Iran Moves to Implement Nuclear Deal by January

December 2, 2015

Publication Type: 

  • Policy Briefs


Simon Chin and Valerie Lincy

Iran is taking steps to expedite the implementation of the nuclear deal, which Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi expects in “early January.” [1]  An early January implementation date now looks possible because Iran has taken two key steps needed to fulfill the nuclear restrictions required by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action: 1) it has agreed to sell the bulk of its low-enriched uranium gas stockpile to Russia; and 2) it has started decommissioning centrifuges at a rapid pace.  Limitations on both enriched uranium and centrifuges – critical to Iran’s current nuclear capability – must be in place for Iran to receive a first round of sanctions relief from the United Nations, European Union, and the United States.

The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, announced on November 24 that Iran “will sell about nine tons of enriched uranium to Russia and in return will import 140 tons of natural uranium.”[2]  Such an exchange would allow Iran to quickly reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) gas from its current level to the 300-kg level required by the nuclear deal.  The deal allows Iran to either downblend its enriched uranium or to sell it “on the international market” in exchange for natural uranium.   However, many analysts had questioned Iran’s ability to efficiently convert its LEU stockpile to natural uranium—which Iran can hold in unlimited quantities—based on its current technical capacity. 

Iran has also started to decommission centrifuges at the Natanz and Fordow uranium enrichment facilities, according to the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report.  The JCPOA requires Iran to reduce its enrichment capacity at the larger Natanz facility to 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges, which Iran will be permitted to continue operating.   The IAEA reported that as of November 15, Iran had removed 4,112 IR-1 centrifuges, bringing the number of IR-1s at the facility down to 11,308.  Iran has also removed 160 of the 1,008 more advanced IR-2m centrifuges installed at Natanz—all of which must be dismantled before the first round of sanctions relief.

The JCPOA also requires Iran to reduce by about half the number of centrifuges at Fordow, none of which can be used for uranium enrichment for the first 15 years of the deal.  The IAEA reported that as of November 15, Iran had dismantled 258 IR-1 centrifuges of the 2,710 installed. In an interview with Iranian state television on November 15, Mr. Salehi estimated that the process of decommissioning centrifuges at Natanz would take about a month, while the smaller number of centrifuges at Fordow could be dismantled “at the last moment.”[3]

Mr. Salehi confirmed that Iran had started removing centrifuges at Natanz, saying in the same November 15 interview that thus far only inactive centrifuges at the facility had been removed and that the “decommissioning” process would damage between 10 and 20 percent of the centrifuges.[4]   In its report, the IAEA confirmed that just over 9,000 IR-1 centrifuges remain operational. 

Contrary to the IAEA report, Mr. Salehi said that Iran had not yet begun dismantling centrifuges at Fordow, which he expected to start on December 15.  Iran may be trying to link dismantlement at Fordow with the conclusion of the IAEA’s investigation into possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear work – which is expected on December 2.  In a November 29 interview, Iran’s former defense minister and current secretary of the Supreme National Security Council warned that “without the closure of the file regarding past issues, there is no possibility of implementing the JCPOA.”[5]    

In the interview, Mr. Salehi emphasized that Iran’s motivation for quickly meeting its obligations under the nuclear deal is the promise of sanctions relief: “If we delay decommissioning the centrifuges, the opportunity will be lost and the time for implementing the JCPOA will be delayed.  Correspondingly, the sanctions will be lifted later.  At the moment, we have suffered a $150 million in damages due to the fact that the sanctions have not been lifted.”[6] 




[1] "Iran Nuclear Deal to Enter Into Force Early January," Agence France-Presse, November 24, 2015, available at

[2] "Iran Joins Uranium Enrichment Service Providers," Mehr News Agency, November 24, 2015,

[3] “Nuclear Chief Says Iran Has Started Decommissioning Centrifuges,” Iranian Student News Agency, November 15, 2015.

[4] “Nuclear Chief Says Iran Has Started Decommissioning Centrifuges,” Iranian Student News Agency, November 15, 2015.

[5] “Iran Demands Closure of UN Nuclear Watchdog Probe,” Agence France-Presse, November 29, 2015, available at

[6] “Nuclear Chief Says Iran Has Started Decommissioning Centrifuges,” Iranian Student News Agency, November 15, 2015.