The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known simply as “the Iran Deal,” has been the subject of much attention this week. Despite extensive controversy, it will most likely be implemented later this month. The deal contains both definite benefits and concerns for U.S. interests.
The agreement would reduce Iran’s number of active uranium centrifuges from 10,000 to roughly 6,000, and its enriched uranium stockpile from about five tons to 300 kilograms. Iran will also repurpose the IR-40 reactor near Arak and abandon the production of weapons-grade plutonium, which is more dangerous than uranium.
Currently, Iran has a “breakout time” (the minimum time necessary to develop enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon) of two to three months. The goal of the restrictions is to extend Iran’s breakout time to at least a year.
The inactive centrifuges and equipment would be removed and stored under the scrutiny of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), although Iran would retain ownership of them. The IAEA would also have greater access to relevant information and be able to make more inspections of declared nuclear-related sites.
In exchange, Iran will receive relief from almost all international sanctions and have approximately $20 billion to $180 billion of its assets unfrozen. All United Nations Security Council Resolutions declaring Iran’s nuclear program to be illegal will be repealed. Iran will also be allowed to continue nuclear research of a peaceful nature. Iran would be able to delay IAEA inspections of suspected illicit sites for an unclear period of time.
If they are believed to have violated the terms of the deal, the JCPOA outlines a “dispute resolution mechanism,” a multi-step review process lasting up to 35 days, in which Iran would participate equally with the P5+1, which is made up of China, France, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. If necessary, the case would then be referred to the UN Security Council. Russia and China – members of the Security Council – are on friendly terms with Iran and stand to earn billions of dollars from trade with Iran after the sanctions are lifted.
Members of Congress and community leaders have spoken out against the deal, pointing specifically to the clause referencing snap back sanctions. Essentially, “snap back” sanctions are a reimplementation of sanctions in the event that Iran is determined to have broken any of the premises of the deal. The individuals wanted to see that the US had to power to reinstate sanctions if necessary to limit Iran’s capabilities. However, the deal prevents any of the Security Council members from vetoing the United State’s ability to “snap back” sanctions.
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the agreement, the so-called “sunset,” would leave Iranian nuclear development virtually unlimited at the end of 15 years. Not directly related to the nuclear program, but also troubling, is the lifting of embargoes on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles in five and eight years, respectively.
Beyond the deal itself, there are likely consequences that should be carefully considered. The U.S. Department of State still designates Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. A significant portion of its new revenue, to say nothing of weapons, are likely to be channeled toward terrorist organizations like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine and the Houthis in Yemen, as well as Assad’s Syrian regime, also a state sponsor of terror.
Islamic sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia believers have propelled much of the conflict wracking the region. This hostility is only likely to be inflamed by the largely Shiite Iran.
America’s regional allies, Israel and the (predominately Sunni) Gulf monarchies, are threatened by Iranian militancy, and their relationships with us are under strain. There is also a concern that rising Iranian power could spark an arms race (nuclear or otherwise) within the already unstable region.
Clearly, this deal is problematic. However, it will almost certainly go into effect later this month. The question is not whether and to what extent we like it, but what we should do with it once it is in effect. There are real benefits to American interests, at least in the short term.
Its more dubious aspects call for ongoing vigilance and proactivity. Even congressmen who oppose the deal should try to find ways to work with President Obama, the plan’s greatest champion, to ensure that they can play an active role in monitoring the situation. Their additional scrutiny and dissenting voices may well prevent disaster.
The issues at stake, for both the U.S. and the world, are so much bigger than political partisanship. Although there is fervent disagreement about how best to accomplish peace, our leaders do really share the goals of securing our nation and preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
If they can unite for these common purposes, they may yet make the best of a bad deal.