Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Requiem for a JCPOA

 Reconfirming what most analysts have said in recent months, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is "on ice", according to Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl. Kahl was testifying before a House of Representatives committee in which he also assessed Iran's nuclear progress since the Trump administration unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal as "remarkable". President Biden has himself expressed privately the impossibility of returning to the deal given the recent crackdown on protestors in Iran, its support for Russia's arms industry, and Iran's belief that the next administration could simply renege on a renewed deal once again. 

Kahl's comments also drew attention due to a recent UN nuclear watchdog report that found up to 83.7% U-235 purity at Iran's Fordow enrichment complex. Iran is allowed to enrich uranium up to 60% for fuel and medical purposes, but this reading would bring Iran much closer to the 90% required to develop a weapon. Iran maintains that the reading comes from an accidentally highly-enriched batch, but regardless, Kahl's assessment was that it shows that Iran could develop enough fissile material for one bomb in 12 days. This would likely be as low as Iran's "breakout time" has ever been, down from about 12 months when the JCPOA was signed in 2015.  With no possibility of a deal in sight, that breakout time is unlikely to be raised. 

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