The negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program resulted in an historic agreement (July 14, 2015), according to which Iran will accept limitations on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Some of the limitations will be lifted after 10 years and others after 15, (after which Iran will be free to enrich uranium as it wishes, unless a new agreement is achieved). According to the agreement:
- Iran can maintain up to 300 kg of enriched uranium (low enriched, suitable only for civilian purposes), and will be allowed to retain only 2 percent of its pre-deal stock for the next 15 years.
- Iran will limit the number of active centrifuges by two thirds and will be allowed to operate 5,060 units. This means Iran will need at least a year to break out and enrich enough uranium to a high enough level (90%) for one atomic weapon.
- The core of the heavy water reactor at Arak will be replaced so that Iran will be prevented from pursuing a plutonium-based weapon.
- The facility at Fordow will not enrich uranium rather it will be converted to a nuclear research facility devoid of enriched material.
- Monitoring will be allowed at all nuclear facilities, including military bases.
- Moreover, Iran will sign the Additional Protocol to the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), which will apply a more invasive inspection regime on its nuclear facilities.
The lifting of sanctions is expected in early 2016, subject to authorization (essentially promised already) by the UN Security Council. Moreover, subject to authorization from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed completely civilian in nature and not military – there will be a gradual lifting of the arms embargo in place today on Iran. If Iran is found to be in violation of its commitments, a “snap-back” mechanism will be activated to put international sanctions back in place.
The United States Congress was afforded 60 days to authorize or reject the agreement. Even if Congress decides bring the authorization to a vote (this is not necessary according to the law passed following the compromise with the White House), it will need a two-thirds majority to override the president’s veto. (The President clearly stated immediately following the signing of the agreement that he will, if needed, exercise this veto power.)
Those supporting the agreement stress that it pushes back Iran’s breakout capability to create a nuclear weapon. Without the agreement, Iran can create a weapon within two or three months’ time, whereas now, this process would take at least a year. Moreover, through unprecedented verification measures, the U.S. will be able to detect if the agreement is breached, reinstate sanctions, and if need be, use military force.
Those opposing the agreement claim that at most, it delays Iran’s building a nuclear bomb. According to them, not one centrifuge will be dismantled and not one facility in Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will be closed, including the nuclear facility hidden inside of a mountain at Fordow. The agreement grants legitimacy to Iran’s nuclear program and establishes it as a threshold nuclear state. The cumbersome inspection regime leaves Iran with ample time to hide suspicious evidence from inspectors. Even more so, the agreement does not refer to Iran’s ballistic missile program, the Tehran-directed violent subversion throughout the Middle East, or Iran’s threats to wipe Israel off the map. The agreement’s critics further warn that the lifting of sanctions and releasing of tens of billions of frozen dollars to Iran will allow Iran to increase its campaign of regional subversion and support for terror groups.
From the outset, the Obama administration’s goal was to change the nature of Iran’s nuclear program so that it could not pursue a nuclear weapon. The intent was to leave Iran with an infrastructure that allows it a peaceful nuclear program (research, medical purposes, etc.), while interdicting its military nuclear infrastructure. In this spirit, Obama clarified during a presidential debate with Mitt Romney (October 22, 2012): “Our goal is to force Iran to recognize that it must give up its nuclear program and fulfill UNSC resolutions… the agreement we will receive will be one that stops Iran’s nuclear program.”4
However, throughout his second term, President Obama’s administration radically changed the defined goals vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program and decided to focus on ensuring that the breakout time Iran needs to create a weapon, if it decides to do so, will be extended to a year. The U.S. abandoned its original position, and thus agreed that Iran would maintain a military nuclear infrastructure, a reality the U.S. had previously rejected outright. Moreover, the U.S., which had also stressed that a military option remained on the table, clarified as time passed that it did not view a military strike as an effective way of halting Iran’s nuclear program.
The announcement of a framework agreement was already met with harsh criticism. An early April Wall Street Journal op-ed by Henry Kissinger and George Shultz was particularly scathing: “Yet negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.” They went on to note that “Iran’s centrifuges have multiplied from 100 at the beginning of the negotiation to almost 20,000 today.”5
Israeli reactions to the agreement itself have been unabashedly critical (also in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries), and reflect a general consensus in both the governing coalition and the opposition. Prime Minister Netanyahu announced: “What a stunning, historic mistake. Israel is not bound by this deal with Iran because Iran continues to seek our destruction.”6
There is currently and opening for Israel to engage in dialogue with the U.S. to try to translate into practical terms President Obama’s statement that, “I (am) absolutely committed to making sure that they maintain their qualitative military edge, and that they can deter any potential future attacks… a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.”7 However, above everything, now that the agreement has been signed, the Israeli government must decide if it is going to accept the new reality it considers an “existential threat,” or if it will operate in keeping with the prime minister’s statement that, “Israel cannot accept an agreement that leaves Iran a threshold nuclear state.”8