As you may have heard, the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (which we broke down for you here) resulted in an agreement! This is huge: It’s the first time in 10 years, and only the second time since Iran’s nuclear program was revealed to the international community, that a deal was struck. But as pundits position themselves and Congress weighs in, we wanted to explain what the deal actually means for Iran and the U.S.[divider] [/divider]
Iran agreed to a number of obligations in this deal. Nothing that could increase uranium enrichment will be introduced, including centrifuges, and work on the heavy-water reactor at Arak will halt. Iran will also limit enrichment to under 5 percent, with no increase in the 3.5 percent enriched stockpile being made in the six month period covered by this deal. The stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium will be diluted to under 5 percent or neutralized by conversion to a form that cannot be weaponized, like fuel rods. There will also be increased transparency and monitoring of the program by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
I’m not a nuclear scientist, but let me try to explain the highlights. So Iran currently enriches uranium to 20 percent. 90 percent is generally considered weapons grade, and they are pretty far off from that, but it’s not that difficult to begin enriching to 90 percent if you’re already enriching to 20 percent. The concern here is breakout capacity, or how long it would take to weaponize. With a substantial stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium it would be easier to create a weapon, should that decision be made. But experts in the intelligence community don’t think Iran has decided to weaponize, and 2-percent enriched uranium has other uses. Iran has cited a medical reactor, fueled with rods converted from 20-percent enriched uranium. So by neutralizing their stockpile of 20% enriched uranium Iran is cutting back their breakout time.
The relief Iran is getting is limited, but substantial. No new sanctions will be going to effect (assuming Congress doesn’t muck it up), which is key in creating an atmosphere of trust to move forward with future deals. Sanctions on things like gold and the auto industry will be suspended, and there will be limited easing of restrictions on the purchase of Iranian oil. Frozen Iranian assets will be freed up to use for tuition assistance for students, repairs and inspections of Iranian airlines will take place, and access to humanitarian assistance will be facilitated. Humanitarian assistance includes medicine, something that has been indirectly impacted by sanctions and caused preventable deaths in the past couple years. All said, it’s estimated that relief will total about $7 billion.
Right to Enrich
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees access to peaceful nuclear technology, and clear recognition of Iran’s right under the NPT has been a sticking point in negotiations. Rather than reach an agreement on that within this deal, negotiators seem to have decided against addressing it. It’s an important and touchy question, particularly due to Israeli calls for Iran to not be allowed any enrichment activities. If Iran isn’t allowed the rights guaranteed under the NPT, it could set a dangerous precedent for other member states.
Reception of Deal
One of the main problems with deals like this is the necessary spin put on them for domestic audiences. We’re seeing that already, as Iran picks at the White House Fact Sheet and U.S. officials emphasize their dedication to Israel. This is to be expected, though, and as long as the agreement is adhered to, it probably won’t derail talks. The agreement has been embraced by and large by the US and Iranian citizenry. A poll shows that Americans back the deal by a 2-to-1 margin, and Iranians expressed support as well. The Supreme Leader suggested this deal can be a foundation for future steps, indicating that he’s open to further agreements aimed at resolving the crisis.
But, of course, there are haters. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is not happy and members of Congress are displeased. The concern is that Iran cannot be trusted not to weaponize, and as such shouldn’t be able to have any kind of nuclear program. This stance precludes any kind of negotiated resolution and favors military action, which is pretty widely opposed. Some people are comparing this deal to Munich in 1938, where British Prime Minister Chamberlain legendarily appeased Hitler and it didn’t work at all. As people wiser than I have said, some things are just what they were and shouldn’t be compared to others. Munich is one of those things.
[divider] [/divider]Not Out of the Woods
The thing about this deal is that it’s an interim agreement, aimed at building trust while work is done on a more comprehensive solution. At the end of six months, if any part of the agreement has been violated on either side, hardliners both in the US and Iran will be emboldened and all the hard work done by diplomats could be lost. This is especially true of Iran, where President Rouhani’s first 100 days in office were bolstered by this deal. If it doesn’t work and the West doesn’t fulfill their obligations, those opposed to negotiations could use that as pretense to torpedo his administration’s efforts. This is why it is critical Congress not move forward with new sanctions.
In the next six months, we’ll ideally see complete adherence to the agreement. Negotiations on a comprehensive solution will continue, and the International Atomic Energy Agency will be in talks with Iran as well. It’s hard to say at what point it’s realistic to expect all concerns will be cleared up and sanctions lifted, but if it’s possible to reach that point it won’t be for a very long time. The name of the game right now is patience, something often in short supply when it comes to diplomatic efforts. But if this deal is a success, and in six months all parties are happy with the outcome, we’ll have achieved the first in a series of difficult milestones.
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