Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Iran's Nuclear Program: Status

The United States has assessed that Tehran has technological and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons, but has not yet mastered all of the necessary technologies for building such weapons. Whether Iran has a viable design for a nuclear weapon is unclear. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress in February 2016 that “[w]e do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitors Iran’s nuclear facilities and has verified that Tehran’s declared nuclear facilities and materials have not been diverted for military purposes. The agency has also verified that Iran has implemented various restrictions on, and provided the IAEA with additional information about, its uranium enrichment program and heavy-water reactor program pursuant to the July 2015 Joint Cooperative Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Tehran concluded with the P5+1.

On the JCPOA’s Implementation Day, which took place on January 16, 2016, all of the previous Security Council resolutions’ requirements were terminated. The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which the Council adopted on July 20, 2015, comprise the current legal framework governing Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has complied with the JCPOA and resolution.

Then Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman explained during an October 2013 hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that Iran would need as much as one year to produce a nuclear weapon if the government made the decision to do so. At the time, Tehran would have needed two to three months of this time to produce enough weapons-grade HEU for a nuclear weapon. Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA has lengthened this time to one year, according to Clapper’s February 2016 testimony. These estimates apparently assume that Iran would use its declared nuclear facilities to produce fissile material for a weapon. However, Tehran would probably use covert facilities for this purpose; Iranian efforts to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons by using its known nuclear facilities would almost certainly be detected by the IAEA.

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