Every week, we will give you the rundown on a recent development related to international affairs. This week: The Iran Nuclear Deal
How did this all start?
Iran first began to develop its nuclear program in the 1950s, with the launch of U.S. President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program. While Iran initially made significant progress in its nuclear sector with the aid of the west, after the Islamic Revolution and the fall of the Shah about two decades later, nuclear cooperation between Iran and the west came to a halt.
Then, in November 2013, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany) came together in Geneva to sign an interim accord, rolling back Iran’s nuclear deal and relaxing some of the crippling sanctions imposed on it, while negotiators worked toward forming a comprehensive deal.
The sanctions were imposed on Iran by the UN, U.S., EU and several other countries after its illicit nuclear activities surfaced in 2002, in violation of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Among other violations, it was discovered that Iran had been secretly developing a uranium centrifuge enrichment program for 18 years and a laser enrichment program for 12 years.
Iran’s economy has been hard-hit by the imposed sanctions. Oil exports had fallen to 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) by May 2013, compared with an average 2.2 million bpd in 2011 and the economy shrunk by about 5% in 2013
What is the Deal anyway?
Iran and the P5+1 signed the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (or the Iran Nuclear Deal) in Vienna, Austria on 14th July 2015.
Some of the key provisions under the Iran Deal:
- Iran will be limited to enriching uranium to 3.67% This is sufficient for peaceful energy but not nearly close enough to the 90% required for building a nuclear weapon
- Iran will reduce its stockpile of uranium from 10,000 kg to 300 kg, giving up 97% of its current stockpile.
- Iran will cut its 19,000 centrifuges down to about 1/3rd the number. It may have no more 6,104 centrifuges, only 5,060 of which are allowed to be used to enrich uranium.
- Iran must modify its Arak complex to make it impossible to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
- Increased surveillance and monitoring by the IAEA ( International Atomic Energy Agency )
- In return, sanctions on Iran will be lifted, including a U.N. embargo on conventional weapons sales which will be lifted within five years and a ban on missile sales to Iran will be lifted within eight years.
Snapback: In the event that Iran does not comply with the terms of the deal , the lauded ‘snapback’ provision allows the previous sanctions to be restored without taking a vote in the Security Council.
Breakout Time: The deal is estimated to extend Iran’s ‘breakout time’ — the time needed for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb -- from the current two to three months to one year.
Who’s saying what?
While the deal is being hailed as a breakthrough by most, Israel as well as some Republicans in the United States warn against it. This is primarily because of distrust and their belief that any leeway will result in Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weaponry. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared the deal a "historic mistake".
Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, while not as outraged, also has reservations about the deal, fearing that it will lead to regional upheaval. Iran provides support to Assad's war in Syria as well as the Houthi rebels in Yemen, against whom the Saudis waged an air campaign earlier this year. In a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter in Jidda, King Salman of Saudi Arabia reportedly gave his approval to the deal, although he raised concerns about a U.S. realignment of its partnerships in the Middle East.
The bill still needs to be approved in the U.S. Congress, which is dominated by Republicans. However, Obama says he will veto any attempt to block the deal.