The Iran crisis: deal or no deal?

by Jonathan Huang staff writer


The Iran nuclear deal developed in Vienna this past July after years of diplomacy and a final marathon of negotiation among senior diplomats from the six world powers: U.S., China, Russia, the U.K., France and Iran. The powers convened as early as 2006 to discourage Iran from uranium enrichment and processing.

The highly technical nuclear agreement aims to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon in exchange for the lifting of crippling two-decade-old economic sanctions that the U.N., the EU and the U.S. imposed following the Iranian Revolution. Specific action steps in the agreement include:

1. Reduction of Radioactive Materials Production: Under the agreement, Iran is obligated to curb the production and accumulation of two radioactive (and potentially weapons-grade) materials: uranium and plutonium. Iran must convert Fordow Facility, a suspected site of covert uranium-enrichment, into a center for scientific research. Additionally, the Natanz uranium-enrichment plant can continue to operate for 10 years, although with no more than roughly 5,000 of its oldest and least efficient centrifuges, which is about half its current number.

2. Limitation of Enriched

Uranium: The agreement also limits the enrichment concentration percentage and the amassing of enriched uranium. Iran can enrich U-235 to no higher than the minimal 3.67 percent norm for civilian purposes (such as fueling power plants). This is much lower than the 90 percent needed to produce a nuclear weapon. The deal also requires that this stockpile of low-enriched uranium will cap at 660 pounds, for 15 years (2 percent of its current stockpile; the 98 percent surplus will potentially be shipped to Russia).

3. Prevention of Weapons-grade Plutonium Production: As for the plutonium, the agreement spells out obligations for Iran to modify its Arak heavy-water reactor so it cannot acquire weapons-grade plutonium, which is a converted byproduct of uranium fuel used to power the reactor. Current remaining spent fuel will also be carted out of the country.

4. Submission to Surveillance Program: Finally, the most critical component of the agreement is the installment of a comprehensive surveillance program implemented by the global nuclear-activity watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This organization will have “extraordinary and robust” access to suspicious Iranian facilities and allegations of covert sites according to a White House fact sheet. The sheet describes the inspections:

“[The IAEA] will not only be continuously monitoring every element of Iran’s declared nuclear program, but they will also be verifying that no fissile material is covertly carted off to a secret location to build a bomb. And if IAEA inspectors become aware of a suspicious location, Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol to their IAEA Safeguards Agreement, which will allow inspectors to access and inspect any site they deem suspicious.”

The bottom line is this: if Iran honors the deal, it will not be able to obtain the kind of fissile material needed for a bomb and the international community can approve of its non-military nuclear program. And if Iran fails to pull its weight, Secretary of State John Kerry says, “It will regret breaking any promise it has made.”

To read the entire Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, visit eb/tfs/spi/iran/jcpoa/

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