As part of its efforts to pressure to Europe to secure financial transactions for sale of its oil in order to evade US sanctions, Iran has taken the third step of incrementally reducing its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The agreement is also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Sept. 9 that Iran had installed advanced IR-4, IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges. The UN watchdog said the IR-6 centrifuges were installed but not yet tested. Under the JCPOA, Iran is permitted to use 5,000 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges for enrichment.
Ahead of the IAEA report, Iran had announced it would be taking the third step and scaling back on its commitments to limit nuclear research and development. Iran’s previous steps included reducing its commitments to limit enrichment and stockpile levels.
Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador and permanent representative to the IAEA, said the nuclear agency’s report about the installment of new centrifuges is related to activity at the Natanz nuclear facility. Gharibabadi said President Hassan Rouhani had announced in advance that Iran would “eliminate all JCPOA commitments in the field of nuclear research and development.” Gharibabadi said Iran has already installed or is in the process of installing 22 IR-4 centrifuges, one IR-5 centrifuge, 30 IR-6 centrifuges and three IR-6s centrifuges.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the country's third step will take place in four parts. Kamalvandi stressed that Iran has not exited the JCPOA but is taking steps to reduce its commitments under Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA. Iranian officials have previously said all of their steps are reversible and contingent on Europe fulfilling its end of the JCPOA.
The Rouhani administration’s incremental steps away from the nuclear deal in hopes of pressuring Europe to save the JCPOA has its domestic critics, however. The conservative Kayhan newspaper wrote, “Small steps are not the response to large limitations.” The article said the philosophy of using JCPOA deadlines and giving “a shock to the opposing side in order for them to fulfill their commitments” has not worked. The article said that since the United States exited the JCPOA in May 2018, European actions have not changed, not even in the last 120 days in which Iran began taking its steps to incrementally reduce its commitments.
The article said that Europe is simply trying to buy time and that Iran needs to “make a fundamental change in its JCPOA deadlines.” For one, the article argued, the administration needs to fully announce its steps rather than announce them vaguely and then allow Iran’s atomic energy organization to announce the details later. The article also recommended that Iran should suspend negotiations with Europe and begin enriching at 20%, the level it had reached before the signing of the JCPOA.
The Rouhani administration is still optimistic that Europe, either via INSTEX or some other mechanism to facilitate financial transactions, can save the JCPOA and secure the sale of Iran’s oil. Rouhani said in his latest speech that in two more months Iran would announce another step while leaving the door open for continued talks.