How Iran Has Pursued Nuclear Technology Outside of the JCPOA Framework
The 2015 nuclear deal struck between Iran and the six major powers - the US, UK, Russia, France, China, and Germany, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a major milestone in curtailing Iran’s nuclear program. The deal implemented limitations on the Iranian nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. These limitations include reducing the number of uranium centrifuges, prohibition on heavy water reactors, and requirement to keep uranium enrichment level at 3.67%, as well as other key provisions. However, while there has been no evidence that Iran has violated any of these provisions under the current implemented deal, many key areas of nuclear research have been left out of the deal. These research areas have been the focus of the Iranian nuclear program since the signing of the JCPOA.
One key aspect of the post-deal Iranian nuclear program has been the research conducted on ballistic missiles. Due to a lack of hard restrictions within the deal, Iran has been able to pursue potential delivery systems and multi-stage rockets capable of delivering a nuclear warhead anywhere in the Middle East. This alone has ramifications for the strategic stability in the broader Middle Eastern region.
But there is another area of research Iran is pursuing that has undermined one of the key major concessions Iran gave during the JCPOA negotiations. Under the ratified framework agreement, Iran agreed to reduce the number of uranium centrifuges it has and specifically only keep the oldest ones while discarding the newer and more technologically advanced centrifuges. However, due to there being no prohibition on continuing research on more advanced centrifuges, there has been a concerted effort by Iran to research into more advanced centrifuges to replace older ones, thereby undermining the effectiveness of a major aspect of the deal.
An additional aspect of Iranian nuclear research that the JCPOA does not cover is the continuation of Iranian nuclear research outside of the borders of Iran. The Washington Examiner reports that Iranian nuclear scientists and military officers have been present at North Korean nuclear tests. This indicates technical cooperation and knowledge sharing between these two states that both countries’ nuclear program can draw upon for technological progress in developing nuclear weapons. Furthermore, concerning research is also facilitated by the academic exchange program between China and Iran where STEM programs at Iranian universities enable scientists to go to Hong Kong or other places in China. These foreign locations allow Iranian scientists to continue research on military technologies even in the nuclear field while still upholding the nuclear deal.
The Iranian nuclear deal was a major step forward in addressing the security threat that emanates from Iran’s nuclear program. However, the deal should not be considered a definitive halt on Iran’s nuclear research. Iran’s pursuit of ballistic weapons research, advances in uranium centrifuges, and continuation of outside nuclear research showcase ways the Iran nuclear deal has failed to stop the progress of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In the coming years, these advances could pose a serious threat to US interests in the region.
Photo credit Tasnim News Agency, Creative Commons