We now assess that the US, EU and UN are likely to lift sanctions against Iran covered under the nuclear agreement as soon as January or February.
Earlier estimates by US officials and reputable experts on the Iranian nuclear programme suggested that it would take Iran at least six months to complete the reductions to its nuclear capabilities required before sanctions relief. However, it seems that Iran has taken steps to accelerate this process.
Iranian officials and the IAEA confirmed last month that Iran had already dismantled around a third of the centrifuges it must remove under the agreement. This is much faster than nuclear experts had anticipated. Since then, there have been reports that Iran is moving forward with other steps. Officials from Russia have said that it is set to complete an exchange of Iranian enriched uranium for yellow cake by the end of the year.
Furthermore, it appears that Iran and the P5+1 have agreed to close an IAEA investigation into past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme – another important step towards implementing the agreement. The IAEA’s final report, released on 2 December, concluded that Iran did conduct nuclear weapons related research and work before 2003, and continued some sporadic activities until 2009. The findings are roughly in line with earlier US intelligence estimates, and show that Iran had been concealing information.
But the report’s conclusion, that Iran provided the IAEA with enough information to close the file, appears to be satisfactory for both Iranian and Western officials. According to unnamed US officials cited in the Wall Street Journal, the US now estimates that ‘Implementation Day’, when the IAEA verifies that Iran has completed the required steps, will be in early 2016. The US energy secretary suggested as much in a recent interview with CNN. And Mark Fitzpatrick, a respected expert on the Iranian nuclear programme, recently wrote that sanctions could be lifted in mid-February. Other experts have argued that this will likely happen between mid-January and mid-February.
Iranian government officials have said that they can complete all required steps by 15 January, and appear eager to do so before elections for parliament and the Council of Experts, scheduled for 26 February. There are indications that the US would also like the deal to be implemented before this date, as doing so would almost certainly weaken opponents of President Rouhani in the elections. Therefore, we have revised our attached infographic to reflect this new estimated timeline.