- Iran appears to have stockpiled enough uranium for a nuclear weapon, which is a major sign President Donald Trump's maximum pressure campaign is failing.
- The UN's nuclear watchdog said Iran has tripled its stockpile of low-enriched uranium in the past three months.
- Trump has insisted that squeezing Tehran with economic sanctions would change its behavior, but it's only become more aggressive amid rising fears of war between the US and Iran.
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Iran has reportedly stockpiled enough uranium for a nuclear weapon for the first time since President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal, in the latest sign that his maximum pressure strategy is failing.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, said Iran has tripled its stockpile of low-enriched uranium since November, according to a new report, per the New York Times.
Iran has also for the first time refused to allow IAEA inspectors to gain access to sites where there's evidence of past nuclear activity.
Under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran could only stockpile 300 kg or about 660 pounds of low-grade uranium. But Trump's decision to withdraw from the deal in May 2018 has seen Iran take gradual steps away from the Obama-era pact, including breaching the stockpile cap on low-grade uranium.
Iran now has over 1,000 kilograms, or 2,200 pounds, of low-grade uranium. Tehran's uranium stockpile is enriched up to 4.5%. This violates the JCPOA's cap of 3.67% on uranium enrichment, but it's still far below weapons-grade levels needed for a nuclear bomb (90% enrichment).
Iran is also still a long ways from possessing the technology necessary to develop a missile capable of carrying a warhead long distances (such as targets in the mainland US). But France, Germany, and the UK in December accused Iran of developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, potentially capable of reaching Israel and parts of Europe. Meanwhile, Iran has maintained it has no intention of developing a nuclear weapon.
The latest moves from Iran appear to be more about ramping up pressure on European powers scrambling to save the JCPOA, rather than serious steps toward building a nuclear weapon.
"I've seen nothing to suggest Iran is interested in building a nuclear weapon. But it is clear that the United States' strategy of threatening and pressuring Iran to abandon all of its nuclear activities has failed and failed miserably. President Trump has isolated America from its allies and weakened our leverage over Iran," Jon Wolfsthal, who served as the nuclear expert for the National Security Council under former President Barack Obama and is now a senior adviser at Global Zero, told Insider.
"Tehran is now much closer to building a nuclear weapon than it was when Trump took office. That's a direct result of decisions Trump has made and it appears he has no fallback options," Wolfsthal added. "Once again his overconfidence in his own abilities and his determined approach to overturn everything done by his predecessor has made America less safe."
Since Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, his administration has hit Tehran with a slew of economic sanctions as part of a "maximum pressure" campaign. Trump and his top advisers, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have been adamant that this strategy will squeeze Iran into sitting down and negotiating a more stringent version of the 2015 deal orchestrated by the Obama administration.
But since Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, tensions between Washington and Tehran have reached historic heights and raised fears of a new conflict in the Middle East. In this context, the president's decision to order a strike that killed Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani, pushed the US and Iran to the brink of war in January. The Soleimani strike also led Iran to announce it would no longer comply with any of the JCPOA's limitations, though Tehran did say it would continue to give access to IAEA inspectors.
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