What is the Iran Nuclear Deal.
The Iran Nuclear Deal is framework officially titled “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) signed in 2015 after two years of intense negotiations by Iran and several world powers, the US, UK, Russia, France, China, and Germany being lead by the US under Barack Obama. The aim of the deal was to stop Iran from ultimately producing nuclear weapons — a growing fear at the time by international powers — by reducing their ability to produce plutonium and uranium. In return for Iran agreeing to the Iran Nuclear Deal economic sanctions on the country were lifting.
The key elements of the original deal included:
To power nuclear power plants (NPP) U-235 at a concentration of 3–4% is required. To produce a nuclear bomb a concentration of 90% is required. The process of enrichment involves feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges to separate out the most fissile isotope — U-235. The concern was that Iran in 2015 had almost 20,000 centrifuges across two locations — Natanz and Fordo — and it was thought that with so many it would be hard to ensure that only U-235 for nuclear energy was produced and not for nuclear weapons. The “Iron Nuclear Deal” limits the number of centrifuges that Iran can have to 5,060 and that these centrifuges should be the oldest, least efficient ones from Natanz.
Additionally Iran’s nuclear stockpile must also be reduced by 90% to 300kg and it must maintain a level of enrichment below 3.67%. The additional low-level uranium is being transferred to Russia and the Fordo site is to be used for R&D and to produce radioisotopes for use in medicine.
Spent fuel from a heavy-water reactor contains plutonium suitable for a nuclear bomb. Iran are currently in the process of building a heavy-water NPP near the town of Arak. Under the agreement Iran has been subjected to a re-design and the majority of the heavy-water produced is to be shipped to the US via third a country. Some of the heavy-water will be retained to make medical isotopes.
Verification and Validation
As part of the deal Iran is expected to allow inspectors from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Authority) access to any site that they deem ‘suspicious’ with the aim of stopping Iran from building a nuclear programme in secret. For the 15 years of the agreement Iran has 24-hours to comply with any such request.
The US in 2015 estimated that if Iran decided to push to make a bomb as quickly as possible that it would take 2–3 months with their 20,000 centrifuges before it had enough 90% enriched uranium U-235 — the time is named the “break-out time”. The aim of the Iran Deal is to increase the break-out time to 12 months or more.
In December 2015 the IAEA stated that there are “no credible indications” of weapons development by Iran post-2009.
The lifting of economic sanctions
In order to try to put a stop to the enrichment of uranium by Iran in the years running up to the Iran Nuclear Deal crippling sanctions were imposed on Iran by the US, UN and EU. It is reported that this cost Iran £110b in oil revenue from 2012–2016. The agreement was set to release around $100b dollars in frozen assets and enable them to resume selling oil on international markets and trading on the global financial trade market.
One of the terms of the Iran Nuclear Deal is that any violation of the agreement from Iran will result in a reinstatement of the previous sanctions for 10 years with an option to extend the sanctions for a further 5 years.
“Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off. This deal is not built on trust. It is built on verification.” Barack Obama.
One of the key terms in the agreement to provide this verification is that certification that Iran is complying with the agreement must be sent to Congress every 90 days.
Enter stage left Donald Trump…
Trump has been very vocal in his criticisms of the deal going to town on Twitter by using terms such as “the best deal of any kind in history [for Iran]”, “catastrophry that must be stopped”, “dumbest and most dangerous misjudgements ever entered into in history of our country”, “a direct national threat”.
Furthermore during his presidential campaign Trump labelled the deal “the highest level of incompetence” as it made Iran a “World Power” when in fact they “weren’t even going to be much of a threat” as “they were dying” due to the crippling economic sanctions that were placed on them at the time.
The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has since threatened that the US would pay a “high cost” if it backs out of the agreement following a comment on Twitter from Donald Trump saying that Obama was “kind” to Iran but “not me” stating that “Iran is playing with Fire”.
Twitter and mud slinging aside Trump is concerned that the deal is too lenient on Iran and says that parts of the agreement have been broken, including heavy-water limits and access to international inspectors. Furthermore stating that he will not re-certify the agreement. This has been met by criticism from the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini who said that there have been “no violations” and insisted that the deal can be re-negotiated.
Trump has announced that he will not be re-certifying the deal on 15th October. What this does is start a very very complicated process in which Congress has 60 days to decide what to do; nothing, re-impose sanctions or — what Trumps is pushing for — look at ways to amend the deal to “address its many flaws”. If the US chose to re-impose sanctions they will be in violation of the agreement and it may mean that Iran will renege on there end of the bargain also.
So what next?
This is of much debate and is hitting the headlines at the moment in time. Experts are very much divided and it is not clear, even from Trump himself, what the next moves will be.
Whatever the next couple of months brings one thing is certain that the US is in another foreign policy debacle under the Trump administration. The relationship between the US and Iran is being tested and is something that will remain regardless of the continuation of the Iran Nuclear Deal in any form going forward — or not.