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Pompeo warns of possible Iranian nuclear "breakout" as tensions escalate

Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the possibility that Iran is preparing for "a rapid nuclear breakout" in a Thursday statement, highlighting the escalating crisis between Iran and the rest of the international community.

Why it matters: Since President Trump decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal last year and engage in a pressure campaign against the country, the Iranian government took steps to reduce their commitment to the 2015 deal.

  • Those steps were paired with Iranian attacks against U.S allies in the region — namely, the missile attack on the Saudi oil facilities in September — alongside Iran's rejection of proposals by European leaders to renew talks with the U.S. for a new deal.
  • Pompeo's statement stressed that the U.S. will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, adding, "It is now time for all nations to take serious steps to increase pressure."

The state of play: Yesterday, Iran renewed uranium enrichment with more than 1,000 centrifuges at its underground fortified nuclear facility in Fordow.

  • This was a breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, which banned Iran from enriching uranium at the facility and compelled the Iranians to turn it into a physics research center.    

What's happening: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held an emergency board meeting in Vienna today to discuss the ongoing investigation around a suspicious nuclear facility at Turkuz-Abad, near Tehran.

  • The facility was exposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a speech at the UN in September 2018. Netanyahu called it "The Nuclear Warehouse," while Iran claimed it was a rug cleaning factory. I reported in July that UN inspectors found traces of nuclear material at the site.
  • During the IAEA meeting, member states were briefed that the Iranians were still evading UN inspectors' questions on the issue and are not cooperating.
  • The IAEA's acting director general Cornel Feruta told board members that Iran should provide "full and timely cooperation and promptly respond to the Agency’s questions in order to resolve the matter."

The latest: Netanyahu said in a statement today that world powers need to “snap back” UN security council sanctions on Iran.

“Iran continues to lie. The IAEA has confirmed that Iran is has been violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran continues to hide its secret nuclear weapons program."
— Netanyahu

Go deeper: Netanyahu exposes what he claims to be a nuclear weapons site in Iran