Thomas Pickering, former US ambassador to the United Nations, India, and Russia

November 25, 2013

The nuclear deal curbs Iran’s progress in enriching material by limiting it to below 5 percent, converting into oxide or diluting its stockpile of 20 percent material, and freezing the size of its 3.5 percent stocks for the next six months. Regarding the Arak heavy water reactor, progress is essentially frozen for six months. Inspection is expanded to include daily inspections of Natanz and Fordow and—for the first time—at centrifuge production facilities. The number of centrifuges that Iran is allowed to have is frozen as well. In return, the United States will release some $6 to $7 billion in sanctions relief, freeing up about $400 million in funding for student tuition, aircraft safety repairs, and humanitarian efforts that are not banned by sanctions. The United States will release, in installments, up to $ 4.2 billion—that is, oil revenue that has been frozen in foreign financial institutions. But there is a deadline: After six months, without a follow-on agreement, this arrangement will lapse on both sides.

But what, exactly, does this deal mean? The hope is to establish—within the next six months—a permanent and comprehensive agreement that turns Iran’s program into a fully justified civil and peaceful effort, decreasing the possibility that the civilian nuclear program could be misused for weapons purposes. This deal lengthens the time that Iran would need for a fast breakout, while allowing for reversibility of sanctions if the deal is not being kept by Iran. Overall, this deal was a very good first step: The next ones will be even harder.