On Monday, Iran reached a major milestone in the implementation of the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the international agreement to place restrictions on the country’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Almost all of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was shipped out of the country, fulfilling a key requirement of the nuclear deal. According to Reuters, a ship carrying more than 11,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) left Iran. Per the nuclear agreement, Iran may retain 300 kilograms of LEU on hand. That amount of enriched uranium is inadequate for a nuclear weapon.
The United States confirmed the departure of the LEU from Iranian soil. In a written statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who played a critical role in the negotiations toward the deal, noted that “The shipment included the removal of all of Iran’s nuclear material enriched to 20 percent that was not already in the form of fabricated fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.” “This removal of all this enriched material out of Iran is a significant step toward Iran meeting its commitment to have no more than 300 kg of low-enriched uranium,” Kerry’s statement continued.
The removal of the LEU comes just over two months after Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of powers–the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom–marked “Adoption Day” for the JCPOA. Iran has since been moving to adhere to the its obligations under the nuclear deal. The LEU milestone moves Iran and the P5+1 closer to the “Implementation Day” milestone of the agreement.
In order for the JCPOA to advance to that stage, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must certify that Iran has successfully complied with the technical requirements of the deal and adequately reined in its nuclear program. Under the JCPOA, Iran concedes a great deal of its civilian nuclear infrastructure, but retains limited capacity to enrich uranium and operate centrifuges. Once the IAEA certifies that Iran has complied, “Implementation Day” will take effect, releasing roughly $100 billion in overseas Iranian assets that have been frozen under international sanctions.
The LEU milestone today comes three weeks after the IAEA issued its final assessment of the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program–closing the book on the issue once and for all. As I discussed in The Diplomat then, the IAEA’s concluded that Iran carried out “coordinated” work on nuclear weapons before 2003 and possibly beyond that point. The international body found no evidence of continued weapons work beyond 2009.