October 10, 2019 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1478

Despite The JCPOA, Iran Accelerates Its Nuclear Research And Development – While The U.S., After Leaving The JCPOA, In Fact Preserves It With Waivers For Member Countries Allowing Them To Help Iran Continue Civilian Nuclear Development

October 10, 2019
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1478

By: A. Savyon and M. Avraham*


Although since President Trump's May 2018 announcement on the matter, the U.S. is regarded as having withdrawn from the JCPOA nuclear deal,[1] it in effect remains in the agreement because it continues to provide significant waivers to the U.S. sanctions for the rest of the countries in the JCOPA to help Iran develop its nuclear program. That is, the U.S. is preserving the civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran by the JCPOA members, allowing Europe, Russia, and China to continue to uphold the agreement (see July 2019 statements on this matter by then-U.S. national security advisor John Bolton).[2]

It is Iran that is withdrawing from the JCPOA, emptying it of meaning by unilaterally cancelling the agreement's technical restrictions on its activity. For example, on September 4, 2019, Iran announced its third step in withdrawing from its obligations under the agreement; the two previous steps included increasing its enriched uranium inventory beyond the 300 kg permitted in the agreement, and enriching uranium to above the permitted 3.67%.

However, Iran is carefully preserving the framework of the JCPOA, even stating that it is doing so in order to preserve international recognition of it as a nuclear state and as a state entitled to enrich uranium. Iran will never announce that it is withdrawing from the JCPOA because it has no intention of relinquishing this recognition – since the Iranian regime's first and most important strategic and political aim in pursuing the JCPOA was to achieve it.[3]

In recent weeks, senior Iranian spokesmen have announced that Iran is further abandoning its obligations under the JCPOA. First and foremost, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stressed, on October 2, 2019, that Iran would continue to cut back on its JCPOA obligations "until we attain the required result." Earlier, on September 4, Iranian President Hassan Rohani announced Iran's third step, namely, Iran's cancellation of the timetable to which it had committed under the agreement and its resumption and acceleration of its research and development free of all restrictions. A few days later, on September 7, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi clarified the nature of this third step, explaining that Iran was in effect erasing the years-long restriction on its development of advanced centrifuges, and that it was now continuing its nuclear development program – ostensibly permitted by the JCPOA – without it being recognized as a violation of the JCPOA.

Following that, at a October 7 press conference, AEOI director Ali Akbar Salehi said that these steps by Iran were being undertaken as part of its cutbacks on its obligations under the JCPOA. He explained that Iran was accelerating its nuclear research and development, its uranium enrichment, and its activity at the Arak reactor.

All this means that Iran is stepping up its nuclear program, ostensibly in the framework of the JCPOA, while at the same time unilaterally rejecting its obligations under the agreement.

This report will present Iranian officials' explanations of the essence of this third step in Iran's withdrawal from its JCPOA obligations and what it means for Iran's nuclear development program.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: "We Must Continue [To Act] With Determination And Precision To Cut Back On Our Nuclear Obligations... Until We Attain The Required Result – And We Surely Will Attain It"

In an October 2, 2019 speech to thousands of commanders of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the Islamic Revolution's and the IRGC's victory over their enemies – i.e. the U.S., as leader of the "world of oppression and arrogance" – Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei twice ordered the continuation of Iran's cutbacks in its obligations under the JCPOA "until we attain the required result," though he did not specify what that would be. At the same time, it can be inferred that the goal to which Iran aspires is the eradication of any possibility of Iranian submission to the U.S. – that is, strategic and military supremacy over it, apparently in the form of a nuclear bomb.

Khamenei said: "America's 'maximal pressure' policy has without a doubt been defeated, and Iran will not submit to the regime that seeks hegemony [i.e. the U.S.]. [The Americans] have made efforts recently, with the help of their European friends, to meet with [Iranian President] Rohani and to make it look like Iran was defeated. But the efforts were pointless. Iran will continue to cut back on its nuclear obligations with vigor and determination until the desired outcome is reached... We must continue [to act] with determination and precision to cut back on our nuclear obligations, and the AEOI is charged with carrying this out, just as the government announced, until we attain the required result – and we surely will attain it...[4]

Khamenei's veiled reference to "the required result," along with Iran's steps that empty the JCPOA of its content and its acceleration of its nuclear research and development program, may have prompted him to reiterate statements he had made in the past about the religious ban on the use of nuclear weapons. In an October 9, 2019 speech, he said that according to Islam, Iran was prohibited from using a nuclear bomb – adding, however, that "Iran is capable of doing so." He said:

"Iran has a mighty and determined position in the matter of the religious ban on the use of a nuclear bomb. Although we were able to go down this path [and attain a nuclear bomb], we have declared the use of this weapon completely prohibited by religious law, according to the precepts of Islam. Therefore, there is no reason to spend money on producing and storing weapons whose use is strictly forbidden..."[5]

It should be emphasized that in his statements, Khamenei referred only to a ban on the use of nuclear weapons, not to a sweeping ban on producing or storing them. Furthermore, MEMRI has published a series of reports concerning Khamenei's alleged nuclear fatwa showing that it does not actually exist. See:

Iranian President Rohani: "All Research And Development Timetables To Which We Are Obligated Under The Nuclear Agreement Are Completely Cancelled Starting Friday [September 6, 2019]"

At a September 4, 2019 government meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rohani explained why Iran's third step in withdrawing from its JCPOA obligations is significant for the country's nuclear research and development program:

"The external form of the third step is not particularly impressive, but its essence is especially important. In my view, this step is the most important of the three steps [taken by Iran to withdraw from the obligations], and its impact will be outstanding. God willing, by means of this step and the instructions that will be released today or tomorrow, the AEOI will exit the current framework of the normal pace of progress, and its activity to achieve its goals will be extraordinarily accelerated."[6]

Later that day, Rohani announced the cancellation of restrictions on Iran's nuclear research and development: "...In the third step, the AEOI is obligated to begin immediately [any] research and development [activity] required by the state. It must abandon any obligation under the nuclear agreement pertaining to research and development, so that we see rapid expansion of research and development of the new centrifuges and of anything required for enriching [uranium].

"We know that this is a big step... All research and development timetables to which we are obligated under the nuclear agreement are completely cancelled starting Friday [September 6, 2019], and we will carry out, under the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency and within the framework of the peaceful activity, any [nuclear] activity that is technically necessary and that advances nuclear technology. At the same time, we will give the 4+1 countries [Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany] a two-month opportunity [to compensate Iran for the U.S. sanctions]. If we succeed in reaching an agreement, we might resume our obligations under the JCPOA..."[7]

AEOI Spokesman Kamalvandi: "We Are Already Reaching The End Of The JCPOA Technically – Only One Or Two More Issues Remain, And Once They Are Carried Out [Iran] Will Have No More Obligations" Under The JCPOA

At a September 7 press conference, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), explained the nature of Iran's third step to cut back on its obligations under the JCPOA. Stressing that Iran is in effect erasing the years-long restrictions on its development of new-generation centrifuges, he said that it is now continuing to develop its nuclear program, ostensibly under the JCPOA and without this activity being recognized as a violation of it. He said:

"Today we have carried out four things: The first is with regard to Section 39, Annex I [of the JCPOA], that is, the production of enriched material by means of new-generation centrifuges and nonintervention [in the separation of] waste from the product. This activity was meant to be carried out only 10 years after the beginning of the JCPOA. From now on, when the centrifuges are operated for research and development [purposes] it will at the same time help increase our [uranium] inventory.

"The second is the injection of gas into the IR6s centrifuges, which is mentioned in Section 32 of Annex I, that was expected to be carried out at the beginning of the 11th year of the JCPOA.

"The third is the operation of a cascade of 20 IR4 centrifuges, mentioned in Section 35 of Annex I, that was expected to be carried out in the beginning of the 11th year of the JCPOA.

"The fourth is the injection of gas into the cascade of 20 IR6 centrifuges, that was expected to be carried out in late November of this year. The injection of gas into a cascade of 30 machines will happen in the coming months, such that in effect in the next two months 60 IR6 centrifuges will operate in research and development, and will increase Iran's enriched uranium inventory. These are actions that have been underway since September 6, 2019.

"During the next two months, and before the end of the phase of the third step, we will have three more important and valuable activities: The first is the activation and injection of gas into the cascade of 164 IR4 centrifuges; the second is the activation of the cascade of the 164 IR2m centrifuges, and the third is the injection of gas into the middle cascade of IR5s centrifuges...

"With regard to the JCPOA and whether or not it has reached its end, this is a political matter, and the politicians must discuss it. Our role is technical, and our obligations in this area are known. [It can be said] that we are already reaching the end of the JCPOA technically. Only one or two more issues remain, and once they are carried out [Iran] will have no more obligations [under it]."[8]

AEOI Director Salehi: "We Will Add 45% To Our Enrichment Capability; There Is An Increase In Production Of Uranium Enriched To Over 3.5%"; In Two Or Three Weeks, We Will Reach 2,500 Kg Of Enriched [Uranium] Using New-Generation Centrifuges"

Speaking at a press conference about the steps Iran was taking to cut back on its obligations under the JCPOA and the way forward for nuclear research and development, uranium enrichment, and the Arak reactor, AEOI director Ali Akbar Salehi said on October 7:

"In the technical part of the nuclear talks, we tried hard to preserve the essence of the research, in accordance with the directives [from Supreme Leader] Khamenei and his emphasis on this matter. That is, we did not compromise on a thing in the research, and in the JCPOA framework not one Iranian right to research was cancelled. Therefore, the only restriction was time, and the number [of centrifuges].

"Before the JCPOA came into force, Iran was working on five or six advanced centrifuges like the IR2, IR4, IR6, and IR8. There were research and development on all these centrifuges under the JCPOA. In effect, when we want to test mechanical stability or the [nuclear] process, an agreement will be made [with the IAEA] with regard to the number of tests...

"In the next three or four weeks, we will unveil a cascade of 30 IR6 machines. Other machines too will be unveiled, in different numbers...

"Within up to a month's time, that is, by the end of the third step in cutting back on our obligations under the JCPOA, the AEOI will add almost 3,500 SWU [separative work units, i.e. centrifuges] to the existing number of 5,060 SWU. Thus we will increase our enrichment capability by 45%. There is also an increase in the production of uranium enriched above 3.5%, and the [quantity of the] product has reached five to six kilograms.

"Before the JCPOA, Iran had the capability to [enrich] 2,300 kg [of uranium a year]. So far, we have attained 1,700 or 1,800 [kg] a year – that is, we are back to what the situation was before the JCPOA as far as [the quantity of] enriched [uranium] is concerned... During the next two or three weeks, we will reach 2,500 kg of enriched [uranium] using new-generation machines...

"It is still early to decide on the fourth step. The AEOI has no authority to decide in this matter. The Iranian Foreign Ministry and the committee for reviewing the JCPOA are holding meetings, [at which] they are examining matters and making the correct decisions at the proper time. In any event, the AEOI is ready to implement any decision [about the fourth step made by the political echelon]."[9]

AEOI director Salehi (Source: IRNA, October 7, 2019)

AEOI Director Salehi: We Will Launch The Second Phase Of The Heavy Water Reactor At Arak In The Next Three Weeks

According to another report, Salehi also announced on October 7: "We will launch the second phase of the Arak heavy water reactor in three weeks. The Arak reactor consists of two phases; most processes are carried out in the second phase. In the past four years, the comrades have succeeded in preparing the second phase so that it can be launched in the next two or three weeks. More important is the completion of a device for transferring fuel that [needed to be] replaced, and it will be installed in the next two or three weeks..."[10]


*A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project;. M. Avraham is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.


[1], May 8, 2018.

[2], July 31, 2019.

[4], October 2, 2019.

[5], October 9, 2019.

[6], September 4, 2019.

[7], September 4, 2019.

[8], September 7, 2019.

[9], October 7, 2019.

[10], October 7, 2019.

Share this Report: