What you need to know about Iran's landmark nuclear deal


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.

What does Iran get in return? 

For Iran, the pressing need is to gain relief from sanctions that are having a crippling effect on its resource-dependent economy. In particular, restrictions on its oil and gas exports, its ability to import technology to exploit its energy resources, and being cut off from SWIFT, the financial-messaging system used to transfer money between the world’s banks, have taken an increasing toll. Iran would have liked all sanctions to end from the moment of a deal being signed. But relief will be staged on the basis of good faith implementation of the deal. Sanctions related to other aspects of Iran’s behaviour, such as human-rights issues, support of terrorism and its ballistic-missile programme will not be affected. Furthermore Barack Obama, the American president, can only suspend sanctions that Congress has legislated.

What are the new details of the deal?

The agreement announced on July 14th was more detailed than most expected. Under its statement of intent Iran will reduce its installed enrichment centrifuges from 19,500 to 6,100, only 5,000 of which will be spinning. All of them will be first-generation centrifuges: none of its more advanced models can be used for at least 10 years, and R&D into more efficient designs will have to be based on a plan submitted to the IAEA. Fordow, Iran’s second enrichment facility (its main one is at Natanz) which is buried deep within a mountain and thought to be impregnable to conventional air strikes, will cease all enrichment and be turned into a physics research centre. It will not produce or house any fissile material for at least 15 years. Iran will reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (which can be spun further into weapons-grade material) from 9,000kg to 300kg for the next 15 years. The country’s alternative plutonium path to a bomb also appears to have been satisfactorily dealt with. The heavy-water reactor at Arak will be redesigned and its original core, which would have produced significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be removed and destroyed. No other heavy-water reactor will be built for 15 years.


All these undertakings hinge on the assurance that Iran will abide by them. Without an intrusive inspection and verification regime, sceptics would still be right to question their worth given Iran’s past history of lying and cheating over its nuclear programme. Under the terms of the agreement, inspectors from the IAEA will be able to inspect any facility, declared or otherwise, as long as it is deemed to be “suspicious”. If Iran refuses access to a military site the inspectors want to get into, a joint commission made up of representatives of the parties to the agreement will quickly rule on whether it must open the facility up. If it still refuses, Iran would then be in violation of the agreement and might face the re-imposition of sanctions. A mechanism has been created to allow sanctions to “snap back” if Iran is caught cheating. The IAEA will also have access to every part of Iran’s nuclear supply chain to ensure that nothing is being channelled to a clandestine facility. Such powers for the IAEA, which will remain in place indefinitely, are more sweeping than those it had under the normal safeguard agreements that had previously applied to Iran under the NPT. The agreement also states that Iran will address the IAEA’s concerns about what it calls the Possible Military Dimensions (PMDs) of its nuclear programme—a polite way to describe work on weaponisation.

Will it hold? 

The deal has many strenuous critics. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has described it in almost apocalyptic terms (although much of Israel’s security establishment is more sanguine about it); Republican hawks in Congress (and even some Democrats) hate the idea of any deal with Iran that does nothing to address its behaviour as a troublemaker in the Middle East and as a sponsor of designated terrorist outfits, such as Hizbullah in Lebanon. Congress now has 60 days to review the deal and the Senate is likely to vote against it. However, Mr Obama expects that there will be enough Democrats willing to back him. The deal is also opposed by some hardliners in Tehran who were hoping to win over the enigmatic but ailing supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, to their point of view. Elements of the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who control military sites which the IAEA will have to gain access to if it is to address the vital PMD issues, may be quite happy to find a way of sabotaging the deal. The IRGC may even have wished to see sanctions remain in place, as they have provided money-making opportunities for many of its leaders.

However, the problem faced by those on both sides who would like to see the deal collapse is that they have been unable to offer any attractive or plausible alternatives. Ordinary Iranians are desperate to get back to a normal economy, while American voters have little appetite for going to war with Iran to prevent it getting a nuclear weapon. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted just before the framework agreement on April 2nd was announced, Americans support the notion of striking a deal with Iran that restricts the nation’s nuclear program in exchange for loosening sanctions, by a nearly two to one margin. Republicans will be doing everything they can to get those numbers to shift their way, but they face an uphill battle. 

▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄▀▄

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT:
  1. The Economist

Popular posts from this blog

China’s New Silk Road: What’s in it for Gilgit-Baltistan?

Tips for Job Hunting in UAE (Dubai,Sharjah, Abu Dhabi)

Call for Educational Emergency to Address Educational Crisis in District Diamer