14 July 2015

The experts assess the Iran agreement of 2015

John Mecklin

John Mecklin

John Mecklin is the editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Previously, Mecklin was editor-in-chief of Miller-McCune (since renamed Pacific Standard),...


After serially breaking a variety of self-imposed deadlines, six world powers and Iran reached agreement on plans for long-term limits on the Iranian nuclear program and the easing of international economic sanctions on that country. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (or P5+1) and Iran signed off on the complex agreement, more than 80 pages in length, Tuesday in Vienna. Negotiations were slowed for days by disagreements about the timing of sanctions relief, the degree of access international inspectors would gain to Iranian military sites, and, particularly, a UN ban on conventional weapons sales to Iran, which includes a ban on ballistic missile-related transactions.

The agreement reached this week places restrictions on a broad array of Iranian nuclear activities—including uranium enrichment and plutonium separation—and calls for the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor the country's nuclear sites. The restrictions and monitoring regime aim to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. As the restrictions take effect, a complex regimen of economic sanctions against Iran will start to be unwound.

The agreement will almost certainly face contentious US congressional review and heated debate around the world. The Bulletin has asked top international security experts with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds to offer their assessments of the agreement. Their comments will be published over the course of several days, as they have time to study the complex, lengthy, and unprecedented document.

Invited Expert Commentary

Frank von Hippel
senior research physicist and professor of public and international affairs emeritus
Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
27 July 2015

The July 14 agreement is a political miracle. The diplomats negotiated in a spirit of mutual respect and achieved enough trust to turn the corner from escalation to de-escalation. Iran has agreed to back away from the nuclear-weapon threshold in exchange for a lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.

It came despite the high level of distrust between Iran and the United States based on our poisonous recent history. The CIA supported the overthrow of Iran’s nascent democracy in 1953. And Iranian militants held US diplomats and citizens hostage from 1979 to 1981. The easiest path politically on both sides would have been for the United States to continue to tighten sanctions and for Iran to defiantly go in exactly the direction we don’t want—closer to a weapons capability.

It would have been even better if Iran had decided that it did not need a uranium enrichment program at all. But 12 years of escalation have shown that was not an option. Also, it is too predictable that an Iranian decision to abandon its enrichment program would have been greeted in the United States as a victory for sanctions and an invitation to make additional demands. If this agreement works, agreements may be possible down the road, further reducing the proliferation potential of Iran’s nuclear program. But for now, this is the best that could be hoped for.

The Obama administration argues—and I agree—that the ratcheting back of Iran’s enrichment capacity will give the world a much longer warning time should Iran attempt to build a bomb. If Iran should decide to start producing weapon-grade highly enriched uranium, it would take about a year before it could accumulate enough for a first bomb. Iran also has agreed to modify the Arak research reactor so that if would take several years to produce and separate enough plutonium for a bomb. And, to deal with concerns about clandestine enrichment, Iran has agreed to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections far beyond those that have been accepted by Brazil and Japan, both of which have uranium-enrichment programs.

A major complaint about the agreement is that parts of it are time limited. Most importantly, 10 years out, Iran’s enrichment program could start growing again. This would result in Iran’s breakout time shrinking. There is no guarantee that our trust toward Iran will build up in 10 years to the level we have for Brazil, whose enrichment program was part of a nuclear-weapon effort before 1988, or Japan, where a significant part of the national security establishment sees its plutonium program as a virtual nuclear deterrent against China.

The deal does give us at least 10 years, however, to devise an alternative to Saudi Arabia and other countries developing their own enrichment programs. Urenco, a multinational company controlled by the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, accounts for 60 percent of global enrichment capacity outside of Russia, including the only commercial enrichment plant operating in the United States. One option that should be explored is multinational ownership and management of Iran’s enrichment complex by a group of countries—perhaps including the United States.  

William H. Tobey
senior fellow
Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
21 July 2015

The nuclear deal reached on July 14, 2015 between six world powers and Iran is baffling. It raises many important questions and leaves others unanswered. For example:

Why, if it is dangerous today for Iran to be two months away from a nuclear weapon—as Secretary of State John Kerry patiently explained in Congressional testimony last year—is it acceptable for Tehran to be in such a position 10 to 15 years from now?

Why does the deal undermine existing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) authorities under the Additional Protocol by extending the timeline for inspecting suspect sites from 24 hours to 24 days—or more?

Why, after insisting in an April interview that Iran must come clean on what the IAEA calls the possible military dimensions of its program before a deal is completed, telling journalist Judy Woodruff, not once, but twice, “it will be done,” did Secretary Kerry agree to defer the issue to a future and uncertain resolution in December?

Why would Western negotiators have any confidence that this time Iran will provide a complete and correct declaration to the IAEA with respect to the possible military dimensions of its program, when it has serially failed to do so since 2011?

Why, given the trench warfare over every provision of the deal, the Supreme Leader’s rant that the agreement changes nothing with respect to Iran’s hostility toward the United States and Israel, and President Rouhani’s gloating about how favorable the deal is to his country, would anyone believe that the agreement provides anything more than a speed bump on the path to Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

Why is that speed bump a good trade for at least $150 billion in sanctions relief, access to international arms markets, and international blessing for Iran’s nuclear ambitions at the conclusion of the deal?

Mark Hibbs
senior associate
Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program
20 July 2015

The language of the Iran nuclear agreement is tricky, but there you have it: The “broader conclusion” (BC) is the goal for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification efforts under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached last week by Iran and six world powers. That's to say, at a future time while the JCPOA is in force, the IAEA may pronounce Iran’s nuclear declaration—that it has no undeclared nuclear activities, and that the entire program is for peaceful use—to be both correct and complete.

If all goes according to plan, sometime in the fall of 2023, the European Union and the United States will terminate the second of three tranches of nuclear sanctions against Iran, and Iran will initiate parliamentary ratification of its Additional Protocol for IAEA safeguards. The same day, the JCPOA says, the IAEA director general will submit a report to the IAEA Board of Governors and to the UN Security Council “stating that the IAEA has reached the Broader Conclusion that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities.”

That the BC would be the verification holy grail for Iran wasn’t certain in 2013, when talks began. Some officials prepping negotiators wanted the BC in the final accord as a sine qua non for ending the last remaining sanctions. But some others were doubtful; they argued that Iran had so far to go to explain its murky nuclear past that the IAEA could never award a BC to Iran. So to give an agreement with Iran a chance, they reasoned, it would be better not to use the BC as a yardstick.

The JCPOA looks like a compromise: The powers encourage Iran to get a BC from the IAEA inside of eight years, but if that doesn’t happen, it won’t prevent remaining nuclear sanctions from being terminated. Independent of the BC question, the JCPOA set deadlines for sanctions lifting because Iran, not without reason, feared that its adversaries, particularly Israel, would launch endless allegations against Iran that the IAEA would have to chase down. The deal instead permits Iran to anticipate that the sanctions clock will run out sometime in 2025 with or without a BC in hand from the IAEA.

For the IAEA to arrive at a BC requires a mountain of work, scouring every shred of data it can find on a state’s nuclear history and then putting all of it into a holistic context. Will eight years suffice? For a state like Iran with sensitive fuel cycle activities that may be limited in scope, the process might take six years or so, assuming Iran fully cooperates. Assessing Iran also might take less time because after 12 years of investigation, the IAEA already knows a lot about the country.

The route to a BC in Iran might have a roadblock ahead. The IAEA arrives at a BC during implementation of a state’s Additional Protocol, an enhanced inspection regime that gives the IAEA needed legal authority to get access to information, personnel, and locations beyond what’s allowed in a normal IAEA safeguards agreement. But the JCPOA permits Iran to implement its Additional Protocol without explicitly requiring that it enter into force. That provision is there to permit Iran to leverage its ratification against US lawmakers who may balk at lifting sanctions. Because Iran in the past reneged on voluntary Additional Protocol implementation, in 2013 the powers had foreseen Iran committing to ratify its Additional Protocol inside of one year. In the final agreement, the world powers are betting that, with hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief at stake, and with a mechanism in place to snap sanctions back if Iran doesn’t cooperate, Iran will implement and ratify the protocol in good faith.

Oliver Meier
German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)
20 July 2015

The nuclear deal adopted the E3/EU+3 and Iran on July 14 is a political game changer, in many ways. Successful implementation could pave the way for a reintegration of Iran into the international community. It could foster a more constructive role of Tehran in efforts to tackle some of the many regional security problems. Failure would likely lead to increased isolation of Iran and poison US-Iran relations for many years, if not decades.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) could also provide an urgently needed boost for nuclear non-proliferation efforts. Should Iran for the next 15 to 25 years faithfully restrict its nuclear program and provide additional transparency, suspicions of regional neighbors about Iran’s intentions may be alleviated. The risk of a regional nuclear arms race would decrease. One key milestone in this regard will arrive soon. By December 15, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will deliver a “final assessment” of Iran’s past nuclear weapons-related activities. A transparent, comprehensive account by Tehran of efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability is one litmus test for the JCPOA.

The E3/EU+3 and Iran declare in the JCPOA’s preamble that the agreement “should not be considered as setting precedents for any other state or for fundamental principles of international law and the rights and obligations under the NPT and other relevant instruments.” Legally speaking, this is a wise statement because it limits the applicability of the accord to the unique case of Iran. But at the same time, it is difficult to underestimate the political importance of the JCPOA for global nonproliferation efforts.

Successful implementation of JCPOA over the next 15 to 25 years would set the precedent of a non-compliant state rebuilding international confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, without regime change. Many of the mechanisms and instruments detailed in the JCPOA would surely be reference points for future attempts to resolve similar problems.

The Joint Commission of the E3/EU+3 and Iran is the most innovative part of this overall effort to bring Iran back into the nonproliferation regime. The commission and its technical working groups will simultaneously serve as a clearing-house, a monitoring mechanism, and a decision-making and implementing body. This large and diverse portfolio is likely to complicate proceedings. And great care will have to be taken that the Joint Commission’s decisions do not undermine the authority of the IAEA.

Germany is the only member of the Joint Commission that is a non-nuclear weapon state in good standing under the NPT. Berlin will thus have to represent the interest of the 186 NPT non-nuclear weapon states. Berlin and the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, who will be the commission’s coordinator, bear special responsibility; they will have to counter the impression that NPT nuclear weapon states who are also permanent members of the Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States—exploit their already privileged positions to steer implementation of the JCPOA to suit their interests.

The JCPOA could also demonstrate the effectiveness of nonproliferation instruments that do not yet enjoy universal support. Thus, monitoring and verification hinge on procedures detailed in the Additional Protocol, which Iran has pledged to apply and later ratify. The JCPOA’s implementation plan incentivizes Iran to cooperate with the IAEA beyond the Additional Protocol, so the Agency can draw “broader conclusions” about the absence of undeclared nuclear activities, at an early date. This would strengthen the IAEA’s case for using tailor-made “state level” verification approaches. The JCPOA contains many other novel and important elements that might be emulated. These include the conversion of the heavy water reactor in Arak to a proliferation-resistant design and using international cooperation on nuclear research to reduce the likelihood of military misuse.

To be sure, from the perspective of the global non-proliferation regime the JCPOA also has shortcomings. For example, Tehran has been offered nuclear assistance even before the process of reestablishing international confidence is completed, and even though it will not give up its enrichment plans. This is likely to undermine efforts to convince other states, in the context of nuclear cooperation agreements, to waive the right to reprocess used nuclear fuel and close the nuclear fuel cycle.

The JCPOA will take the NPT into a new era. The nuclear accord carries in it the seeds of a more effective non-proliferation regime. Should the agreement withstand the tests of time, it is likely to be cited in the future as proof that even the toughest non-compliance cases can be resolved through diplomacy, within the NPT framework. Should the deal collapse, the impression could prevail that treaty violations are best dealt with through sanctions and military force. This danger alone justifies every effort to make the JCPOA work.

Emily B. Landau
senior research fellow and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program
Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv
17 July 2015

The nuclear deal concluded with Iran this week—which was meant to close the nuclear file so that, in the words of chief US negotiator Wendy Sherman, Iran would never obtain a nuclear weapon—is a far cry from the stated goals of the US administration when it embarked on this negotiation. In fact, dangerous concessions were made to Iran on almost every important issue, such that the openly aggressive Iranian regime—which views the US as an untrustworthy and arrogant Satan—is being legitimized as a nuclear threshold state. Infrastructure will not be dismantled; the possible military dimensions issue was not resolved; verification of suspicious facilities has been watered down to "managed access"; and research and development will continue on all of the advanced centrifuges that Iran has been working on so far, with a green light for even more advanced models down the road. So when the deal sunsets, or if Iran decides to exercise one of the provisions that enable it to exit the deal before that time, this regime will be poised to move quickly to a military capability. There are little grounds to assume that there will be an effective means to stop Iran at that point.

It must also be said that the US administration’s stance that there was no alternative to every step taken in the negotiation is an opinion, not reality. Indeed the most obvious alternative was to bargain more effectively, using the leverage of the biting sanctions. Statements to the effect that critics of the deal did not want any deal are politically motivated and simply not true. There was much valid critique, including good ideas about how to get better results, that was brushed aside and dismissed.

But a rarely discussed aspect of the process regards the power of narratives. Specifically, the fact that Iran’s narrative that it has “done no wrong” in the nuclear realm gained it concrete dividends at the negotiating table. The United States tended to ignore Iran’s statements, preferring an approach that focused on the future rather than clarifying past activities and that basically advocated that what Iran said did not really matter as long as the US knew the truth.

But Iran always understood that this narrative was essential in order to realize its goal of getting all sanctions lifted in return for minimal nuclear concessions —the reason being that if Iran had “done no wrong”, it clearly had no obligation to comply with international demands. Rather, concessions to international powers were voluntary. Indeed, Iran was adamant that the negotiation was about resolving a political dispute, and each side had an equal obligation to make concessions to reach a mutually satisfactory goal.

But this narrative should never have been accepted. The United States knows that Iran has done wrong in the past—as Secretary of State Kerry said recently: We have "absolute knowledge" of what Iran did in the past—but has refused to confront Iran with the evidence and force it to provide answers. Moreover, the United States resisted making this an integral part of the political negotiation. Armed with its narrative, Iran also pressed its case for the bizarre sunset provision and a verification mechanism that includes Iran as a party to the deliberations.

All this would have been harder to frame in this manner if it were exposed that Iran was a clear violator of the Non-Proliferation Treaty—a state that has cheated and deceived the international community for decades. A roadmap for the PMD investigation is now set to end later this year. But what is the basis for expecting Iran to now agree to do what it has refused to do for years? Especially when its narrative hinges on stonewalling the investigation?

Chuck Freilich
former deputy national security adviser in Israel and current senior fellow
Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
17 July 2015

No country has more at stake in the nuclear deal with Iran than Israel. For the United States and Western allies it is a major foreign policy issue; for Israel it is potentially one of national existence. So no one in Israel takes it lightly.

Premier Netanyahu has come out strongly against the agreement, arguing that it is a bad deal which threatens international security and Israel’s future. In his statements he has repeatedly made reference to 1938, evoking the specter of Munich and the Holocaust.

For many in Israel the Holocaust remains the defining moment of modern Jewish history, a cataclysmic prism through which the world is judged. Netanyahu can certainly be accused of overdoing it; Israel is today a regional power. But he is not entirely wrong. Iran's regime is a radical, rabidly anti-Semitic one that has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction and has devoted considerable resources to that end. Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, already has a mind- boggling 130,000 to 150,000 rockets aimed at Israel, according to Haaretz reporter Amos Harel, who bases his numbers on Israeli estimates.

Netanyahu has taken a particularly outspoken position on the Iranian nuclear program, but his views represent a broad agreement among Israeli leaders on the danger it poses. In fact, the national debate is a narrow, but critical one. Many agree with Netanyahu that a nuclear Iran is simply an existential threat to Israel, in the narrowest sense of the word. The logical conclusion from this approach is that Israel must do everything in its power to prevent the emergence of the threat.

Others believe that a nuclear Iran poses a dire threat to Israel, but probably not an existential one, in that the likelihood of Iran ever actually using a bomb is low, and that the real threat lies in the influence nukes would provide it in future conflicts. The logical conclusion from this approach is that Israel should do everything it can within reason to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but not everything possible. In risking a rift with the United States, the question is whether Netanyahu is now doing what is within reason, or possible.

In essence, Netanyahu’s criticism is based on a few primary points that are hard to dispute. First, he argues that the agreement should not have been limited to 10-15 years, but should have been permanent. Second, that the agreement leaves Iran with its nuclear infrastructure essentially intact, instead of dismantling it, and that it will remain a de-facto nuclear state, able to rapidly achieve a nuclear weapon when it expires. Third, that the agreement does not restrict Iran’s destructive role in the region, including support for terrorism and organizations such as Hezbollah, and in fact, by opening the financial spigots to Iran, will further enable it in these areas. Finally, that the devil is in the details of an agreement that is over 100 pages long, and that the Iranians are past masters at utilizing every loophole and ambiguous wording to their benefit to continue development of their nuclear program. This will be particularly important for the verification regime.

The US administration counters that this is the best deal that could actually be reached, not the best one possible, and that the alternative, no agreement at all, was worse. A dismantlement of Iran’s infrastructure and permanent agreement were not attainable, but a 10-15 year postponement of its programs is a major achievement. Moreover, US officials argue, the agreement was never designed to restrict Iran’s other misdeeds, just address the overwhelmingly important nuclear issue, an approach with which Israel was fully in accord in the past. No one doubts that Iran will try to take advantage of every loophole, this argument asserts, but the verification measures are robust.

Netanyahu’s intention to take the fight to Congress and to challenge a president’s biggest foreign policy initiative on his home turf would be sheer lunacy on any other topic and is misguided on this one. Only the belief that Iran truly presents an existential belief to Israel, and that this deal paves the way for that threat to materialize, can justify taking on the leader of the nation to whom Israel is so deeply beholden, and upon whom its survival depends today.

Israel has never successfully challenged an important presidential initiative in Congress and is highly unlikely to do so now. In the end, it comes down to who is better positioned to sway a small number of wavering Democrats. I am betting on the president. It is time for the prime minister to accept that this is the deal and to do what he should have done from the beginning: engage with the administration on the means of minimizing the threat to Israel and maximizing Israel’s contribution to the agreement’s successful implementation. Israel has intelligence capabilities and experience that can be invaluable in the years to come.

Zia Mian
Program on Science & Global Security
Princeton University
16 July 2015

Iran has reached a deal with leading states in the international system to "ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful." Building on the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action and the April 2015 agreed parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, this hopefully final settlement of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities offers important lessons for those wanting to make progress towards nuclear disarmament and a more peaceful world.

First, nuclear diplomacy can work. But it requires hard political work of many kinds. The headlines about the Iran deal stress the more than two years of intense talks, often involving foreign minister-level negotiations among seven states (Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and with the European Union’s representative. Less visible was the creative technical and policy analysis work from within and outside governments to create options for negotiators to find common ground. The bedrock of the whole effort, however, was the patient grassroots work to engage and mobilize public constituencies that brought to power leaders in the United States and in Iran willing to engage with each other and to take risks for a more peaceful relationship between their countries. 

A second lesson: International nuclear politics is bound to domestic politics, for good and ill. The Iran agreement has come despite determined hostility from conservatives within the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and Iran. Seeing the world as a hierarchy shaped by power and fear, and locked in rigid, exclusivist national or religious identities, they press for advantage and privilege or to maintain the status quo. Sharing a propensity for mistrust, coercion, and violence, they would risk war with those they see as enemies rather than try dialogue and possible agreement on a peaceful future based on the ideals of equity and respect for others. These opponents will derail the Iran deal if they can. None may have more power to do so than the Republicans and the Democrats allied to Israel in the United States Congress. The challenge for supporters of the deal in the United States is to make their democracy work.

Third, nuclear disarmament issues do not exist in isolation. Some arguments and actions in support of the deal, especially in the United States, could make things worse, not better, in the long term in the Middle East. In his efforts to sell the deal, President Obama has talked about offering expanded military assistance to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf states. Building up these military alliances and the capability for war means the threat of force against Iran will grow larger and the generals in Iran will respond in kind. This shall serve only to fan the many wars already blazing in the region and fuel the next round of an arms race. It is not a path to a safer, more secure, and more peaceful Middle East. The region would be better served by starting foreign minister-level talks and doing hard political work aimed at ending the catastrophic wars and humanitarian tragedies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya and ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Sharon Squassoni
director and senior fellow, Proliferation Prevention Program
Center for Strategic and International Studies
15 July 2015

The Vienna agreement with Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) is a lumbering, 159-page tome of historic dimensions. There is a certain irony to the painstaking attention to deadlines from a crew of negotiators who failed to meet most of the deadlines they have set in the last two years.  Still, the level of detail, nuance, and overlapping obligations is impressive. 

Some of the details are astonishing. Unlike most agreements (safeguards or other) related to peaceful nuclear energy use, this one specifies prohibited nuclear-weapons-related activities. While one worries about making public what we consider the most important nuclear weapons skills, the inclusion of this information is an important hook to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to gain access to military sites, since access must be “exclusively for resolving concerns regarding fulfilment of JCPOA commitments.”

The nuances are also impressive. The JCPOA is absolutely silent regarding IAEA access to scientists, which reportedly was a sticking point (and banned under legislation by the Majlis, or Iranian parliament).   Similarly, the agreement doesn’t obviously restrict IAEA access to military sites, but the multilayered review process for access by inspectors to verify the absence of activities inconsistent with the JCPOA is designed to let the Joint Committee (comprised of P5 + 1 and Iran) have the last word.

Perhaps most detailed are the overlapping obligations embedded in the implementation schedule. It is a Kabuki theater of actions and reactions among Iran, the European Union, the United States, the UN, and the IAEA. The most interesting part to watch comes first: Over the next 60 days, Iran and the IAEA will endeavor to resolve all the past concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Only then can the rest of the show go on.

Lawrence Korb and Katherine Blakeley
senior fellow and policy analyst (respectively)
Center for American Progress
15 July 2015

The preliminary accord that six world powers and Iran reached earlier this year outlined the parameters of a deal that would curtail Iran’s nuclear program; it was one of the most comprehensive and detailed nuclear arms agreements ever reached. If anything, the deal finalized this week in Vienna is even more restrictive. However, this has not satisfied the hardline critics of the deal in either Iran or the United States, many of whom appear to have criticized it even before reading it. A good look at the three main legs of the agreement shows that this deal is, in fact, a good one, for the United States and for the international community.

First of all, it precludes Iranian development of a nuclear weapon by shutting down all of the pathways Iran might use to accumulate enough nuclear material to make a weapon. It does this by limiting the amount of fuel that Iran can keep for the next 15 years, by cutting its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent, by reducing the number of centrifuges by two-thirds, by and modifying the core of its heavy-water reactor at Arak.

Moreover, Iran will still be subject to the constraints of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which precludes it from developing nuclear weapons. It was Iran’s violations of the NPT that provided the legal underpinnings and international consensus for the current sanctions regime. Despite real tensions between some of the P5+1 countries, non-proliferation is an area of rare international consensus. If Iran attempts to develop nuclear weapons after the deal has run out, it could once again face devastating international sanctions. 

Second, the deal places International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring and verification in place to ensure that Iran doesn’t cheat. While the inspections allowed in the agreement may not be anytime, anywhere inspections, they are pretty close. The inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s nuclear facilities at Nantaz and Fordow and its entire nuclear supply chain, including its uranium mines and mills, its conversion facility for producing uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for uranium enrichment, and its manufacturing and storage facilities for the centrifuges that have been involved with Iran's enrichment program. With electronic sensors and continuous monitoring of seals on the centrifuges, the IAEA will know instantly if Iran has tampered with them. The deal also allows the IAEA to enter a suspect facility within 24 days of suspicions being reported. In other words, the agreement calls for as-needed, where-needed access—and failure to grant it will be considered a violation that could lead to renewed sanctions. And Iran has agreed to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which allows monitoring and inspections of declared or undeclared sites in perpetuity.

Third, sanctions will not be lifted immediately, but will be phased out as Iran meets it commitments. The nuclear-related sanctions will be lifted only after the IAEA verifies that Iran is in compliance with the deal. The UN Security Council will reinstate certain other sanctions for specified periods of time: The sanctions related to sensitive nuclear equipment will be reimposed for 10 years, missile technology for eight years, and conventional arms for five years. Finally, the agreement contains a simple mechanism for snapping-back sanctions if Iran cheats—one that even Iran, Russia, and China acting in concert could not derail—and does not eliminate sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorist groups.

Is the deal perfect? Of course not. Does Iran get some benefit? Of course. That is what negotiations are all about. But on balance, the United States and the world have gained much more. Not only will Iran’s nuclear program be curtailed, but the nonproliferation commitments of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty regime will be rejuvenated, Iranian energy supplies will return to the world market, and there is a probability that Iran will become a more responsible member of the international community. With a strong IAEA verification regime in place and long-term monitoring to make sure Iran does not re-start a nuclear weapons program, this is a great deal for the international community.

Kingston Reif
Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy
Arms Control Association
14 July 2015

After nearly two years of intense and at times tumultuous negotiations, the so-called P5+1 group of world powers (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) and Iran have reached a long-term, comprehensive agreement to limit Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities and ensure that it cannot acquire nuclear weapons.

Many observers, including this author, doubted whether such an agreement could be reached. While a final judgment on the deal must await its implementation, what has been achieved to date is remarkable and historic.

The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, would verifiably block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons development—the uranium-enrichment route and the plutonium-separation route—and guard against a clandestine weapons program. The agreement is consistent with, and in some ways stronger than, the framework announced April 2.

The agreement is not perfect. Both sides had to make adjustments to their opening positions. But each side got what they needed, and when implemented, the agreement will be a net plus for nonproliferation and will enhance US and regional security.

Despite these benefits, critics say the United States got a raw deal. They argue that the United States made all the concessions, the agreement is a starting pistol for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and more pressure would convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear program. Some have also expressed concern that the United States gave up too much in allowing the UN Security Council Resolution arms embargo and ballistic missile sanctions on Iran to sunset after 5 and 8 years, respectively.

These arguments don’t hold up.

First, it’s clear that Tehran had to retreat from many of its initial demands, including in the areas of the scale of uranium enrichment it needed, the intrusiveness of inspections it would tolerate, and the pace of sanctions relief it would demand. Second, while some of Iran’s Sunni Arab rivals are nervous about the agreement and have announced plans to pursue their own nuclear energy programs, the long-term, verifiable restrictions the deal places on Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities should greatly reduce the incentive of other states in the region to match Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Third, there is no viable strategy to secure a “better deal.” The agreement will keep Iran further away from the ability to make nuclear weapons for far longer than the alternative of additional sanctions or a military strike possibly could.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the UN sanctions related to arms and ballistic missiles were put in place because of Iran’s nuclear program. The resolutions make it clear that these sanctions would be suspended when Iran resolved concerns about its nuclear program. Retaining the sanctions on ballistic missiles for 8 years and the arms embargo for 5 years is an important achievement that would also provide additional leverage to ensure Iran complies with its obligations under the agreement.

As Congress now turns to reviewing the deal, it has a solemn responsibility to weigh the deal on its merits and not according to the dictates of partisan politics. The consequences of preventing the United States from living up to its end of the bargain would leave Iran closer to a nuclear weapon and increase the risk of war.

Siegfried S. Hecker
Center for International Security and Cooperation
Stanford University
14 July 2015

The Iran nuclear deal is not a grand historic mistake as some have called it, but much hard work lies ahead to make it a historic opportunity. Even so, the Iran nuclear deal was hard-won and is better than any other reasonably achievable alternative.

Negotiations over the past 20 months have already curtailed Iran’s nuclear technical capacity; the agreement calls for significant additional scaling back of the most sensitive parts of Iran’s nuclear program, making it more difficult, but not impossible, for Iran to pursue the bomb. Iran agreed to considerably greater restrictions on its program than what I thought was possible, based on a Track II meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Iranian technical experts before the Joint Plan of Action was signed in November 2013.

During the past 20 years, Iran has already developed the requisite technical capabilities for an option to build a bomb. The hard work ahead must now focus on convincing Iran not to exercise that option. An intrusive monitoring and inspection regime is being put in place. It will also be imperative that the international community develops a credible and decisive response in the event of an Iranian violation of the agreement

These measures are necessary, although they are inherently adversarial. The most effective approach to dissuade Iran from pursuing the bomb is to mount a parallel, positive effort to integrate Iran’s nuclear program through international scientific and technical cooperation. The best hope is to make the civilian path so appealing—and then successful—that Tehran will not want to risk the political and economic consequences of that success by pursuing the bomb option. In other words, implementation of the deal has to provide both incentives and disincentives.

On a final note, there will be endless questioning about the technical details of the complex agreement. I take some comfort that this agreement was one of the most technically informed diplomatic negotiations I have seen. Although US Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif were in the spotlight, they had at their sides two world-class nuclear scientists, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali-Akbar Salehi. They, in turn, had the advice of nuclear experts in their laboratories at their fingertips. Scientific resources will be just as critical during implementation of the agreement, if it is to turn into a historic success.

Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian
research scholar and former diplomat
Princeton University
14 July 2015

This roughly 100-page agreement, meticulously crafted by the tireless and sagacious diplomats of Iran and the P5+1, represents a milestone achievement in the cause of non-proliferation. This deal ensures a fully transparent Iranian nuclear program in a verifiable way, adopts new sets of measures guaranteeing there can be no diversion towards weaponization in Iran, acknowledges Iran’s right to enrich uranium on its soil for peaceful purposes, and secures the removal of the draconian sanctions regime imposed on Iran.

Furthermore, this deal serves as a model for how to address future proliferation challenges throughout the world. A template has been created for how countries can develop nuclear energy programs without eliciting concern that they may develop nuclear weapons. Several principles can be enshrined into international non-proliferation law based on this agreement, including ceasing the production of plutonium and the separation of plutonium, halting the production of highly enriched uranium, and prohibiting the stockpiling beyond peaceful domestic needs of nuclear fuel.

Broader steps that can also be taken after the implementation of this agreement include establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East, a longtime goal of Iran. The Middle East is already in an incredibly volatile state, and the possession of nuclear weapons by any power only serves to exacerbate instability and tension throughout the region. There is a clearly an urgent need for the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East, and this nuclear agreement sets a positive precedent in this regard.

This diplomatic agreement also marks a major step towards decreasing tensions and hostility between Iran and the United States. It can be used as a starting point to address other areas of conflict between the two nations, specifically on issues related to regional rivalries and security-related issues such as terrorism. Iran and the United States both stand to benefit immensely from increased cooperation with one another. By compromising on the nuclear issue, the door is opened.