Iran’s Evolving Nuclear Program and Implications for U.S. Policy

October 15, 2021

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Author: 

Eric Brewer

Author's Title: 

Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Project on Nuclear Issues, International Security Program

Publication: 

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Related Country: 

  • France
  • Germany
  • United Kingdom
  • European Union
  • Russia
  • China

Odds that the Iran nuclear deal can be revived have diminished over recent months. The new presidential administration in Iran has repeatedly said that it plans to resume talks in Vienna to resuscitate the deal “very soon” but without providing a date, leading many to fear that Iranian leaders are stalling while they build up their nuclear program for negotiating leverage. The United States has responded that the door to reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will not remain open forever: The expansion of Iran’s nuclear program is eroding the nonproliferation value of the deal and, at some point, returning to the deal will no longer be in the United States’ interest.

What are those technical changes underway in Iran’s nuclear program? And why exactly might they imperil a chance at restoring the JCPOA? Those are important questions, and ones that this paper attempts to address, but they are not the only important questions. The technical developments taking place will remain relevant if and when the original participants in the nuclear deal reconvene in Vienna to negotiate its revival. Indeed, changes to Iran’s nuclear program and related elements—particularly over the past year, but some going back longer—have implications that go beyond the JCPOA. These changes—a mix of progress in some areas and setbacks in others—not only make a return to the original JCPOA more difficult, but they will also require that the United States rethink how to detect any future attempt by Iran to build nuclear weapons as well as the benefits and risks of various policy options for containing Iran’s nuclear program.

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Read the rest of the analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.