When the Trump administration took the US out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the idea was to instead impose sanctions to pressure Iran to stop developing its nuclear program. Now, "the numbers suggest a different reality"—that Iran "now has a pathway to a bomb," the New York Times reports. That pathway, per confidential reports released by the International Atomic Energy Agency to its 171 member states, has now opened up because Iran has both upped its low-enriched uranium stockpile and denied IAEA inspectors access to three vital nuclear sites. Although for much of 2019 Iran had kept its stockpile of uranium fuel to 300 kilograms, or 660 pounds—below the threshold needed to build one nuclear bomb—the new figures indicate Iran has more than 1,000 kilograms, or 2,200 pounds, of uranium enriched up to 4.5%.
Boost that enrichment up to 90%, and that's enough fuel for a nuclear weapon, though Iran has long insisted it doesn't plan to build one. It's the first time Tehran has reached such a benchmark since the nuclear accord went into effect, says the IAEA, which reports to the United Nations. The Guardian notes that, under the 2015 deal, Iran was permitted to keep a uranium stockpile of just shy of 203 kilograms, or about 450 pounds. Experts say Iran's actions are a deliberate move to put the screws to European nations and get the US to back down on the sanctions. "It's worrisome," nuclear proliferation expert David Albright tells the Times, adding that Iran might need just three or four months to enrich the uranium for use in a nuclear warhead. "We didn't expect Iran to be at the 1,000-kilogram mark. ... I'm sure it sent a shiver through the international community." (Read more Iran stories.)