After lengthy negotiations and extensive compliance assessments, the Iran nuclear deal has resulted in the lifting of sanctions. But just what does that mean?
Hailed by some as a shining example of diplomacy at work, derided by others as naive capitulation, the Iran nuclear deal has resulted in the lifting of international economic sanctions that had crippled the country for years.
In July 2015, the United States, along with the rest of the P5+1 states—the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany—proposed the Iran nuclear deal. The deal, designed to ensure that Iran did not develop a nuclear bomb, has multiple components.
The Issue of Uranium
The agreement allows for the continuation of uranium enrichment, a practice that has caused concern due to the potential threat of nuclear weaponry. Enriched uranium is an energy rich power source, but in high quantities can be used to make bombs.
An article from The New York Times, published when the deal was first made, explained that, “Uranium mined from the earth is less than 1 percent U-235, the isotope that can be used to fuel reactors and make bombs. Centrifuges are needed to separate the U-235 from the rest of the uranium, in a process called enrichment. The other fuel that can be used to make a bomb, plutonium, is made by irradiating uranium in a nuclear reactor. The process transforms some of the uranium into plutonium.”
The deal limits Iran’s ability to develop such bombs by lifting economic sanctions in exchange for nuclear oversight.
The Rules of the Deal
The full text of the nuclear deal with Iran specified strict guidelines for the future of the country’s nuclear development. Through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is allowed to progress in nuclear research and development, as long as these practices remain “exclusively peaceful.”
Among other regulations, this means that:
- Limitations will curb all uranium-enrichment and plutonium activity
- Iran will phase out its IR-1 centrifuges (first generation centrifuges)
- Stockpiles of up to 3.67 percent enriched uranium will be kept under 300 kg
- Nuclear facilities will incorporate redesigned programs, including collaboration with international researchers, to work in accordance with the limitations of the deal
In 2015, when the Iran nuclear deal was hammered out, President Obama argued the agreement was a vital alternative to a potential war that might otherwise be caused by Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power.
As time goes on, UN nuclear investigators will have access to all of Iran’s nuclear work, and intrusive inspections will be conducted to prevent and detect any deviation from the conditions of the arrangement. While the monitoring program is designed to uncover prohibited activities, critics argue that Iran may be able to delay inspections.
If Iran remains in compliance with the JCPOA, uranium production will not surpass enrichment levels of 3.67 percent, a number far below the quantity required for a nuclear bomb. There is no guarantee that Iran will obey the terms of the deal, however, and if disputes arise that cannot be settled, the United Nations will reimpose economic sanctions.
The UN’s IAEA atomic watchdog has a special web page dedicated to monitoring and reporting Iran nuclear activity related to the accord. So far Iran is honoring the agreement and remains in compliance.
Cover Image courtesy of Gugganij via Wikimedia Commons