with reciprocal steps from the P5+1. [62] According to Iranian former chief nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian, the proposal envisioned five stages, with Iran limiting its enrichment activities to one site; capping enrichment levels at 5% U-235; implementing modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements that provides for early provision of design information; ratifying the Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement; and finally, suspending enrichment for three months. In response, at each stage the P5+1 would gradually lift sanctions imposed unilaterally and through the UN Security Council. [63] Iran initially welcomed the Russian plan, but the United States, the United Kingdom and France did not accept the idea of lifting sanctions at an early stage. [64] Formal discussions on the basis of the proposal never took place.

On 8 November 2011, the IAEA released a highly anticipated safeguards report on Iran. [65] In an annex to the report, the Agency presented a lengthy, detailed account of "possible military dimensions" to Iran's nuclear program. Most of the information in the annex had been known previously, but the November 2011 report was the first time that the IAEA assembled available evidence into one overview document. According to the report, Iran has engaged in a range of activities "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device." [66] These included efforts to "procure nuclear related and dual-use equipment and materials by military-related individuals and entities;" to develop "undeclared pathways for the production of nuclear material;" to acquire "nuclear weapons development information and documentation," presumably from the A.Q. Khan network; and to "work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components." The report further stated that prior to the end of 2003 those activities took place under a "structured program," and that there are indications that "some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing." [67] The IAEA report led to the adoption of a new resolution by the Board of Governors that expressed "deep and increasing concern" about the unresolved issues and urged Iran to fully comply with its obligations. [68]

After the November 2011 IAEA report, and given that Russia and China both opposed a new UN Security Council resolution and new sanctions, the United States and the European Union launched a series of unprecedented unilateral measures. For the first time, the United States designated the Government of Iran and all financial institutions in the country as entities of money laundering concern, warning financial institutions around the world that doing business with Iranian banks entailed significant risks. [69] In December 2011, the U.S. Congress enacted the Menendez-Kirk amendment, requiring the President to sanction the Central Bank of Iran, as well as foreign financial institutions, including central banks, for processing transactions related to oil and petroleum products on behalf of Iranian companies and the Iranian government. [70] The measures entered into force in the summer of 2012. The Obama administration granted waivers to 20 countries, exempting them from financial sanctions because they significantly reduced their purchases of Iranian oil. These countries included China, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Taiwan, India, and Malaysia. The administration also granted waivers to 10 European Union members after the bloc agreed on 23 January 2012 to freeze all assets of the Central Bank of Iran and phase-out Iranian oil imports by 1 July 2012. [71] On 5 February, the United States ordered the freezing of all property of the Government of Iran, including its Central Bank, and all other Iranian financial institutions. [72]

In late January 2012, an IAEA team headed by the Deputy Director General for Safeguards Herman Nackaerts visited Iran to discuss ways to resolve outstanding issues. A follow-up visit took place in late February 2012, but the two sides were unable to agree on a plan, and the IAEA expressed its disappointment in the meeting due to Iran's refusal to grant access to the Parchin military complex―a site where Iran has allegedly conducted high explosive and hydrodynamic experiments relevant to the development of nuclear weapons. [73] On 6 March 2012, Iran announced that it would allow IAEA inspectors to visit Parchin. However, subsequent IAEA-Iran talks throughout 2012 did not produce an agreement on a "structured approach" that would include a visit to the site. [74] Furthermore, at a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in September 2012, the U.S. envoy accused Iran of "systematically demolishing" the very facility IAEA inspectors wanted to visit. [75] The Institute for Science and International Security has published satellite images of the site that show items that "could be associated with the removal of equipment or with cleansing it." [76] A May 2013 report by the IAEA Director General noted that Iran has "[spread, leveled and compacted] material over most of the site, a significant portion of which it has also asphalted." [77]

In March 2012, the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, speaking for the Western powers, announced that she had "offered to resume talks with Iran on the nuclear issue." [78] On 14 April 2012, Iran and the P5+1 countries met in Istanbul to re-open discussions about Iran's nuclear program. The talks lasted two days and were described as constructive, with the two sides reportedly refraining from confrontational rhetoric, and agreeing to hold another round of talks in May 2012 in Baghdad. [79] On 23 May 2012, the second round of new P5+1 talks with Iran was held in the "Green Zone" of Baghdad, Iraq. In an attempt to build on the momentum from the Istanbul talks, both sides went to Baghdad with specific proposals on key issues. The P5+1 requested that Iran stop uranium enrichment up to 20% U-235, ship out all of the 20% enriched uranium already produced, and close the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. [80] In return, the P5+1 were reportedly prepared to discuss the provision of medical isotopes, cooperation in nuclear safety, and the supply of parts for Iran's civil aviation. [81] They also "offered to refrain from imposing further United Nations sanctions against Iran." [82] Iran signaled a willingness to halt the 20% enrichment if the move were met with lifting of some of the current sanctions, such as those imposed against its oil industry and central bank. The P5+1 position, however, was that an end to 20% uranium enrichment and greater transparency needed to precede the lifting of any sanctions, rather than happening simultaneously. Iran has insisted that its "inalienable right" to enrich uranium be recognized by the P5+1. Media reported that Iran's five-point proposal included non-nuclear issues, such as regional security, but no further details were publicly available. The parties were once again unable to agree on substantive actions. [83]

At June 2012 negotiations in Moscow, the parties did not change their positions, but more details on Iran's proposal were reported. The five-point proposal included the recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium along with the "'operationalisation' of the Supreme Leader's fatwa against nuclear weapons;" sanctions relief in return for Iran's cooperation with the IAEA; cooperation in nuclear energy and safety; a possible cap on 20% enrichment; and several non-nuclear issues. [84] With no agreement achieved, the high-level talks were suspended. On 3 July 2012, the P5+1 and Iran held a technical meeting in Istanbul among lower-level officials. [85] At the gathering, "the experts explored positions on a number of technical subjects." On 24 July, Iran's deputy nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri and EU deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid met in Istanbul to find "common ground and coordination" between the parties. [86] Although the talks were described as constructive, no agreement was achieved and details of the discussions were withheld. [87]

On 10 August 2012, President Obama signed into law the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act, expanding sanctions against Iran. [88] The law included a ban on the provision of insurance, reinsurance, and other shipping services to vessels of entities involved in proliferation. [89] The European Union also tightened its restrictions on trade with Iran, prohibiting the import, financing, insurance, and brokering of Iranian natural gas, and banning the supply of vessels to transport or store Iranian oil. The EU banned the provision of ship-building, flagging, and classification services to Iran's ships, as well as the sale of graphite, aluminum, and steel. [90] The shipping sanctions affected not only U.S.- and EU-sanctioned IRISL, but also the vessels of the National Iranian Tanker Company, which transport oil.

In November 2012, the P5+1 agreed to pursue new talks with Iran. [91] Bringing updated proposals, the parties met in late February 2013 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Initial political consultations were followed by a technical meeting in Istanbul, but the subsequent round in Almaty failed to end the stalemate, and no further talks were scheduled. [92] Media later reported that the P5+1 proposal envisioned that Iran would suspend enrichment to 20% U-235; ship its 20%-enriched stockpile out of Iran (except material used for production of medical isotopes); agree to enhanced IAEA verification measures; and "suspend operations at, but not dismantle the cascades," at Fordow for six months, while the parties negotiated a long-term settlement. In return, the P5+1 offered some relief from "sanctions on trade in gold and precious metals and petrochemical sales," as well as licensing U.S. repairs of Iran's civilian aircraft. Iran's counterproposal, presented at the second Almaty meeting, suggested that Iran suspend 20% enrichment and continues to convert existing stock to oxide in return for recognition of its right to enrichment and "lifting of some banking sanctions." [93]

In May 2013, a U.S. Congressional committee approved legislation to further limit Iran's oil exports and access to foreign currency reserves. [94] On 3 June 2013, President Obama signed an executive order that authorized, effective 1 July 2013, sanctions against "any foreign financial institution that conducts 'significant transactions' in the Iranian rial…or maintains rial accounts outside Iran." [95]

Hassan Rouhani's victory in the June 2013 Iranian presidential elections signaled a shift in Iran's position on nuclear negotiations. [96] In his inaugural address, President Rouhani, who served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, put priority on "elevating Iran's position based on national interest and lifting of the oppressive sanctions," signaling his intent to resume negotiations with the P5+1. [97] Secret bilateral talks between U.S. and Iranian officials in Oman, which reportedly started in March 2013, received new impetus following Rouhani's election and began to focus on the outline of an eventual deal. [98]

The first round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 was held in Geneva from 15-16 October 2013. After two additional rounds of intensive negotiations, Iran and the P5+1 announced on November 24th that they had reached an agreement on a Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), including interim steps over the next six months and elements of a longer-term, comprehensive solution. In addition, the IAEA and Iran agreed on a Framework for Cooperation (FFC) binding both parties to cooperate further "with respect to verification activities to be undertaken by the IAEA to resolve all present and past issues." [99] Both sides were unable to negotiate a comprehensive agreement and numerous deadlines were imposed, and allowed to expire, before the final negotiation process began with a 30 June 2015 deadline. Negotiations extended beyond the 30 June deadline with both side’s negotiating teams remaining in the Palais Coberg hotel in Vienna, Austria until an agreement could be reached. [100]

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

On 14 July 2015 the P5+1 States and Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Although there was strong opposition in both the Iranian and the U.S. governments, legislation was passed in the U.S. Congress and the Iranian Parliament approving the deal. [101] [102] On 20 July 2015, the UN Security Council adopted UNSCR 2231 endorsing the plan. [103] The JCPOA is designed to limit Iran's "breakout time" to a nuclear weapon from an estimated few months to one year or more. [104] This is being accomplished by the implementation of several measures to limit Iran's ability to enrich uranium. First, the JCPOA requires Iran to reduce operational centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment facility from 19,000 to 5,060 until 2025. [105] The Fordow enrichment facility will be converted to research and development, and will not enrich uranium for a period of 15 years, while also having its centrifuges reduced to two cascades totaling 1044 machines. Iran agreed to ratify the Additional Protocol, in addition to its comprehensive safeguards agreement, and enact inspection measures that will enable IAEA inspectors unprecedented access to its nuclear facilities. In addition, Iran signed a "Roadmap for Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues" agreement with the IAEA to resolve any questions the Agency still has concerning the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear program. This issue was reported as resolved by the IAEA Director General in his report to the Board of Governors on 15 December 2015. [106]

In order to address concerns Iran could feasibly construct and operate a clandestine enrichment facility similar to Natanz or Fordow, the agreement allows for inspections of the entire fuel cycle; for up to 25 years at some facilities. This allows IAEA inspectors to inspect Iran's uranium supplies from the mining stage through waste disposal, and monitor all centrifuge production facilities. [107]

Finally, the JCPOA establishes a procurement channel monitored by a joint commission that will allow Iran to obtain the materials it needs to operate its nuclear facilities under the guidelines of international nuclear supply regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). [108]

On 16 January 2016, the Director General of the IAEA issued a statement declaring Iran to be in compliance with all of its obligations under the JCPOA necessary to declare Implementation Day. This cleared the way for comprehensive sanctions relief for Iran while allowing IAEA inspectors continued, access to Iranian nuclear facilities. [109]

Recent Developments and Current Status

Since 2016, the IAEA has released quarterly verification and monitoring reports on Iran's implementation of the JCPOA in accordance with UNSCR 2231. These reports have been generally consistent with Iranian compliance in implementing the JCPOA. [110] However, some experts are concerned that JCPOA compliance monitoring has been incomplete. Analysts at the Institute for Science and International Security have criticized the IAEA reports as being too sparse to dispel controversies about Iran's compliance. [111] These analysts also claim that Iran has exploited a loophole in the JCPOA to exceed its allotment of heavy water on two occasions. [112]

Even before the JCPOA was signed and implemented, the U.S. Congress sought to hold the Obama administration accountable for the deal by passing the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which requires the president to certify Iran's compliance with the deal to Congress every 90 days. [113] Since the election of President Donald Trump, these periodic reviews have been seen as an opportunity for President Trump to follow through on his campaign promise to "dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran." [114] However, the Trump Administration has continued to enforce the JCPOA, and has certified Iran's "technical compliance" with the terms of the deal in April and July 2017. [115] The administration has signaled its reluctance to certify Iranian compliance, and has accused Iran of breaching "the spirit" of the deal through its continued ballistic missile tests and support for terrorism. [116]

[1] "IAEA Director General's Statement on Iran," IAEA, updated 16 January 2016,
[2] Joseph Cirincione, Jon Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, "Iran," in Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats (Washington, DC, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), p. 298.
[3] Oliver Meier, "Iran and Foreign Enrichment: A Troubled Model," The Arms Control Association, January/February 2006.
[4] David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan, "Is Iran Running Out of Yellowcake?" The Institute for Science and International Security, 11 February 2009.
[5] Iran's Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2005), p. 9.
[6] Iran's Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2005), p. 12.
[7] Joseph Cirincione, Jon Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, "Iran," in Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats (Washington, DC, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), p. 303.
[8] Joseph Cirincione, Jon Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, "Iran," in Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats (Washington, DC, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), p. 303
[9] Nathan E. Busch, No End in Sight: The Continuing Menace of Nuclear Proliferation (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2004), p. 265.
[10] Iran's Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2005), p. 13.
[11] R. Jeffrey Smith and Michael Dobbs, "Russia Promised to Sell Centrifuge Plant to Iran; Bomb Grade Uranium Could be Made There," The Washington Post, 29 April 1995; Iran's Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2005), p. 13.
[12] Iran's Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2005), p. 13.
[13] Iran's Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2005), p. 13.
[14] Iran's Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2005), p. 16.
[15] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Board of Governors Resolution, The International Atomic Energy Agency, 10 November 2003; "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Board of Governors Resolution, The International Atomic Energy Agency, 26 November 2003.
[16] "Statement by the Iranian Government and Visiting EU Foreign Ministers," The International Atomic Energy Agency, 21 October 2003,
[17] Iran's Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2005), p. 23.
[18] "Iran's Nuclear Program: Expanding the Nuclear Fuel Cycle; Illicit Procurement," Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS),
[19] "Communication dated 26 November 2004 received from the Permanent Representatives of France, Germany, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the United Kingdom concerning the agreement signed in Paris on 15 November 2004," The International Atomic Energy Agency, 26 November 2004,
[20] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency, 15 November 2004.
[21] Jeffrey Richelson, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007), p. 514.
[22] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency, 15 November 2004.
[23] Etel Solingen, Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia and the Middle East (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 172.
[24] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency, 15 November 2004.
[25] Anne Penketh, "Iran in Showdown with EU Over Its Nuclear Ambitions," The Independent, 1 August 2005.
[26] "Response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Framework Agreement Proposed by the EU3/EU," The Islamic Republic of Iran, downloaded from the British American Security Information Council, - IranEU.htm; "Communication dated 1 August 2005 received from the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Agency," The International Atomic Energy Agency, 1 August 2005.
[27] Executive Order 13382, "Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters," 28 June 2005.
[28] Warren Hoge, "Text on Iran's Nuclear Work Is Under Study by the UN Council," The New York Times, 15 March 2006.
[29] Nasser Karimi, "President: Secret Centrifuge Is Operational - Iran's New Nuke Tests," The Daily Telegraph, 19 April 2006.
[30] "'Carrot-stick' deal agreed on Iran," CNN, 2 June 2006; "EU's Solana to present Iran with nuclear proposal," CNN, 5 June 2006; "Iran 'positive' on nuclear offer," BBC, 6 June 2006.
[31] "Ahmadinejad's Letter to Bush," Washington Post, May 9, 2006.
[32] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696, adopted July 31, 2006.
[33] Nazila Fathi, "Iran's Leader Stands by Nuclear Plans; Military to Hold Exercises," The New York Times, 22 January 2007.
[34] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737, adopted 27 December 2006.
[35] "Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Agency in the light of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 (2006)," Report by the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency, 9 February 2007.
[36] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006) and 1747 (2007) in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency, 15 November 2007.
[37] Julian Borger, "International Diplomats to Visit Tehran to Deliver Nuclear Ultimatum," The Guardian, 14 June 2008.
[38] Graham Bowley, "Despite Call to Halt, Iran Says It Will Continue Its Nuclear Program," The New York Times, 31 July 2008.
[39] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1835, adopted 27 September 2008.
[40] David Sanger and William Broad, "U.S. and Allies Warn Iran over Nuclear Deception," The New York Times, 25 September 2009.
[41] Initial declaration from Iran indicated that FFEP would hold 3,000 IR-1 centrifuges. "Public Points for Qom Disclosure," United States Government,; "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, (GOV/2012/55), 16 November 2012.
[42] David Albright, Paul Brannan and Andrea Stricker, “Moving 20 Percent Enrichment to Fordow: Slow Motion Breakout Continues?” ISIS, 8 June 2011,
[43] IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” 25 May 2012,
[44] David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, "Update on Fordow Centrifuge Site: Future Uncertain," 13 January 2014,
[45] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), and 1835 (2008), in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Resolution adopted by the Board of Governors, (GOV/2009/82), 27 November 2009.
[46] "Iran Atom Talks Off to Good Start despite Tensions," Reuters, 19 October 2009; Geoffrey Forden, "TRR Refueling and Nonproliferation Barriers," 11 October 2009,
[47] W.G. Dunlop, "Iran Offers to Swap 400 Kilos of LEU on Kish for Atomic Fuel," AFP, 12 December 2009.
[48] Borzou Daragahi, "Iran to Boost Enrichment; Ahmedinejad Tells Atomic Agency to Process Uranium to a Higher Purity," The Los Angeles Times, 8 February 2010.
[49] Borzou Daragahi, "Iran to Boost Enrichment; Ahmedinejad Tells Atomic Agency to Process Uranium to a Higher Purity," The Los Angeles Times, 8 February 2010.
[50] "France, Russia, and the United States Write to Amano on Iran," ISIS Nuclear Iran, 16 February 2010.
[51] David Sanger and William Broad, "A Defiant Iran Vows to Build Nuclear Plants," The New York Times, 30 November 2009; "Iran to Declare Good News on Centrifuges to be Used in New Site: AEOI," Iranian Student News Agency, 22 February 2010.
[52] "House Passes Iran Gasoline Sanctions Bill," Reuters, 15 December 2009.
[53] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, (GOV/2010/46), 16 September 2010.
[54] Colum Lynch and Glenn Kessler, "U.N. Imposes another round of sanctions on Iran," Washington Post, 10 June 2010.
[55] The People of the State of New York v. Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, Supreme Court, New York County, 20 June 2011, indictment 11-02924.
[56] Matthew Levitt, "Treasury Tightens Squeeze on Iran Front Companies," The Iran Primer, United States Institute of Peace, 27 October 2011.
[57] Peter Crail, "Brazil, Turkey Broker Fuel Swap with Iran," Arms Control Today, June 2010.
[58] "Resolution 1929 (2010) Adopted by the Security Council at its 6335th meeting, on 9 June 2010," U.N. Security Council, (S/RES/1929(2010), 9 June 2010.
[59] "World Powers Propose Nuclear Talks with Iran in November," Politico, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 14 October 2010.
[60] Karim Sadjadpour, "Examining the P5+1 Iran Talks in Context," Middle East Progress, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 5 December 2010.
[61] Steven Erlanger, "Talks on Iran's Nuclear Program End with No Progress," The New York Times, 23 January 2011.
[62] "Russia Proposes 'Phased' Resolution of Iran Nuclear Standoff'," Global Security Newswire, 14 July 2011.
[63] Masakatsu Ota, "U.S. Missed Chance to Resolve Iran Nuclear Issue: ex-Iran Negotiator," Kyodo News, 8 February 2012,
[64] Steve Gutterman and Lidya Kelly, "Russia Hopes Its Proposal Can Revive Iran Nuclear Talk," Reuters, 17 April 2011.
[65] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, (GOV/2011/65), 8 November 2011.
[66] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, (GOV/2011/65), 8 November 2011.
[67] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, (GOV/2011/65), 8 November 2011.
[68] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Resolution adopted by the Board of Governors, 18 November 2011, GOV/2011/69.
[69] U.S. Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, "Imposition of Special Measure against the Islamic Republic of Iran as a Jurisdiction of Primary Money Laundering Concern. Notice of Proposed Rulemaking," 28 November 2011.
[70] Josh Rogin, "Iran sanctions amendment emerges from conference largely intact," The Cable, 13 December 2011.
[71] "EU Iran sanctions: Ministers adopt Iran oil imports ban," BBC, 23 January 2012.
[72] U.S. Department of the Treasury, "Fact Sheet: Implementation of National Defense Authorization Act Sanctions on Iran," 6 February 2012.
[73] Parisa Hafezi and Fredrik Dahl, "Iran to allow IAEA visit Parchin military site: ISNA," Reuters, 6 March 2012; "Statement on IAEA-Iran Talks," IAEA Press Statements, 14 December 2012.
[74] "U.S. says Iran "demolishing" facility at Parchin site," Reuters, 13 September 2012.
[75] David Albright and Paul Brannan, "New Satellite Image Shows Activity at Parchin Site in Iran," Institute for Science and International Security, 8 May 2012,
[76] Justyna Pawlak, "Big powers accept Iran offer of nuclear talks-EU's Ashton," Reuters, 6 March 2012.
[77] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, (GOV/2013/27), 22 May 2013.
[78] "Statement by European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton on the Iranian Nuclear Issue," PRNewswire, 6 March 2012,
[79] Muhammad Sahimi, "Diplomats: First Round of Nuclear Talks 'Positive,' 'Constructive,'" Frontline, Tehran Bureau, 14 April 2012.
[80] Paul Richter, "Hope Fades for Quick Progress in Iran Nuclear Talks," Los Angeles Times, 24 May 2012.
[81] Ali Akbar Dareini and Lara Jakes, "Baghdad Nuclear Talks: Crucial Negotiations on Iranian Nuclear Program Take Off," Huffington Post, 23 May 2012.
[82] Paul Richter, "Hope Fades for Quick Progress in Iran Nuclear Talks," Los Angeles Times, 24 May 2012.
[83] Muhammad Sahimi, "Iran and 'Divided' P5+1 Exchange Proposals to End Nuclear Standoff," Frontline, Tehran Bureau, 24 May 2012.
[84] Julian Borger, "'Progress 'in Moscow: Iran Says No with a PowerPoint," The Guardian, 18 June 2012.
[85] Vanessa Mock, "EU Plans to Continue Nuke Talks with Iran," The Wall Street Journal, 4 July 2012.
[86] "Statement by the Spokesperson of High Representative Catherine Ashton following the meeting of experts of E3+3 and Iran," European Union, 4 July 2012.
[87] "EU-Iran officials hold talks on nuclear row," AFP, 24 July 2012.
[88] Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, P.L. 112-158.
[89] Council Decision 2012/635/CFSP of 15 October 2012 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Iran, 16 October 2012.
[90] "U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Can't Break Impasse with Iran," Global Security Newswire, 22 February 2012.
[91] "World powers want new nuclear talks with Iran quickly," Reuters, 21 November 2012.
[92] Justyna Pawlak and Yeganeh Torbati, "Powers and Iran fail to end nuclear deadlock in Almaty," Reuters, 6 April 2013.
[93] Laura Rozen, "The P5+1 Nuclear Proposal to Iran in Almaty: Document," The Back Channel, Al-Monitor, 9 June 2013.
[94] Patricia Zengerle, "U.S. Congress moves to tighten sanctions on Iran," Reuters, 22 May 2013.
[95] Rick Gladstone, "U.S. Adds to Its List of Sanctions against Iran," The New York Times, 3 June 2013.
[96] "Iran's Rouhani Vows to Work to Lift Sanctions," AFP, 4 August 2013.
[97] Dan Roberts and Julian Borger, "Obama holds historic phone call with Rouhani and hints at end to sanctions," The Guardian, 27 September 2013.
[98] Bradley Klapper, Matthew Lee, and Julie Pace, "Secret US-Iran Talks Set Stage for Nuke Deal," Associated Press, 24 November 2013,
[99] IAEA Press Release, IAEA, Iran Sign Joint Statement on Framework for Cooperation, 11 November 2013, accessible at:
[100] Mary Alice Salinas, "Iran Nuclear Talks Extended Again," Voice of America, 10 July 2015,
[101] "GOP Effort to Block Iran Deal Fails Again," Courthouse News Service, updated 15 September 2015,
[102] Sharafedin, Bozorgmehr, "Iran's Guardian Council passes nuclear bill into law," Rueters, updated 14 October 2015,
[103] United Nations, "Security Council adopts resolution endorsing Iran nuclear deal," UN News Centre, United Nations, updated July 2015,
[104] Sanger, David, and Michael Gordon, "Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen with Time," The New York Times, updated July 2015,
[105] "Verification and Monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015)," Institute of Science and International Studies, updated 27 May 2016,
[106] "Full Text of the Iran Nuclear Deal," Washington Post, updated July 2015,
[107] "Full Text of the Iran Nuclear Deal," Washington Post, updated July 2015,
[108] "Full Text of the Iran Nuclear Deal," Washington Post, updated July 2015,
[109] "IAEA Director General's Statement on Iran," IAEA, updated January 16, 2016,
[110] IAEA, “Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015),” 16 January 2016,
[111] David Albright and Andrea Stricker, "Analysis of the Fifth Iran Nuclear Deal Report," Institute for Science and International Security, 3 March 2017,
[112] David Albright and Andrea Stricker, "Heavy Water Loophole in the Iran Deal," Institute for Science and International Security, 21 December 2016,
[113] Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, Public Law 114-17, 114th Congress, 22 May 2015.
[114] Sarah Begley, "Read Donald Trump's Speech to AIPAC," Time Magazine, 21 March 2016,
[115] Sec. Rex Tillerson, US Department of State, "Trump Administration Undergoing Interagency Review of Iran Deal," 18 April 2017.
[116] Karen de Young, "U.S. Slaps New Sanctions on Iran, After Certifying Its Compliance with Nuclear Deal," Washington Post, 18 July 18, 2017,

Get the Facts on Iran
  • Negotiated a final Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for its nuclear program w/ the P5+1 on July 14, 2015
  • Possesses complete uranium fuel cycle capabilities
  • Possesses short- and medium-range ballistic missiles

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2017.