Iran’s enrichment of uranium is now too advanced for a return to the original 2015 nuclear agreement and still stop Tehran from rapidly building a bomb if desired, US officials have said.
According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, US officials expect a new deal with Iran would include a much shorter breakout time than the one-year period put forward in the original deal in 2015.
The one-year breakout was a key element of the accord. The length of time was set based on the belief that, should the deal fall apart, Iran would need a year to enrich enough uranium and develop the fuel needed for a bomb.
Since the Trump administration pulled out of the JCPOA in 2018, Iran has ramped up its enrichment and has surpassed its levels pre-2015. Iran's new accelerated capabilities are largely being blamed on the Trump administration's decision to exit and violate the original nuclear deal.
Donald Trump pulled out of the accord and reimposed sanctions, claiming the agreement was not strict enough and he could get a better deal.
Iran held back on resuming its uranium enrichment for about a year, then gradually accelerated the programme beyond even the capabilities it had before the 2015 deal. According to officials, Iran's breakout time is now a few weeks.
US doubts over Iran's ability to build a bomb
Although Iran's ramped up enrichment has left many concerned, officials in the US and Europe say Iran does not have the skills yet to build a complete bomb or attach a warhead to a missile. Iran says it has no plans to build a bomb and that its nuclear programme is peaceful.
According to US officials, the change in potential breakout time will not stop the negotiations in Vienna and the US is planning on moving ahead. The talks have been slow-moving, but reports over the past few weeks suggest they are getting closer to an agreement.
Iran's foreign minister said last month that should a deal come close, Iran would be willing to speak to the US directly, a positive step in the talks. Negotiators are set to return to Vienna on Friday as pressure mounts to get a deal done quickly.