Iran on Jan. 5, 2019 announced it would no longer honor international restrictions on its enrichment of uranium, a key process in the production of nuclear weapons.
The announcement three days after U.S. president Donald Trump ordered the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps militia and one of the country’s top military leaders.
A U.S. Special Operations Command MQ-9 drone fired on a vehicle carrying Soleimani and a deputy militia commander at Baghdad’s international airport, killing both men.
Iran’s announcement regarding uranium enrichment “essentially sounded the death knell” of the 2015 nuclear agreement that then-U.S. president Barack Obama negotiated in order to keep Tehran from obtaining its first nuclear weapon, according to The New York Times.
“And it largely re-creates conditions that led Israel and the United States to consider destroying Iran’s facilities a decade ago, again bringing them closer to the potential of open conflict with Tehran that was avoided by the accord,” the Times noted.
Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal, weakening it without totally destroying it. Iran, Russia. China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union remained parties to the accord.
Lifting limits on enrichment leaves very little of the nuclear deal in effect. But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for preventing Iran from obtaining the bomb.
“Iran remains a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits it from developing nuclear weapons,” explained Edwin Lyman, a scientist in the Union of Concerned Scientists in Massachusetts. “However, Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities could enable it to produce highly enriched uranium—uranium enriched to greater than 20 percent of the isotope uranium-235, which can be used to make a nuclear weapon.”
While the Non-Proliferation Treaty does not prohibit Iran from producing highly enriched uranium for peaceful purposes or for naval nuclear propulsion, the 2015 agreement restricted Iran from enriching uranium to greater than 3.67 percent uranium-235.