Why Congress Must Support the Iran Nuclear Deal
Exploring the background of the Iran nuclear deal, this article is the first of six in a series.
Negotiations between Iran and P5+1 began in 2006 to assure the P5+1 world powers that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons, and to assure Iran that its right to enrich nuclear fuel for civilian purposes would be respected as required under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968 (NPT), to which it is a party. The objective of NPT is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. It has been ratified or accepted by 191 states, but not by all countries with the potential to develop nuclear weapons. Four U.N. member states have never joined the NPT: India, Pakistan, South Sudan, and, notably, Israel.
Formal negotiation toward the JCPOA on Iran's nuclear program began with the adoption of the Joint Plan of Action—an interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear program signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries—in November 2013. For the next 20 months, Iran and the P5+1 engaged in arduous, intense negotiations constituting diplomacy of a high order. In April of 2015, the parties reached a framework agreement leading to the final accord which was signed on July 14, 2015.
Summary of Provisions
Iran's current stockpile of low-enriched uranium will be reduced by 98 percent, from 10,000 kg to 300 kg. This reduction will be maintained for at least 15 years. For the same 15-year period, Iran will be limited to enriching uranium to 3.67 percent, an amount sufficient for civilian nuclear power and research, but not for building a nuclear weapon. This is a "major decline" from Iran's previous nuclear activity. Prior to watering down its stockpile pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action interim agreement, Iran had enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent (medium-enriched uranium).
To monitor and verify Iran's compliance with the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. The agreement provides that in return for abiding by its commitments in a verified manner, Iran will receive relief from U.S., European Union, and U.N. Security Council nuclear-related sanctions. The number of IAEA inspectors assigned to Iran will triple from 50 to 150. A comprehensive inspections regime will be implemented; Iran will be required to allow IAEA inspectors to visit all of its declared facilities, including the Parchin military facility, in order to monitor and confirm that Iran is complying with its obligations and is not diverting any fissionable material.
In the event IAEA inspectors have concerns that Iran is breaching the agreement, there is a detailed process under which such inspectors may propose alternatives that will satisfy the IAEA concerns. If such an agreement cannot be reached, a process running to a maximum of 24 days is triggered. If Iran does not comply with the final decision of the IAEA Joint Commission within this period of 24 days, sanctions will be automatically re-imposed. As a result of the above, the "breakout time"—or the time it would take Iran to produce the nuclear material for one bomb—has now been extended for a period of not less than one year, should Iran abandon the agreement.
Successful Nature of Negotiations
One by one, the road blocks to a nuclear accord between Iran and the U.S. have been painstakingly cleared. The success of the negotiations has depended on a number of important facts and events, one being the attitude and relationship of the leaders of both countries and the people carrying on the negotiations.
First and most importantly, President Obama had clearly indicated as far back as 2008 his desire for fresh thinking towards Iran. As president, he argued that it's wiser to negotiate with an adversary of more than three decades than to risk a military confrontation over Iran's nuclear ambitions. On the other side of the fence, the supreme leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, allowed Hassan Rouhani to successfully run for president in 2013 largely on a platform of getting rid of Iran's punishing sanctions. At the negotiations, both leaders were represented by Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister and his country's chief negotiator. In the final 22 weeks, the American delegation was led by Secretary of State John Kerry, with the aid of his chief negotiator, Wendy Sherman, a tenacious, detail-oriented diplomat, Jake Sullivan, the Director of Policy Planning for the State Department's think-tank, and William J. Burns, President of the Carnegie Endowment for the International Peace, who retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2014 after a 33-year career as a diplomat.
The negotiations were concerned not only with political and diplomatic requirements, important to both sides, but also with very technical scientific questions concerning the development of nuclear weapons. The top officials charged with this responsibility were our Secretary of Energy, Ernest J. Moniz, formerly chairman of the department of physics at MIT, and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. It's interesting to note that Moniz and Salehi were good friends who had known each other while at MIT, and that relationship helped them to create the provisions of the JCPOA concerning nuclear controls in a less political, more scientific, environment. Consequently, Siegried S. Hecker of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University wrote that "the Iran nuclear deal was hard-won and is better than any other reasonably achievable alternative." He noted that "this agreement was one of the most technically informed diplomatic negotiations I have seen" with both sides advised by "world-class nuclear scientists," referring to Moniz and Salehi.
Reactions of organizations, leaders, experts, and countries were quite varied and important to understand, and will be examined in Article Two of the Iran Nuclear Deal series.