Skip to main content

Blinken: Iran's nuclear 'breakout time' a matter of weeks if violations continue

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers it was unclear if Iran is "willing and prepared" to resume compliance with the nuclear agreement.
Police guard the Grand Hotel on the day the JCPOA Iran nuclear talks are to resume on May 25, 2021, in Vienna, Austria.

Iran’s so-called breakout time could drop to “a matter of weeks” if the country continues to violate its terms of the landmark nuclear deal, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.

During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Blinken said it remains to be seen whether the Iranians are “willing and prepared” to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPOCA).

The JCPOA set curbs on the purity and amount of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile. The world powers that signed the deal estimated it would take Iran at least a year to produce enough weapons-grade enriched uranium to develop a nuclear weapon in the event that it reneged on the agreement. Since former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA and reimposed harsh economic sanctions, Iran has steadily violated its obligations under the deal.

The original signatories to the deal have been meeting in Vienna to reach an agreement on a revived nuclear deal, but Tehran and Washington are at odds over which of them will make the first move. In the meantime, Iran’s program is "galloping forward,” Blinken said, referencing Iran’s increased uranium enrichment and recent use of advanced centrifuges.

In April, Tehran announced it was enriching uranium to 60% purity, bringing it closer to the 90% needed for a weapon. Blinken on Monday said Iran’s estimated breakout time — the time it would take to amass the amount of fissile material needed to build a nuclear weapon — is reportedly down to a few months, based on public reports.

“If this continues, it will get down to a matter of weeks — exactly what we’ve sought to avoid and what the agreement stopped,” the top US diplomat said. “So we have a real incentive, if we can, to at least put that back in the box.”

Iran says it does not intend to build an atomic bomb and insists its nuclear program is used for peaceful purposes only.

Blinken’s comments came as negotiators gear up for the sixth round of nuclear talks in Vienna, which are set to begin on Thursday. Separate of those talks, the United States is trying to secure the release of at least four Iranian-Americans who are unjustly held in Iran.

The secretary said the United States is determined to bring home those US citizens, as well as provide closure to the family of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who is believed to have died in Iranian regime custody.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Free

The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.

Free

What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing
Expert

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to pro.support@al-monitor.com and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial