In Brief: Iran will enrich uranium to 20% even if nuclear deal revived

Ayatollah Khamenei. Image Credit: Tasnim News, CC BY 4.0.

Iran will continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent even if the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal is revived and sanctions are lifted, Tehran’s nuclear chief said last week.

“Enrichment […] continues with a maximum ceiling of 60 percent, which led Westerners to rush to negotiations, and it will continue with the lifting of sanctions by both 20 percent and 5 percent”, Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, was quoted as saying by Iranian news.

The 2015 JCPOA limited enrichment to 3.67 percent, but Iran has openly breached these terms since 2018, including stockpiling quantities of 60 percent-enriched uranium.

Eslami’s comments came as something of a surprise, in the context of a draft outline for a revived deal emerging out of talks in Vienna, to include the suspension of Iranian enrichment above 5 percent.

This draft deal would see the unfreezing of $7 billion in Iranian funds stuck in South Korean banks under US sanctions, as well as the release of Western prisoners held in Iran.

Ultimately, Iran would return to core nuclear limits like the 3.67 percent cap on enrichment purity, with sanctions being waived, according to the draft proposals.

Eslami also warned that Iran could resume production of highly enrichment uranium “at any moment” if any revived deal were to fail.

The 3.67 percent limit set by the 2015 deal would be sufficient for Iran’s power generation needs though not for all civilian uses, such as the production of medical isotopes.