Iran Watch Newsletter: September 2023

September 29, 2023

Publication Type: 

  • Newsletters

This month's newsletter features updates to a report estimating how quickly Iran could enrich enough uranium to fuel a small nuclear arsenal as well as a table tracking Iran's centrifuge models and their deployment at declared uranium enrichment sites. Both resources reflect new data from the most recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports.

The newsletter also includes profiles of Iranian universities that have collaborated with foreign researchers to benefit Iran's military drone program, as well as news about the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)'s launch of a new imaging satellite, Iran's barring of several IAEA inspectors from monitoring its nuclear program, and the release of five American detainees in exchange for the unfreezing of Iranian funds held abroad. Additions to the Iran Watch library include European countries' statements on maintaining sanctions set to expire at the United Nations, reports and official reactions from the most recent IAEA board meeting, and new sanctions announcements.

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Centrifuges at an enrichment facility in Iran. (Credit: Tasnim News Agency)

Report | Iran's Nuclear Timetable: The Weapon Potential

Iran's uranium stockpile has reached the point at which, within about three weeks, Iran might be able to amass enough weapons-grade uranium for five fission weapons. For that uranium to pose a nuclear weapon threat, however, it would have to be processed further, and the other components of a successful weapon would have to be ready to receive the processed uranium. This timetable estimates how quickly Iran could enrich enough uranium for five implosion-type warheads under various scenarios.

Table | Iran's Centrifuges: Models and Status

Iran has developed and deployed advanced centrifuge models that can enrich greater amounts of uranium using fewer machines relative to its original IR-1 design. Iran's increasing mastery of centrifuge design and operation raises the risk of both nuclear “breakout” and “sneakout” scenarios and reflects an acquisition of knowledge that cannot be reversed.




Several Iranian universities have conducted research relevant to Iran's military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program, and some have done so in collaboration with researchers based in Western countries.

Ferdowsi University of Mashhad (FUM)

In 2019, faculty conducted research on fuel injection systems for a two-stroke UAV engine in collaboration with Shahrood University of Technology and a scientist at a university in the United Kingdom; in 2020, faculty studied UAV guidance in cooperation with the University of Tehran and a scientist at a university in Australia; has also supported research relevant to Iran's nuclear and missile programs.

Shahrood University of Technology

In 2023, faculty conducted research on UAV communication and positioning in collaboration with a scientist at a university in Canada; in 2016, researchers studied UAV actuators and sensors in cooperation with scientists at universities in the United States; has also supported research relevant to Iran's nuclear and missile programs.




The launch of the Noor-3 satellite atop a Qased space launch vehicle. (Credit: Javan Online)

Iran Says it has Successfully Launched an Imaging Satellite into Orbit amid Tensions with the West | Associated Press

September 27, 2023: Iran successfully placed an imaging satellite dubbed Noor-3 into low-earth orbit, according to state media. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) conducted the launch from what appeared to be its launch facility at Shahroud.

US-Bound Plane Leaves Doha with Five Americans Freed by Iran | Reuters

September 18, 2023: Five Americans who had been detained in Iran departed the country and returned to the United States after a brief stopover in Doha, Qatar. Iran released the detainees after the United States unfroze $6 billion in Iranian funds held in South Korean banks and granted clemency to five Iranians who had been charged with crimes in the United States.

UN Nuclear Agency Slams Iran for Barring 'Several' Inspectors from Monitoring its Program | Associated Press

September 16, 2023: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi said that the Iranian government had revoked the credentials of about one-third of the Agency's group of inspectors stationed in Iran, preventing some of its most experienced personnel from monitoring the Iranian nuclear program. Grossi condemned the move and said it "constitutes an unnecessary blow to an already strained relationship between the IAEA and Iran.”




France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said they would maintain certain nuclear- and missile-related restrictions on Iran which were due to be lifted on October 18 pursuant to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

  • France and Germany said in a joint statement that their decision, which likely ensures the sanctions' continuation in EU law, is “fully compliant with the JCPOA” and “does not amount to … triggering the snapback mechanism” - September 14.
  • In a separate statement, the United Kingdom said it had committed to bringing the current UN sanctions on Iran into UK law so as to ensure they remain binding on UK nationals after October - September 14.


Iran avoided punitive action by the IAEA Board of Governors at its quarterly meeting despite several unresolved issues related to its nuclear program.

  • An IAEA report released ahead of the meeting showed that Iran's stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% had grown, albeit at a slower pace compared to previous periods - September 4.
  • A separate report on Iran's safeguards commitments reported “no progress” on resolving outstanding issues since the last report - September 4.
  • Sixty-three countries signed onto a joint statement calling on Iran to fulfill its safeguards obligations, while Russia, China, Iran, and six other aligned countries issued a statement casting Iran's interactions with the IAEA in a more positive light - September 13.


The United States announced new sanctions on Iran's military programs and took steps to enforce existing sanctions.

  • The Treasury Department announced sanctions against a supplier network providing parts for Iran's Shahed-series one-way attack drones - September 27.
  • A second package targeted suppliers in China, Russia, and Turkey that have facilitated the shipments to and transactions with Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries (HESA) - September 19.
  • The Justice Department announced that it had seized one million barrels of Iranian crude oil from the Suez Rajan tanker and that the operator of the ship had pleaded guilty to violating sanctions - September 8.


Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom announced targeted human rights sanctions on the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini.

  • The United States included Fars News Agency, Press TV, and Tasnim News Agency in its designations - September 15.
  • The United Kingdom added Arvan Cloud, an internet company already designated by the European Union and United States, to its sanctions list - September 15.