Much has been made about the American-Iranian nuclear deal negotiated in large part by Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Javid Zarif. From pundits to the public, suddenly every American has become an expert on American foreign policy in the Middle East. While newfound American interest in international affairs is something to be celebrated, the kneejerk concern about the deal is largely misplaced.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which targets the Iranian nuclear program and international sanctions regime, was negotiated between the UN Security Council (USA, UK, Russia, France, China) and Germany on one side and Iran on the other. The deal can be examined in two parts: provisions dealing with the Iranian nuclear program and those that focus on the international sanctions program.
Nuclear Provisions of the Deal:
The nuclear half of the deal simultaneously delays the possibility of a nuclear Iran and encourages a peaceful, civilian nuclear program. First, the deal reduces the Iranian stockpile of centrifuges from 19,000 to just over 6,000, and forces Iran to give up its most advanced and efficient centrifuges, leaving only the outdated IR-1 models. Further, of those 6,000, only 5,000 are allowed to enrich uranium. The International Atomic Energy Association will monitor the decommissioned centrifuges and Iran will be barred from building any new nuclear enrichment facilities for 15 years. Additionally, research and development of nuclear centrifuges will be limited for eight years.
Furthermore, Iran’s stores of already enriched uranium will be reduced by 98%–a reduction that will continue for 15 years. During that 15-year period, Iran will be limited to uranium enrichment sufficient for civilian nuclear programming but inadequate for nuclear weaponry. Additionally, any uranium already enriched above 3.87% will be diluted to levels below 3.87% or sold in return for natural uranium.
Finally, the International Atomic Energy Association will implement an inspections regime to monitor the Iranian nuclear program. As a result of the JCPOA, the IAEA will be allowed entry to all Iranian nuclear facilities. The inspections regime will have oversight over all parts of the Iranian nuclear program: from the uranium mines through the purchase of nuclear technology. The IAEA will be granted “round-the-clock” access to nuclear facilities and entitles the IAEA to continuous monitoring through surveillance technology at those sites. The number of IAEA inspectors in Iran will triple from 50 to 150.
The most important thing to consider with regards to the sanctions provisions of the JCPOA is that all sanctions relief is 100% contingent upon Iranian cooperation with the nuclear provisions of the deal. As President Obama put it more succinctly: “This deal is not based on trust, but on verification.” Should the Iranian regime choose to ignore or disobey the nuclear provisions of the deal, sanctions will be “snapped back” into place.
The actual sanctions relief is rather comprehensive, but takes place over the course of 15 years. Specifically, the United States and European Union would lift all sanctions tied directly to Iran’s nuclear program. Since 1995, the United States has had sanctions against almost all sectors of Iran’s economy, including but not limited to Iranian exportation of petroleum products, banking, international trade and insurance. In addition to the American sanctions, the EU has sanctioned similar industries in Iran since 2007. With the sanctions provisions of the JCPOA, all these sanctions will be lifted.
In addition to sanctions related to Iran’s economy, some sanctions against Iran’s military will be lifted over an 8 year timeline, with sanctions against the purchase of conventional weapons being lifted in 5 years and EU sanctions against Iranian individuals, corporations and institutions (including the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps) and sanctions related to the purchase of ballistic missiles being lifted in 8 years.
That said, American sanctions against Iran related to human rights abuses and state support for terrorism will continue.
Why is this a Good Deal?
Stated simply, the JCPOA is mutually beneficial to the United States and Iran. If Iran chooses to comply with IAEA inspectors, the United States has helped to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and done so without declaring war on another nation. If, as detractors worry, the Iranians attempt to trick IAEA inspectors and the international community, and continue to attempt the development of a nuclear weapon, the United States is still in a better place than the status quo. Post JCPOA, the Iranian “breakout” period – the time it would take for Iran to develop enough weapons grade uranium or plutonium – has been shifted from 2 or 3 months to a full year, or in a more liberal prediction, up to 35 years.
Furthermore, the deal encourages Iran to continue to develop a civilian nuclear power program that is environmentally friendly, produces cheaper energy for its people and could potentially be exported around the region.
Perhaps most important to Iranians, however, is the real and symbolic power that sanctions relief promises. Economically, the sanctions relief promises to revitalize quality of life for Iranians. Due in part to the sanctions regime, Iranian unemployment reached 20%, healthcare costs ballooned and average Iranians struggled to make ends meet in the face of inflation.
In addition to crippling the Iranian economy, sanctions also wrecked a political cost on Iranian reformers. Sanctions have allowed the Iranian regime to blame internal problems on the external force of US and EU sanctions–effectively silencing dissidents and would be reformers.
With the phasing out of nuclear related sanctions in Iran, the United States stops serving as a boogeyman for the Iranian regime. Instead, the deal strengthens the hand of moderates and reformers within Iran. More importantly, sanctions relief can be counted as a human rights victory as Iranians can begin to live with dignity and respect as inflation is reeled in and the economy begins to grow.
By treating Iran as a partner rather than a pariah, the United States has done away with outdated and frivolous notions like “rogue states.” It has instead decided that Iran is a bigger threat isolated from the international community than when it is included as a part of that community. The idea that democracy can be conducted without dialogue is as ridiculous as it is dangerous. In the JCPOA, we see the first steps towards real change in the relationship between the United States and Iran.
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