Iran will deal another blow to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action today by increasing its uranium enrichment from 3.67%—the limit allowed under the agreement—to 20%.
This follows Iran’s announcement on Monday that it had breached the 300-kilogram stockpile limit for low-enriched uranium. While the uranium enrichment is far below the 90% enrichment needed for a nuclear weapon, it represents a larger violation of the JCPOA as it is easier to enrich from 20% to 90% than from 3.67% to 20% according to nuclear experts.
Iran’s JCPOA violations are likely a negotiating tactic rather than an attempt to develop nuclear weapons. Following the US withdrawal from the agreement last year and the imposition of sanctions, Iran has complained that it cannot reap the economic benefits promised under the deal because European companies are afraid of running afoul of the Trump administration.
The move will most definitely increase tensions between Tehran and Washington. However, with the US unlikely to ease sanctions or re-join the deal, the pressure now shifts to Europe—specifically Germany, Britain and France—to devise a system that would allow European businesses to trade with Iran. If Europe cannot find a way to bypass the sanctions, Tehran could take further steps to enhance its nuclear capabilities, likely by reopening nuclear centrifuges to further bring down the time needed to develop a nuclear weapon.
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