Iran’s Nuclear Deal

During the ensuing days and weeks since the six month nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Germany) was agreed upon in Geneva, Switzerland, there has been an overwhelming sentiment of pessimism and chagrin from many American, Israeli, and Arab officials who have written this agreement off as a historically bad deal. Some of their objections are:

1) The sanctions that are being suspended in addition to this six month window is allowing Iran to: a) strengthen its economy, b) further advance its nuclear program, and c) further advance its regional hegemonic ambitions.

2) The P5+1, specifically the United States, need to impose further sanctions on Iran in order to keep the pressure on the Islamic Republic.

3) There is no mention within this agreement about Iran’s military advancements. Particularly about their plans to build missiles, rockets, and other military projectile devices used to deliver an atomic warhead.

Each one of these critiques will be dissected in this paper, but not before the agreement[1] is examined:

Iran would undertake the following voluntary measures:

  • From the existing uranium enriched to 20%, retain half as working stock of 20% oxide for fabrication of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Dilute the remaining 20% UF6 to no more than 5%. No reconversion line.
  • Iran announces that it will not enrich uranium over 5% for the duration of the 6 months.
  • Iran announces that it will not make any further advances of its activities at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant[2], Fordow[3], or the Arak reactor[4], designated by the IAEA as IR-40.
  • Beginning when the line for conversion of UF6[5] enriched up to 5% to UO2[6] is ready, Iran has decided to convert to oxide UF6 newly enriched up to 5% during the 6 month period, as provided in the operational schedule of the conversion plant declared to the IAEA.
  • No new locations for the enrichment.
  • Iran will continue its safeguarded R&D practices, including its current enrichment R&D practices, which are not designed for accumulation of the enriched uranium.
  • No reprocessing or construction of a facility capable of reprocessing.
  • Enhanced monitoring:
    • Provision of specified information to the IAEA, including information on Iran’s plans for nuclear facilities, a description of each building on each nuclear site, a description of the scale of operations for each location engaged in specified nuclear activities, information on uranium mines and mills, and information on source material. This information would be provided within three months of the adoption of these measures.
    • Submission of an updated DIQ for the reactor at Arak, designated by the IAEA as the IR-40, to the IAEA.
    • Steps to agree with the IAEA on conclusion of the Safeguards Approach for the reactor at Arak, designated by the IAEA as the IR-40.
    • Daily IAEA inspector access when inspectors are not present for the purpose of Design Information Verification, Interim Inventory Verification, Physical Inventory Verification, and unannounced inspections, for the purpose of access to offline surveillance records, at Fordow and Natanz.
    • IAEA inspector managed access to:
      • Centrifuge assembly workshops[7]
      • Centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities
      • Uranium mines and mills

In return, the E3/EU+3 would undertake the following voluntary measures:

  • On Sanctions:
    • Pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales, enabling Iran’s current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil. Enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad. For such oil sales, suspend the EU and U.S. sanctions on associated insurance and transportation services.
    • Suspend U.S. and EU sanctions on:
      • Iran’s petrochemical exports, as well as sanctions on associated services.[8]
      • Gold and precious metals, as well as sanctions on associated services.
    • Suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran’s auto industry, as well as sanctions on associated services.
    • License the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for safety of flight for Iranian civil aviation and associated services. License safety related inspections and repairs in Iran as well as associated services.[9]
    • No new nuclear-related UN Security Council sanctions.
    • No new EU nuclear-related sanctions.
    • The U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.
  • Establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade for Iran’s domestic needs using Iranian oil revenues held abroad. Humanitarian trade would be defined as transactions involving food and agricultural products, medicine, medical devices, and medical expenses incurred abroad. This channel would involve specified foreign banks and non-designated Iranian banks to be defined when establishing the channel.
    • This channel could also enable:
      • Transactions required to pay Iran’s UN obligations
      • Direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad, up to an agreed amount for the six month period.
  • Increase the EU authorization thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.

As I have closely watched the conversations surrounding this deal I have found it most fascinating how the arguments are not consistently and comprehensively  compatible. In other words, argument number 3 is a valid concern and requires serious attention. However, in the same breath arguments 1 and 2 carry no serious concern. Furthermore, as the critics stand firmly on their assertions they fail to offer any realistic and achievable alternative.

1-a) Iran’s economy gaining strength from sanction relief only has a real positive effect on the Iranian people. The Islamic Republic is a very wealthy government and has maintained its own status quo throughout this entire ordeal. In fact, the lifting of (all) sanctions is a high priority for President Rouhani, as well as the Islamic Republic, because as the days go by and these sanctions maintain – and increase – the Iranian people will grow increasingly weary and frustrated thus increasing the possibility of another series of domestic problems, such as boycotts, protests, demonstrations, and so on. The domestic politics within Iran has played a serious role in why the Islamic Republic has agreed to this deal. This factor must not be overlooked nor underestimated. I cannot stress enough how important this is and how surprised I am that no one outside of Iran is talking about this. With the regional and international pressures on the regime the last thing the Islamic Republic needs now is to have domestic instability as well. This is one serious factor as to why I believe the regime will follow through on its end of the deal.

1-b) In 2003, Iran presented a nuclear deal to the Bush Administration which was ultimately declined. An agreement that many, if not all, experts saw as a great deal. At that time Iran had less than a thousand centrifuges[10]. To date, that number has gone up tenfold, if not more. What is another six months when considering for the past ten years Iran has made serious advancements with its nuclear program? Moreover, with the IAEA inspectors expected to visit Iran’s Arak facility on Sunday, December the 8th sets a positive sign that Iran is taking this agreement seriously. And if the Islamic Republic upholds the other facets of the deal (it has barely been two weeks since the deal and it is very early to tell but thus far there are a lot of signs suggesting that the Islamic Republic will hold its end of the deal) then the rate with which Iran has been making advancements over the past ten years will decrease.

1-c) As mentioned above, the Islamic Republic would like to lessen the tension with its own people; the same can be said with its Gulf neighbors. Iran foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has been making trips and meetings with his Gulf counter parts, at the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, in order to strengthen ties and reassure them that Iran “gives high importance to its relations with [its] neighbors.”[11] This gesture by the Islamic Republic shows that not only is the regime concerned about its position within the region but also, maintaining good relations is vital for their own security. Therefore, attempting to leverage their nuclear program as a way to further strengthen their hegemonic agenda is self-defeating on multiple levels.

2) The sanctions that are being suspended or paused are minute compared to the already existing sanctions that will continue to be in effect throughout these six months. Also, if Iran falls back on its agreement the suspended sanctions will be reinstated, and more than likely new and tougher sanctions will follow. Furthermore, if the United States (or any other entity) imposes newer sanctions within these six months that will show a clear sign of bad faith and give the Islamic Republic a green light to null the agreement and revert back to its plans before this deal. History as shown that these two countries (US and Iran) do not trust each other, and with an opportunity to prove the contrary Washington cannot and must not impose new sanctions – unless given a reason to by Tehran. Ultimately, these next six months is a courtship for both Washington and Tehran to prove to the other that there is a possibility for positive change.

3) There is a legitimate concern that Iran has time to build up its military equipment. However, the four arguments I have made above shows that Iran is at a point where sidestepping this issue will only create deeper problems on a domestic, regional, and international level. Of course there will always be critics who will point out the shortcomings and shortcuts within this agreement. But with all the energy and attention that is given to restating the problems there is little talk about a realistic alternative. The Obama administration is heavily criticized for agreeing to such a deal but in all actuality every individual examining this agreement from the outside has very limited information compared to those who were sitting at that table. For instance, there were a number of bi-lateral discussions behind closed doors parallel and in congruence to the nuclear negotiations between Iran and its counterparts, which shows that there is a much deeper level of communication and information exchange that these critics do not have access to. Therefore, a six month period to test everyone’s good faith and have all parties to this agreement fulfill their end of the deal in order to graduate to the next level of negotiations and avoid a more escalated alternative is a good step in the right direction.


[2] Namely, during the 6 months, Iran will not feed UF6 into the centrifuges installed but not enriching uranium. Not install additional centrifuges. Iran announces that during the first 6 months, it will replace existing centrifuges with centrifuges of the same type.

[3] At Fordow, no further enrichment over 5% at 4 cascades now enriching uranium, and not increase enrichment capacity. Not feed UF6 into the other 12 cascades, which would remain in a non-operative state. No interconnections between cascades. Iran announces that during the first 6 months, it will replace existing centrifuges with centrifuges of the same type.

[4] Iran announces on concerns related to the construction of the reactor at Arak that for 6 months it will not commission the reactor or transfer fuel or heavy water to the reactor site and will not test additional fuel or produce more fuel for the reactor or install remaining components.

[5] “Uranium hexafluoride is used in the uranium enrichment process that produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UF6)

[6] “Uranium dioxide is a black, radioactive, crystalline powder that naturally occurs in the mineral uraninite and is used as nuclear fuel in nuclear reactors.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UO2)

[7] Consistent with its plans, Iran’s centrifuge production during the 6 months will be dedicated to replace damaged machines.

[8] “Sanctions on associated services” means any service, such as insurance, transportation, or financial, subject to the underlying U.S. or EU sanctions applicable, insofar as each service is related to the underlying sanction and required to facilitate the desired transactions. These services could involve any non-designated Iranian entities.

[9] Sanctions relief could involve any non-designated Iranian airlines as well as Iran Air.

[10] A centrifuge is a device used to separate isotopes until the desired isotope is extracted and concentrated in order to enrich uranium. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrifuge)

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