What you need to know about Iran's landmark nuclear deal
What does Iran get in return?
What are the new details of the deal?
Will it hold?
- The Economist
|THE negotiations that led to a historic deal between Iran and six world powers, known as the P5+1 (America, France, Britain, China, Russia, plus Germany) to curb Iran's nuclear programme have constituted a marathon endeavour. What does the deal involve and will it hold?|
When and how did these talks begin?
The UN Security Council has passed a series of resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran since 2006. The sanctions followed reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (the IAEA, the UN's nuclear-energy forum) about Iran's non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In February of 2013 multinational talks began, which culminated in a breakthrough interim agreement, reached in November of that year. Two things gave the process momentum. The first was a back channel to Iran opened up by the American administration in March 2013 that led to several secret bilateral meetings in Oman. The second was the election in June 2013 of Hassan Rohani, Iran's president, who 10 years before had served as Iran’s nuclear negotiator. Mr Rohani was elected on a platform promising constructive engagement with the international community aimed at lifting harsh economic sanctions and ending Iran's international isolation.
The negotiations which led to the deal kicked off in March 2014. Several deadlines for a comprehensive agreement were extended. A final deadline was set for July 1st, 2015. But the White House needed a detailed framework agreement in place well before the return of Congress from its Easter break, in order to head off an attempt by Republican critics of any deal with Iran to legislate for new sanctions and thus kill off the talks. That was concluded in Lausanne on April 2nd; it formed the basis of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed on July 14th.
If nearly everything had been agreed in April, why did it take so long to get the final deal done?
While what became known as the Lausanne accord was very detailed on matters such as the number of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to keep and the size of the low-enriched uranium stockpile it could hold, several sensitive details still needed nailing down. The final round of talks began on June 26th and went through three deadlines before the deal was done. John Kerry, America’s secretary of state, spent 19 days on the negotiation—the longest period of time a secretary of state has been away from home since the second world war.
The potential stumbling blocks related to the access required by the IAEA’s inspectors to confirm that Iran is living up to its undertakings and ensure its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful; the need for Iran to give a full account of any “possible military dimensions” (IAEA jargon for work on weaponisation) relating to its nuclear programme; the penalties for violation of the agreement, including a mechanism for the re-imposition of sanctions; whether the arms embargo would be lifted along with other UN nuclear-related sanctions; and how much research and development on advanced centrifuges Iran would be allowed to do during the first 10 years of the agreement.
What did the P5+1 nations hope to get out of the deal?
In short, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, or at least to stop it from being able to get one very quickly. To that end the negotiators have compromised over allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium, concluding that complete dismantling of its huge infrastructure was unrealistic. However, they sought strict limits on Iran’s enrichment programme, the redesign of a plutonium-producing heavy water reactor under construction and a highly-intrusive inspection regime to prevent cheating. Their aim has been to extend Iran’s “breakout capability”—the key yardstick of the time needed to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon—from the current estimate of a couple of months to at least a year, and to maintain it there for a decade. In years 10-15, the breakout period is expected to reduce to six months and less thereafter as limitations fall away. But the new inspections regime, based on what is known as the Additional Protocol of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), will continue in perpetuity making all Iran’s future nuclear activities much more transparent and tightly monitored than before.