Earlier today, a ship carrying over 25,000 pounds (11,000 kg) of low-enriched uranium materials allegedly departed from Iran for Russia, in what was dubbed a key step in Tehran's implementation of this year's historic nuclear accord with world powers. According to John Kerry this was "one of the most significant steps Iran has taken toward fulfilling its commitments."
"I am pleased to report that we have seen important indications of significant progress towards Iran completing its key nuclear commitments under the deal," Kerry said in a statement.
The Russian foreign ministry confirmed the report after Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told the ISNA news agency: "The fuel exchange process has taken place."
The shipment included the removal of all of Iran's nuclear material enriched to 20 percent that was not already in the form of fabricated fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, he said.
Monday's shipment more than triples the previous two- to three-month breakout timeline for Iran to acquire enough weapons grade uranium for one weapon, Kerry said, hailing it "an important piece of the technical equation that ensures an eventual breakout time of at least one year by Implementation Day" according toa Xinhua report.
AFP adds that according to ISNA's report, Iran had sent 8.5 tons of low-enriched nuclear material to Russia and received "around 140 tons of natural uranium in return."
State Department spokesman Mark Toner described the cargo as a 25,000-pound "combination of forms of low-enriched uranium materials" including five and 20 percent enriched uranium, scrap metal and unfinished fuel plates.
"So that actually constitutes, I think, almost all of Iran's current stockpile of enriched uranium," he added.
Under the nuclear deal reached by Iran and world powers in July, Iran is required to ship out all except 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium.
The French media outlet adds that under the deal struck in July in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers, Tehran agreed to cut its low-enriched uranium (LEU) stockpile to less than 300 kilograms (660 pounds).
This would mean that it would not have enough fuel on hand to rapidly enrich enough to the levels needed to build a nuclear weapon -- lengthening its so-called "breakout time" to more than a year.
Kerry said that Iran's shipment to Russia had already tripled the amount of time it would take to produce enough fuel for a bomb from two or three months up to six or nine.
And he dubbed it "a significant step toward Iran meeting its commitment to have no more than 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium by Implementation Day."
Kerry promised that the United States would repeal its nuclear-related sanctions once Implementation Day arrives. But he warned "we will remain vigilant to ensure that its implementation achieves exactly what we set out to do from the very beginning of these negotiations, to ensure that Iran's nuclear program is and always remains exclusively for peaceful purposes."
Meanwhile, even though the IAEA was not able to independently verify Iran's claim, it was said the atomic agency would be given greater access to Iranian facilities for its inspectors, "and will install seals and monitoring devices to ensure there is no backsliding." The United States would wait until the UN agency makes a ruling to say formally whether Washington now accepts that Iran has less than 300 kilos of LEU.
In other words nobody actually knows whether or not Iran did as it says it did.
So, in a nutshell, this is how Iran's compliance with Obama's historic nuclear deal took place:
- Iran, whose parliament has still not signed the "landmark" historic deal, has self-inspected a ship loaded with 11 tons of low-enriched uranium which has been dispatched toward Russia, or so Iran promises.
- The Russian foreign ministry, which is supposed to receive Iran's 11 tons of low-enriched uranium, or "almost all of Iran's current stockpile of enriched uranium", has taken Iran's word for what is on the ship and has confirmed that the exchange process has taken place.
- This is the same Iran, which has already breached the terms of the nuclear deal (which it has not signed) by launching a ballistic missile test several weeks ago.
- Assuming the ship is indeed loaded with weapons-grade uranium, Putin is quite grateful as he just got a free gift of enough material to create another several nuclear warheads assuming of course, Russia does not just turn around and send back the Iran cargo under a different ship, one which will not be "self-reported" by Iran.
Finally, assuming Iran has complied with the nuclear shipment, once this has been verified, the United States and its allies will begin to dismantle the sanctions imposed on Tehran in response to its nuclear program. This means all those 30 million barrels of Iran oil currently loaded up on tankers somewhere around the globe, just waiting for the official lifting of sanctions, will promptly flood the physical market and send the price of oil plunging even more.