Since Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Tehran in 2018, Iran has been steadily expanding its uranium enrichment infrastructure. According to current estimates, the Middle Eastern theocratic regime is as close to a nuclear bomb as it has ever been. Despite ongoing diplomatic efforts, the full renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal continues to be hampered by political constraints in both countries.
The most problematic aspect at the moment is the fact that Iran has significantly expanded its uranium enrichment programme without complying with the constraints of the nuclear deal. Recent analysis suggests that Iran could potentially produce the enriched uranium required for the production of weapons in as little as 12 days, using its current stockpile of 60% enriched uranium. This scenario raises concerns about Tehran’s ability to break the “threshold” that keeps it from stockpiling enough uranium to build a nuclear bomb. In addition, Iran is still believed to be developing the necessary detonation mechanisms for a fully operational nuclear device.
Iran’s nuclear advances have provoked a strong reaction from its regional and international rivals, particularly the United States and Israel. These countries regard Iran’s nuclear programme as a major threat to national security. The scale of the threat exceeds even concerns about Iran’s support for armed groups or the threat to commercial shipping in the Gulf. The growing trend is attributed to fears of an escalation of a serious armed conflict between the parties, which could have disastrous consequences for all involved. However, recent reports indicate that informal agreements have been under negotiation between US and Iranian diplomats since May. These agreements include voluntary curbs on Iranian uranium enrichment, the withdrawal of militias in Syria and the release of detainees on both sides. Through joint dialogue, the United States and Iran reached a prisoner exchange agreement on September 11 that included the release of Iranians held in the United States and vice versa. The agreement also includes a waiver of US sanctions, which will allow the transfer of the Iranian Central Bank’s seized assets to Qatari banks. These assets, amounting to USD 6 billion, are to be used for humanitarian aid purchases and debt settlement.
Diplomatic negotiations seem to have fallen on fertile ground. The latest reports published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s compliance with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) show that there has been some progress on Iran’s part. Crucially, Iran’s stockpile of 60% enriched uranium appears to have increased at its slowest rate since 2021, and the total amount in Iran’s stockpile has decreased by around 25%. This suggests the beginnings of a willingness by Tehran to de-escalate nuclear tensions. But critics say Iran’s concessions remain insufficient, particularly on access to monitoring cameras and unresolved issues over safeguards.
In addition, there is a certain level of scepticism on both sides. The history of strained US-Iranian relations and the uncertainty about Iran’s ultimate nuclear goals make confidence-building ultimately very difficult. The interest in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue extends well beyond the United States and Iran. The stability of the Middle East and global non-proliferation efforts hang in the balance. A diplomatic solution that prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons while allowing it to pursue nuclear activities in accordance with an international agreement would be a major victory for international security.
In conclusion, the situation surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme is complex and fragile. However, Iran’s recent curbs on uranium enrichment and its diplomatic negotiations with the United States give a glimmer of hope of avoiding a catastrophic conflict. Yet considerable problems and scepticism remain, and both sides must demonstrate their commitment to diplomacy. The international community, including world and regional powers, has a key role to play here. Such multilateral engagement can help create a framework for sustainable solutions and increase the likelihood of compliance.
The importance of resolving the Iranian nuclear issue goes beyond the immediate concerns of the parties involved. It affects regional stability, global non-proliferation efforts and the potential for peaceful coexistence in a volatile region. The international community should continue to support and encourage diplomatic solutions, recognising the considerable risks associated with any alternative path. Ultimately, the way forward remains uncertain, but continued dialogue and cooperation offer the best chance for peace.
This brief is supported by
NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division