Updated Jan 5, 2020

Iran vows to enrich uranium "without restrictions"

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Photo: Iranian Supreme Leader Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Iran's government announced Sunday that it would no longer abide by any limits on its enrichment of uranium, according to Iranian state TV.

Why it matters: This could be the final blow to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration, raising the risk that Iran will move toward a nuclear weapon. However, Iran has said it will continue to allow inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and is prepared to return to compliance with the deal if the U.S. removes sanctions.

Context: President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in May 2018, setting off a chain of events that have seen tensions rise to the point where the two countries may now be on the brink of war.

  • European leaders have attempted to mediate in order to keep constraints on Iran's nuclear program intact.
  • The Trump administration says its goal is to force Iran to negotiate a more comprehensive deal, though that seems a remote prospect given the current realities.

Between the lines: Iran's decision to not immediately raise its enrichment levels to 20% and allow the IAEA to maintain inspection access is notable. Some experts, including the European Council on Foreign Relation's Ellie Geranmayeh, view the move as Tehran leaving open a "narrow window for diplomacy."

  • The Crisis Group's Iran expert Ali Vaez adds: "Iran’s decision to put aside the cap on the # of centrifuges as its 5th step away from its JCPOA commitments is less harsh than the initially feared resumption of 20% enrichment. This shows Iran still wants the Europeans on its side and doesn’t want to break the deal yet."

Go deeper: Trump's threat to target cultural sites sparks Iranian furor

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European leaders trigger dispute action in Iran deal

Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron in August. Photo: Andrew Parsons/Pool/Getty Images

The leaders of the U.K., Germany and France said in a Tuesday letter that they are triggering a "dispute mechanism" in the Iran nuclear agreement in response to Tehran’s attempts to undo parts of the deal, the AP reports.

Why it matters: The action could lead to the restoration of European sanctions on Iran that were rolled back in 2015.

Go deeperArrowJan 14, 2020

Trump responds to missile strikes: "Iran appears to be standing down"

President Trump said in a White House address Wednesday that Americans should be "extremely grateful and happy" because Iranian strikes hours earlier resulted in no casualties, and Iran now "appears to be standing down."

Why it matters: Iran's strikes came in retaliation for the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, a stunning event that led to immediate fears of war. Trump defended that decision and announced new sanctions on Iran, but did not signal new military escalation.

Go deeperArrowJan 8, 2020

Trump's Air Force One bombast on Iran

Trump talks to the press in the cabin of Air Force One in 2018. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump came in hot during a half-hour conversation with the White House press pool on Air Force One — most of it off the record — as he returned from Mar-a-Lago to Washington on Sunday.

What happened: He repeated his threat against Iranian cultural sites: "They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way."

Go deeperArrowJan 6, 2020