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For decades, the international community has been living in fear of Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The West has shown its frustration in the clandestine nuclear operations stemming from Tehran by establishing extensive economic sanctions against Iran. This summer, however, the world has been anxiously awaiting a deal to come from negotiations between Iran and six world powers (P5+1) in Vienna. Failing to meet deadline after deadline, it appeared to many that the diplomatic process would fail to result in any meaningful agreement between the two sides, but President Obama announced last Tuesday that a landmark deal has been reached.
Although Western powers like the US, France, and Germany once provided assistance and even a nuclear reactor to Iran for the purpose of developing nuclear energy, opposition to its nuclear program led by the US broadened after Iran’s Islamic Revolution and its role in the hostage crisis gave way to doubts about the peaceful intent of the program. This opposition quickly drove the program underground, though it continued to grow as the more nuclear-friendly Ayatollah Khamenei took power.
Over the years, Iran has built a vast network of enrichment plants, conversion sites, and research reactors, all of which the country attributes to nuclear energy usage despite vast, incriminating evidence that it has its sights set on building nuclear weapons. In August 2002, a London-based Iranian opposition group disclosed details about a secret heavy-water production plant at Arak. In 2003, the IAEA first reported that Iran had not disclosed sensitive enrichment and reprocessing materials. The CIA in 2008 discovered Iran’s Green Salt project, a secret uranium-processing program which featured high-explosives testing. Finally, in February of 2010, Iran announced plans to heighten the enrichment levels of existing uranium stockpiles, prompting president Ahmadinejad to declare the country to be a “nuclear state.” Iran has consistently denied its intentions to develop a nuclear arsenal despite this kind of damning evidence and various findings by inspectors like the IAEA, who in February of 2010 confirmed Iran’s nuclear capabilities and its plans for building a missile-ready warhead.
The UN Security Council began imposing sanctions in 2006 after Iran refused to suspend its uranium enrichment program, though the US and EU join the Council in attempting to cut off global economic ties to Iran. These sanctions have been at least partly successful, prompting Iran to join the negotiating table in hopes for a reprieve on many of them. Last week’s negotiations mark the culmination of these talks, as the P5+1 and Iran have reached a deal that would prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. Iran is set to dismantle most of its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for a suspension or cancellation of the various sanctions brought upon the country by the UN, EU, and US.
In Obama’s address to the public, he claimed that the deal will eliminate “every pathway” for Tehran to build nuclear weapons and said the deal demonstrates how American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change. He added that the deal will implement an inspection and transparency regime in Iran and will eliminate the possibility of Iran producing the highly-enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium necessary for a nuclear bomb. Specifically, the deal requires Iran to remove 2/3 of its installed centrifuges, machines to produce highly-enriched uranium, and prohibits Iran from using its centrifuges to produce highly-enriched uranium for 10 years. Iran will also get rid of 98% of its stockpile of enriched uranium for 15 years, alter its major nuclear reactor in Arak so it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium, and will not build any new heavy water reactors within the same time frame. Throughout his speech, Obama made it clear that this deal will not rely on trust of Iran and its government but rather on verification by outside officials and inspectors who will assure that Iran complies with the agreement. These transparency measures will be in place for 25 years, and they allow inspectors from the IAEA 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities.
Although a nuclear deal with Iran seems long overdue to many, it has not been met with universal acclaim. Critics include many in Congress, primarily Republicans, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who claims the deal is a “capitulation.” To be sure, the deal is not perfect. The agreement has given into many of Iran’s demands in that the West will essentially eliminate its sanctions, an action that will empower Iran economically, perhaps giving the country the wealth it needs to continue to covertly build its nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, the deal will only temporarily stop Iran’s nuclear operations and will almost assuredly require further negotiation in the near future, for many of the actions Iran will take to dismantle its program are only mandated for the next 10-25 years.
Perhaps the most glaring omitted element of the agreement is that Iran’s major nuclear facilities remain in place, infrastructure critical to its nuclear capabilities. Obama will have only 60 days to convince a skeptical congress to accept this deal, though he has promised that he will veto any attempt to undermine its implementation. The world unanimously agrees that the deal from Vienna is historic, but the verdict is still out on its potential efficacy. For now, its future remains uncertain, and the international community must again wait to see how events in Washington play out.
Written by Cole Blum, Sophmore, UNC Chapel Hill (WACC Intern – Summer 2015)