Foreign and Defense Policy, Middle East and North Africa

Where is Iran’s nuclear program headed?



How is our Iran policy working? Listening to administration officials tell the story, you would think that sanctions and diplomacy have us on a straight path to preventing a nuclear Iran. We all wish it were so, but the facts on the ground paint a different, and much more sobering, picture. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) just released its quarterly report on Iran. Here are some key figures drawn from the report:

  • 2,225: The number of new first-generation centrifuges Iran installed at its primary Natanz facility since the last IAEA report. This development alone casts doubt on assertions that Iran is being deprived of the equipment and material necessary to produce centrifuges in significant quantities. As centrifuge numbers go up, potential dash times for producing weapons-grade fuel go down.
  • 180: The number of advanced centrifuge machines used for enrichment that Iran recently installed at its main Natanz facility. In significant quantities, these advanced centrifuges would help Iran make a dash to weapons-grade uranium undetected.
  • 6: The number of bombs Iran could likely fuel if it converted all the low-enriched uranium it has produced into weapons-grade highly enriched uranium. In 2009, Iran had accumulated enough enriched uranium for only 1 weapon.
  • 3: The number of meetings between IAEA and Iranian officials since November 2012 during which “it has not been possible to reach agreement with Iran” (diplomatic language suggesting a continuation of the typical stonewalling and sophistry from the Iranian side).

Iran’s enrichment program is no longer the “long pole in the tent” for a weapons capability given Iran’s progress in this area over the last several years. Weaponization—the process of mating nuclear fuel with an explosive device—is now the primary obstacle for Tehran. Here, too, recent developments are troubling. North Korea recently tested a nuclear device that may have been a more sophisticated, miniaturized bomb capable of being delivered on a ballistic missile. Given the deep military cooperation between Tehran and Pyongyang, North Korea’s advances are a likely accelerant for Iran’s weapons program. It is no surprise, then, that a key figure in Iran’s nuclear weapons program reportedly traveled to North Korea for the test. The longstanding objective of prevention is increasingly at risk of being overtaken by events.

AEI’s Critical Threats Project will be releasing an updated assessment of Iran’s nuclear program based on the latest IAEA findings next week. Visit for more.

One thought on “Where is Iran’s nuclear program headed?

  1. Wow. This is a close-to-ridiculous misreading of the report. The figures are not just cherry-picked — they are distorted and, in one case, flat-out wrong. The material you ignore from the report does not support your hyperbole of threat.

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