Iran fulfilled a key commitment under its nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers on Monday when it shipped more than 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Russia.
Secretary of State John Kerry praised the move in a statement that also briefly alluded to new disputes over the deal, which is expected to be fully implemented sometime in January.
“This removal of all this enriched material out of Iran is a significant step toward Iran meeting its commitment to have no more than 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium by Implementation Day,” Kerry said. “The shipment today more than triples our previous 2-3 month breakout timeline for Iran to acquire enough weapons-grade uranium for one [nuclear] weapon, and is an important piece of the technical equation that ensures an eventual breakout time of at least one year by Implementation Day.”
Kerry thanked Russia — “a country with significant experience in transporting and securing nuclear material” — as well as Kazakhstan, Norway and other nations who helped Iran export the uranium by ship to Russia. Kazakhstan and Russia have provided Iran with natural uranium in exchange for the enriched material. Norway helped fund the commercial transactions involved, Kerry added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has to verify that Iran now has less than 300 kilograms of enriched uranium stockpiled; the U.N. watchdog also has to sign off on Iran’s other moves before the U.S. and its international partners lift sanctions on the country as part of the nuclear deal struck in July. The IAEA also will monitor Iran’s program after Implementation Day to ensure that it does not seek to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran has always insisted its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, but it agreed to the deal with world powers so that they would lift sanctions that have badly damaged its economy.
As Implementation Day nears, concerns about the nuclear deal are surfacing. Republican-led critics of the nuclear deal are warning the Obama administration not to ignore Iran’s non-nuclear activities in the Middle East. Iran, meanwhile, is objecting to new U.S. visa rules it says violate the nuclear deal by undermining Iranian businesses.
In his statement, Kerry insisted that the U.S. “remains fully committed and on track to implement its sanctions-related commitments.” In an apparent reference to the visa dispute, he added, “It is not the policy of the United States to prevent permissible business activities with Iran.”