WASHINGTON – The United States has “seen important indications of significant progress towards Iran completing its key nuclear commitments,” Secretary of State John Kerry announced Monday shortly after a senior Russian diplomat suggested that key progress had been made toward removing enriched uranium stocks from the Islamic Republic.
In a written statement, Kerry described the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as “truly one of our most important accomplishments of 2015,” saying he “remains so proud of our team” that hammered out the agreement over the course of some 18 months.
“As we get closer to Implementation Day, the next major milestone in the JCPOA, I am pleased to report that we have seen important indications of significant progress towards Iran completing its key nuclear commitments under the deal,” Kerry wrote.
Earlier Monday, a senior Russian diplomat told The Associated Press that Iran had agreed to transfer most of its enriched uranium to Russia, bringing Iran a step closer to meeting its obligations under the JCPOA, which seeks to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of crippling international sanctions.
“One of the most significant steps Iran has taken toward fulfilling its commitments occurred today, when a ship departed Iran for Russia carrying over 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium materials,” Kerry revealed. “The shipment included the removal of all of Iran’s nuclear material enriched to 20 percent that was not already in the form of fabricated fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.”
When the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Iran has met its commitments – a benchmark expected to occur in the coming weeks – the JCPOA will reach the stage known as “Implementation Day,” and nuclear-related sanctions against Tehran will be lifted.
“This removal of all this enriched material out of Iran is a significant step toward Iran meeting its commitment to have no more than 300 kg of low-enriched uranium by Implementation Day,” Kerry explained.
“The shipment today more than triples our previous 2-3 month breakout timeline for Iran to acquire enough weapons grade uranium for one weapon, and is an important piece of the technical equation that ensures an eventual breakout time of at least one year by Implementation Day.”
Under the JCPOA, Iran was obligated to hand over all but 300 kilograms of the estimated nine tons of low-enriched uranium that it had processed. Although low-enriched uranium has civilian applications, it represents a station on the enrichment process to high-grade – or 20 percent-enriched – uranium, which is used for nuclear weapons.
Kerry noted that Monday’s transfer was also conducted with the help of Kazakhstan – a country that, unlike Russia, was not one of the original P5+1 negotiating parties on the JCPOA itself.
The central Asian nation, Kerry revealed, provided Iran with natural uranium material in exchange for the enriched material that left Monday for Russia.
Azerbaijan and Norway, Kerry added, also played key roles in facilitating the shipment.
In his statement, the top US diplomat delineated the preconditions Iran must still meet before Implementation Day is triggered: the IAEA must still verify that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is 300 kg or less, and Iran still must remove key parts of its uranium enrichment infrastructure and remove and render inoperable the existing core of the Arak heavy water reactor.
Kerry noted that “we understand Iran is moving quickly” to dismantle the uranium enriching infrastructure in an attempt to meet a January target date for implementation.
Kerry also pointed to the ongoing dispute with Iran over new US legislation that Iran says constitutes an attempt to reimpose sanctions lifted by the JCPOA. The new law prohibits Iranian dual citizens or people who have recently traveled to Iran from entering the US through the special Visa Waiver Program that allows entry without the need for obtaining a visa. Iranian officials have alleged that the deal-skeptic US Congress was using the law to try to sidestep Washington’s commitment to lift sanctions on Implementation Day.
The is not the first time that Kerry has sought to quell Iranian complaints about the new law, which applies to Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria.
Earlier this month, Kerry wrote to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, reassuring him that “recent changes in visa requirements passed in Congress, which the administration has the authority to waive, will not in any way prevent us from meeting our JPCOA requirements.”
Iranian representatives have continued, however, to criticize the legislation – and Kerry continued to stress Monday Washington’s commitment to the nuclear deal.
“The United States remains fully committed and on track to implement its sanctions related commitments provided for under the JCPOA, once we reach Implementation Day, as well as all of our other commitments under the deal,” Kerry insisted. “Our team is working hard to be prepared for Implementation Day, and when that day comes, the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions per the JCPOA will take effect.
“It is not the policy of the United States to prevent permissible business activities with Iran,” he added, in a pointed reference to Iranian claims that the new law seeks to dissuade potential investors from traveling to do business in the Islamic Republic.