In the early hours of November 24, Iran signed an historic accord with the so-called P5+1—the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany—to freeze construction of its Arak plutonium reactor and constrain its nuclear fuel production. The interim agreement, reached in Geneva, goes well beyond what had been seriously proposed during past decades of nuclear discussions, and overnight, the international media narrative seemed to change. The Islamic Republic that had been “one year from the bomb” for more than a decade was suddenly “six months away” from making truly historic strides toward changing nuclear history.
Known as the “Joint Plan of Action,” the agreement is intended to temporarily freeze parts of Iran’s nuclear program, while reducing operations in other facets. The deal is fairly straightforward: Iran will keep its existing usable centrifuges; however, the Islamic Republic can neither install new centrifuges nor start up centrifuges that are not in use. According to the agreement, Iran cannot enrich its nuclear fuel to contain more than 5 percent uranium 235—the level generally used in commercial nuclear power plants—and, with its entire stockpile of fuel enriched to 20 percent, it must dilute it or convert it to a form not considered to be weapons-grade. Over the upcoming six months, Iran will also allow daily camera checks at its nuclear facilities. If Iran takes these steps, experts estimate, the time it would take for the country to have a usable nuclear weapon—or “break out”—could be increased by weeks. In return, the P5+1 countries have agreed to loosen some economic sanctions, providing Iran with up to an estimated $7 billion in relief.
This six-month window is intended to give negotiators time to design a more comprehensive agreement to stop the construction of the Arak plutonium reactor and to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is one that is purely peaceful in nature.
The major powers and Iran have hailed the agreement as a major step forward, but not every country was ready to drop the ticker tape for the P5+1 parade: Unnamed Saudi officials told CNN that their government was very concerned that Iran “is not being sincere” in the negotiations, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately rejected the agreement, charging that it was an “historic mistake” that made the world a more dangerous place.
The Bulletin turned to prominent nuclear weapons experts for their assessments of the Geneva accord. Though many agreed the deal was a confident first step, a number expressed concerns on what the deal lacked to be truly herculean, and others commented on the arduous road that lies ahead to reach a weapons-free Iran.