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International Efforts To Curb Iran's Nuclear Ambition Take Another Hit


First, President Trump took the U.S. out of the 2015 Iran deal. Now Iran has violated a central tenet of the deal. An Iranian news agency is reporting that the country has exceeded limits for enriched uranium that were set in that agreement. So where does the nuclear deal stand now? Joining us now, NPR's Geoff Brumfiel, who's following this closely. Geoff, good morning.


MARTIN: Can you, first off, just explain what exactly the Iran nuclear deal laid out when it come - when it came to enriched uranium and how Iran is now in violation?

BRUMFIEL: Sure. So the deal, more broadly, basically was designed to do two things. It was designed to push back the time it would take Iran to get the material it needed for a nuclear weapon if that was what it decided to do. And then in exchange for that, it was supposed to grant sanctions relief to the Iranian regime.

Now, there are - one of the central tenets of that was to restrict the amount of uranium Iran could have. And it set a limit on low-enriched uranium of 300 kilograms. So that was designed to keep Iran about a year away from getting the material it needed if it decided to sprint to a bomb.

MARTIN: And now what have they done?

BRUMFIEL: Well, they've crossed that 300-kilogram threshold. Apparently, this morning, according to Iranian press reports, they have accumulated enough uranium that they are now over that limit. This was something we expected to happen. They actually signaled back in May, on the one-year anniversary that the U.S. pulled out of this deal, that they were going to do it. They said it could happen over the weekend, and it seems to have happened on Monday.

MARTIN: So is this - I mean, why would they do this right now? Is it a negotiating tactic? What's Iran's strategy in this moment?

BRUMFIEL: Well, Iran is negotiating. But they're not negotiating, really, with the U.S. at this stage. The U.S. has already pulled out of the deal. So they're trying to get concessions out of other parties. And in particular, they're trying to pressure Europe. Europe has been offering some sort of sanctions package. They've been hampered by the fact the U.S. has imposed more sanctions on Iran. But the relief hasn't come through.

And so Iran is really trying to get Europe to sort of pony up and give them something for staying in the deal. And they're crossing these limits one line at a time, ratcheting up the pressure on the Europeans.

MARTIN: But now that they've violated this term of the 2015 deal, doesn't that force the Europeans and other signatories to the deal to react, to perhaps implement their own sanctions?

BRUMFIEL: I mean, here's the thing. This isn't some treaty. It's a deal. And everyone sort of agreed to it informally. So everyone gets to decide exactly how they're going to uphold it.

Now, this 300-kilogram limit was important, but it doesn't change the picture dramatically to step over that line. From a technical perspective, Iran is still about a year away from accumulating the material it needs if it decides to go down that route...

MARTIN: A year away from having a nuclear weapon?

BRUMFIEL: A year - well, a year away from having the material. Iran has always said that it doesn't want a nuclear weapon. So we sort of have to...

MARTIN: Right.

BRUMFIEL: ...You know...

MARTIN: Couch it in those terms. Yes.

BRUMFIEL: ...Couch what we say appropriately. But, yes, a year away from the material it needs. So the Europeans - you know, they can sort of look at this and say, oh, they violated this limit. But, you know, there are other limits. Now, here's the thing - Iran says it's going to start crossing other lines very soon.

MARTIN: So this is likely to set off another series of events. This is not the first violation - or this, rather, won't be the last violation, according to Iran. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel for us on this development. Geoff, thanks. We appreciate it.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you so much, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.