On Monday, Iran began enriching uranium to the 20% threshold for the first time since before its 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran appears to be trying to maximize its leverage with the incoming Biden administration in the hope that the US will agree to re-enter, rather than attempt to re-negotiate, the JCPOA. The President-elect has indicated in interviews that upon taking office in two weeks he intends to open negotiations about restoring the deal that the Trump administration walked away from in 2018.

Iran’s announcement that it is resuming uranium enrichment to 20%, the threshold for highly enriched uranium (HEU), is the first step in implementing a recent law passed by the hawkish Iranian parliament over the objections of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government. The decision to stockpile uranium enriched to 20% presents a symbolic as well as practical challenge. A stockpile of HEU significantly reduces the timeline for a breakout capability. Once you have enriched uranium to 20%, you have done 90% of the work required to create weapons grade material.

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