Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant
Iran's Bushehr nuclear plantReuters

Key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program imposed under an internationally negotiated deal will start to ease years before the 15-year accord expires, to a document obtained Monday by The Associated Press reveals.

This would advance Tehran’s ability to build a bomb even before the end of the pact, the news agency noted.

The confidential document is the only text linked to last year’s deal between Iran and six foreign powers that hasn’t been made public, although U.S. officials say members of Congress who expressed interest were briefed on its substance.

It was given to AP by a diplomat whose work has focused on Iran’s nuclear program for more than a decade, and its authenticity was confirmed by another diplomat who possesses the same document.

The diplomat who shared the text with the news agency described it as an add-on agreement to the nuclear deal in the form of a document submitted by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) outlining its plans to expand its uranium enrichment program after the first 10 years of the nuclear deal.

The document is formally separate from the bigger nuclear accord, but the diplomat said that it was in effect an integral part of that pact and had been approved by the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

Although some of the constraints extend for 15 years, documents in the public domain are short on details of what happens with Iran’s most proliferation-prone nuclear activity — its uranium enrichment — beyond the first 10 years of the agreement.

The document obtained by AP fills in the gap, saying that as of January 2027 — 11 years after the deal was implemented — Iran will start replacing its mainstay centrifuges with thousands of advanced machines.

From year 11 to 13 of the agreement, the document reveals, Iran will install centrifuges up to five times as efficient as the 5,060 machines it is now restricted to using.

Those new models will number less than those being used now, ranging between 2,500 and 3,500, depending on their efficiency, according to the document. But because they are more effective, they will allow Iran to enrich at more than twice the rate it is doing now.

While the document doesn’t say what happens with centrifuge numbers and types past year 13, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernst Moniz told AP that Iran will be free to install any number of advanced centrifuges beyond that point, even though the nuclear deal extends two additional years..

Moniz noted that the limit on the amount of low-enriched enriched uranium Iran will be allowed to store will remain at 300 kilograms (660 pounds) for the full 15 years, significantly below the amount needed for further enrichment into a bomb.

These restrictions translate into “serious constraints on … (Iran’s) nuclear program for 15 years,” Moniz said.

In selling the deal to skeptics, the U.S. administration said it is tailored to ensure that Iran would need at least 12 months to “break out” and make enough weapons grade uranium for at least one weapon. Moniz told AP the document posed no contradiction to that claim because “we made it very clear that we were focused on 10 years on the minimum one-year breakout time.”

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in response that “the prohibition on Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon — and our ability to monitor the peaceful nature of its nuclear program — remains in effect indefinitely.

“The breakout time does not go off a cliff nor do we believe that it would be cut in half, to six months, by year 11,” he said, according to the news agency.

The pact is being closely monitored by the IAEA, which says Tehran has essentially kept to its commitments since the agreement was implemented.

The document obtained by AP marks yet another problematic revelation related to the nuclear deal signed with Iran.

In February, the IAEA said Iran briefly exceeded a limit set by its deal with major powers, though it stressed that Tehran then came back within the permitted bounds.

An IAEA report dated December 2 found that Iran had conducted "a range of activities relevant to the development" of a nuclear bomb until 2009.

The UN watchdog had also previously released a report which determined that Iran had violated the terms of its nuclear deal with the West by increasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 460.2 kilograms.

Despite these violations, the IAEA chose to close its probe into whether Iran had developed nuclear weapons in the past and subsequently announced that Iran met its initial obligations under the terms of the nuclear deal, enabling the implementation of the agreement and lifting of the sanctions on Iran.

The United States, for its part, continues to insist the deal is a good one. Marking the agreement’s anniversary last Thursday, President Barack Obama said it has succeeded in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, “avoiding further conflict and making us safer.”

Similar remarks were made by Secretary of State John Kerry, who praised the nuclear deal with Iran and said it “has in fact made the world safer, lived up to its expectations and thus far produced an ability to create a peaceful nuclear program with Iran.”

Despite the comments from Obama and Kerry, opposition from U.S. Republicans could increase with the revelation that Iran’s potential breakout time would be more than halved over the last few years of the pact.