WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- For the first time in nearly a decade, Iran doesn't have the materials needed to make a nuclear weapon -- even if it wanted to.
U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced Monday that a Russian container ship has hauled away almost all of Iran's low-enriched uranium -- the fuel required to build nuclear warheads and atomic bombs. The handover fulfills one of the biggest provisions of the July accord struck between Tehran and a U.S.-led coalition known as 5+1.
"One of the most significant steps Iran has taken toward fulfilling its commitments occurred today, when a ship departed Iran for Russia carrying over 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium materials," Kerry said in a statement. "I remain so proud of our team in achieving what was truly one of our most important accomplishments of 2015 -- ensuring that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively peaceful going forward."
Tehran has long said it's had strictly peaceful intentions with its nuclear program but was willing to make the agreement and cede to atomic oversight to make that purpose clear to the international community in exchange for desperately-needed economic relief.
With the handover of uranium complete, Iran may now be only weeks away from receiving what it wanted out of the deal -- about $100 billion worth of economic sanctions lifted, which will allow Tehran to re-enter the global financial system and sell crude oil on world markets.
"Implementation Day will come when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifies that Iran has completed all of these nuclear commitments, which increase Iran's breakout time to obtain enough nuclear material for a weapon to one year, up from less than 90 days before the JCPOA," Kerry added. "The shipment today more than triples our previous 2-3 month breakout timeline for Iran to acquire enough weapons grade uranium for one weapon."
Kerry also thanked the governments of Russia, Kazakhstan, Norway and other nations who helped export the uranium. The IAEA now must verify that Iran has less than 300 kilograms of enriched uranium stockpiled -- the threshold agreed to by all parties to the accord.
As part of the heavily scrutinized agreement, Iran will limit its nuclear program to the laboratory for a minimum of 10 years in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.