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US said to believe Iran’s breakout time will be well under a year if JCPOA revived

Officials tell WSJ Iranians have accelerated nuclear program well beyond point keeping them 12 months from a bomb, as original deal envisioned

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

The Biden administration reportedly believes that a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran would no longer achieve the key condition of keeping Tehran one year away from amassing enough nuclear fuel for a bomb.

US officials told The Wall Street Journal Thursday that Iran’s so-called breakout time would be significantly less than a year due to the advancements it has made in its nuclear program since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018.

The exact length of the breakout time will depend on the manner in which Iran agrees to return to compliance with the deal, be it by dismantling its stockpiles of enriched uranium and relevant pieces of equipment, destroying them or shipping them abroad.

However, enough nuclear material for a bomb is not the same as having the capabilities to build the core of the weapon and to attach it to the warhead of a missile, which Iran is not believed to possess and would likely take many more months to achieve.

Despite the JCPOA’s more limited impact, US negotiators are still committed to returning to the deal, guided by the belief that some restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program are better than none at all.

As a result, they have told world powers negotiating with Tehran in Vienna that they are prepared to lift most of the sanctions put in place by Trump after he withdrew from the 2015 accord. However, some administration officials warn that if the breakout time is less than six months, it will be much more difficult for the US to respond to a rapid acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program, The Wall Street Journal reported.

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of the US breakout assessments reported by the Journal, but said that a revived agreement “would address our urgent nonproliferation concerns.”

“As we have said, we have only a few weeks to conclude an understanding, after which the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances will make return to the JCPOA impossible,” the spokesperson said.

The latest round of talks in Vienna to salvage the JCPOA were put on pause last week, with the European Union’s coordinator calling for “political decisions” to break the deadlock.

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