Explaining The Nuclear Deal With Iran
After months and months of negotiations we’re going to finally see the details of a framework deal that would limit Iran’s nuclear program… or not.
What is the deal?
The Iranian Nuclear Deal is a negotiation that would limit Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon. Right now, Iran has the capability to produce a nuclear weapon, but they say that they are just using that capability for peaceful purposes: To produce nuclear energy. But here’s the problem: Iran has a history of making serious threats to destroy Israel (one of our most important allies). AND Iran also has a history of doing research and development on nuclear enrichment in secret. So basically, they’ve proven themselves to be untrustworthy, and since we’re afraid of what they might do with nuclear weapons, the western world doesn’t want Iran to have any.
The Deets of The Deal
In November 2013, the P5 + 1 (we’ll explain in a bit) and Iran came to a deal called the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA, also known as the Geneva Accord). The JPOA set out a framework for the deal, with the details set to be worked out by July 1. The framework was:
Reduce the number of centrifuges Iran has (used to produce enriched uranium which could be weaponized for a nuclear bomb) from 19,000 to 6,104
Iran’s nuclear facilities will be able to enrich uranium only up to 3.67%, which is enough for nuclear energy power but not enough to build a nuclear bomb. That would last for 15 years.
“Breakout time” is the period of time it would take for Iran to be able to build a nuclear weapon. Right now it’s assessed to be around 2–3 months. The deal would extend that to be about one year and it would keep the breakout time to be one year for at least 10 years.
Iran can’t build any new uranium enrichment facilities for 15 years and their Fordow nuclear reactor would stop enriching uranium for at least 15 years. Iran’s nuclear reactor in Arak will be redesigned and its original core which would have produced a lot of weapons-grade plutonium (another material used to make a nuclear weapon), will be removed and destroyed. No other other reactor like this could be built for 15 years.
Research & Development
Iran will be limited in researching and developing its capacity to enrich, and it would have to make a lot of chances to its facilities.
Iran will have to submit to inspections by the IAEA for all of its facilities, we’re talking unfettered access throughout the country because Iran has previously conducted secret nuclear work.
In exchange for all of that, western nations would begin to slowly ease the economics sanctions currently imposed on Iran. This was the basic framework that was agreed upon in April. But a lot has happened since then to compromise the deal.
What is the P5 + 1?
The P5 + 1 refers to America, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany. The first five are the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The plus one is Germany. They were invited to the party because they’re a huge trading partner with Iran. The value of trade between Germany and Iran in 2010 was 4.7 billion euros and a lot of German companies have offices and citizens living in Iran.
What do the P5 + 1 want?
They want a long-term diplomatic resolution that verifiably prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That means putting measures in place to make sure that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is so transparent that we don’t have to take their word for it when they say they’re complying with the deal.
What does Iran want?
Iran wants relief from the economic sanctions imposed on them. The sanctions have restricted their oil and gas exports, Iran’s ability to import technology to exploit its energy resources, and being cut off from SWIFT which is a financial-messaging system used to transfer money between the world’s banks.
Iran has always said that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes (for energy production) and should be treated like every other country that has nuclear power, free to produce as much fuel as they want.
The Newest Updates and Complications
There have been many critics of this deal, but most recently five former members of Obama’s inner circle of Iran advisers sent a letter to the President last week that expresses their concern that the deal is no longer a good agreement.
They were concerned over a few things:
- The U.S. is compromising on the international inspection of Iran’s facilities
2. The U.S. is backing away from forcing Iran to reveal its past work on weapons that we suspect
3. The U.S. is going to allow research and development that would allow Iran to resume production of nuclear fuel as soon as the deal expires
They say that the agreement as it stands now will not prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability and it won’t require the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear enrichment infrastructure. They acknowledge that it will reduce that infrastructure from 10–15 years and will impose more transparency, inspection and consequences to deter/dissuade Iran from actually building a nuclear weapon.
Some of the peeps who signed the letter:
Dennis B. Ross
Longtime Middle East negotiator who oversaw Iran policy at the White House during Obama’s first term
General David H. Patraeus
Former CIA director who oversaw covert operations against Iran until he resigned two years ago
Longtime State Department nuclear proliferation expert who helped plan and enforce the sanctions against Iran, now works at Brookings Institute (think tank)
Obama’s former chief adviser on nuclear policy who is now the president of United Against Nuclear Iran
General James E. Cartwright
Former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an architect of Mr. Obama’s effort to build up military forces in the middle east
Stephen J. Hadley
President Bush’s national security advisor who was in charge of slowing Iran’s nuclear progress
The negotiations that ended in April were still really vague about how the inspections would work other than Iran signing an IAEA convention giving inspectors really broad rights to investigate suspicious sites.
The letter said that inspections need to include military facilities as well including the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ facilities. “Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site anywhere in the country.” Iran has a history of conducting nuclear development in secret and lying to inspectors, so this is a deal-breaker for many negotiators on the Western-side of the talks.
The letter says that inspectors have to be able to take samples, interview scientists and government officials, inspect sites and review and copy documents to investigate Iran’s past and ongoing nuclear weaponization activities. All of that needs to happen before any sanctions are relieved.
But last week Secretary of State John Kerry said it wasn’t necessary to make Iran account for evidence of past efforts to work on weapons designs because the U.S. and its allies already had absolute knowledge of those activities. But the advisers who signed the letter think that making Iran answer those questions are vital.
The letter also calls for strict limits on centrifuge research and development, testing, and deployment in the first ten years. Some limits were talked about in April but the details weren’t laid out.
Israel has never been into this deal
Israel is one of our most important allies, and Israel and Iran are enemies, so that complicates this deal a lot. Certain leaders in Iran have also literally called for the destruction of Israel, so you can see why Israel is so against any deal that does anything but completely dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
In March 2015, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech on the floor of Congress, urging against signing this deal with Iran.
Iran’s showing signs of backing away
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, appeared to back away from several preliminary understandings reached between Iran and the P5 + 1 in April. He issued a new set of demands on June 23, just a week before the deal is supposed to be reached.
He said sanctions imposed on Iran should be lifted immediately after a deal is signed. He also said “hell no” to freezing Iran’s nuclear research and development for an extended period of time. The U.S. and its negotiating partners insist that Iran’s nuclear R&D be restricted for at last 10 years and that sanctions will only be lifted gradually as Iran complies with the deal, not all at once.
The deadline is probably not going to be met
It’s looking like the deadline that negotiators set for themselves to come to a full agreement, July 1, is going to be ignored and the talks are probably going to continue past Tuesday.
“I think it’s fair to say the parties are planning to stay past the 30th to keep negotiating as we have always said we may have to.” — State Department official
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif flew back to Iran last week to consult with his government about the talks. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Zarif Saturday June 27 morning in Vienna (where the talks about being held). They met for an hour and a half and after Kerry said “I think it’s fair to say that we’re hopeful. We have work to do, there are some very tough issues and I think we all look forward to getting to the final effort here to see whether or not a deal is possible. I think everybody would like to see an agreement. But we have to work through some difficult issues.”
What happens if the deadline isn’t met?
This is a big deal because under a law that was passed by Congress in April, the White House has to deliver an agreement to Congress by July 9 for a 30-day review. If the White House fails to do that, Congress has 60 days to consider and potentially block the agreement.
Bonus: Your guide to understanding with words like enrichment, uranium and centrifuges mean
To understand what parts of the deal mean you need to know how nuclear bombs are made.
Two ways to make a nuclear bomb
A nuclear bomb can be made from two types of radioactive material:
Uranium or Plutonium.
Uranium has a teeeeny amount of this radioactive isotope that is used to make nuclear reactors and bombs, and to extract that radioactive part of the Uranium you need this thing called a centrifuge. That entire process of extracting the radioactive isotope in Uranium is called enrichment.
The other way to make a nuclear bomb is by making Plutonium. Plutonium is made by doing this process called irradiation to uranium which transforms uranium into plutonium.
For most nuclear power reactors, you need Uranium that’s enriched up to 5%. For nuclear bombs, you need Uranium that is enriched up to 90%. Iran has been enriching Uranium up to 20%.