Iran Nuclear Deal


Iran Nuclear Deal

  • The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is an agreement reached on July 14 2015 between Iran and China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Germany, and the European Union
  • Under the agreement, Iran agreed to
    • eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium
    • cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%
    • reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years
    • enrich uranium up to only 3.67% for 15 years
    • not to build any new heavy-water reactors for 15 years (D2O helps neutrons blow up U-235)
    • limit uranium-enrichment to a single facility using first-generation centrifuges for 10 years
    • redesign and rebuild the Arak reactor so it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium. The reactor’s spent fuel will be shipped out of the country.
    • to convert its deeply buried plant at Fordo into a center for science research
  • Moreover
    • Iran’s compliance with the agreement will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which will have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. 
    • For verifiably abiding by its commitments, Iran will receive relief from U.S., European Union, and United Nations Security Council nuclear-related economic sanctions.

Making an Atom Bomb

  • To make an atomic bomb you need Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239. The problem is that Uranium ore is 99% Uranium-238, not what you want.
    • Path 1.  Use centrifuges to separate out the tiny amount of U-235 in Uranium ore.  For a bomb you need uranium that’s 90% U-235.
    • Path 2.  Process U-238 through a reactor into Plutonium-239.

Decision to Withdraw

Trump’s Remarks on JCPOA, May 8, 2018

  • The agreement was so poorly negotiated that even if Iran fully complies, the regime can still be on the verge of a nuclear breakout in just a short period of time.  The deal’s sunset provisions are totally unacceptable. If I allowed this deal to stand, there would soon be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Everyone would want their weapons ready by the time Iran had theirs. 
  • Not only does the deal fail to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but it also fails to address the regime’s development of ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads.
  • Finally, the deal does nothing to constrain Iran’s destabilizing activities, including its support for terrorism. 
  • It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement. 
  • If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen.  In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons. 
  • As we exit the Iran deal, we will be working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat.  This will include efforts to eliminate the threat of Iran’s ballistic missile program; to stop its terrorist activities worldwide; and to block its menacing activity across the Middle East.  
  • Iran’s leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal. But the fact is they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people.

Criticisms of Withdrawal

  • Iran in Compliance
    • The IAEA has found that Iran has complied with the JCPOA. The Trump administration has not disputed this assessment, and it certified in July 2017 that Iran was meeting the terms of the deal.
  • Potential Dilemma
    • It also drew a rare public rebuke by Mr. Obama, who said Mr. Trump’s withdrawal would leave the world less safe, confronting it with “a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East.”
    • If no new deal can be struck, and Iran decides to chase after nuclear weapons, then the Trump administration will be in a very, very tough spot. It will have to either accept the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran or take military action to prevent that from happening.
  • Better Deal Unlikely
    • President Trump has argued for a better deal — one in which, for instance, Iran accepts permanent limits on its enrichment program or its missile development. But is that realistic?
    • A look at past nonproliferation diplomacy with Iran suggests that any U.S. effort to win still more concessions would fail. Three factors made the 2015 concessions possible: 
      • an uptick in Iranian nuclear provocations
      • a powerful multilateral coalition to stop those
      • domestic receptivity in Iran. 
    • None of those conditions exists now.
    • Thus, it would be exceedingly difficult for the Trump administration to rally a strong multilateral effort to impose sanctions.
  • Why not negotiate a better deal while staying in the agreement?
    • French President Emmanuel Macron urged Trump to try to open up new negotiations on these issues while staying in the deal, thus keeping Iran’s nuclear program in check for now while dealing with these other issues. But Trump rejected that approach, preferring instead to withdraw from the deal entirely. Trump has said he’s open to negotiating a newer, tougher deal, but there’s little chance that Europe and Iran — which spent years negotiating the current deal, and believe that it’s working — would agree to do so.
  • IAEA verification is crucial
    • By walking away from the deal, the Trump administration may lose its most important instrument for gauging whether Iran is telling the truth, according to former U.S. and U.N. officials and experts familiar with the IAEA’s oversight role. Many experts believe a collapse of the agreement will trigger a suspension of the unique, wide-ranging access granted to the U.N. nuclear watchdog over the past three years.
    • In effect, by rejecting the deal as inadequate for preventing Iran from getting the bomb, Trump could make it harder for U.S. officials to detect a secret Iranian effort to build nuclear weapons, the former officials and experts said.
    • “We know more about Iran’s program with the deal than without it,” said former CIA director Michael V. Hayden. “The Iranians lie. They cheat,” Hayden said. “That’s why you need to have the best possible verification regime in place.”

Decision Tree

Timeline through Jan 2020

  • 2015 July Iran Nuclear Deal between Iran and China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Germany, and the European Union
  • 2018 May US withdrew from deal
  • 2018 Aug US reimposed sanctions on Iran, originally lifted as part of the nuclear deal.
  • 2018 Nov US imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors.
  • 2019 May US imposed sanctions on Iran’s steel, aluminum, and copper industries.
  • 2019 May US takes action to stop China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey from buying Iranian Oil.
  • 2019 June US imposed sanctions on senior Iranian leaders.
  • 2019 July Iran announced it breached the limits on amount of low-enriched uranium it could stockpile under Iran nuclear deal.
  • 2019 Sep Iran announced it had activated advanced centrifuges to speed up uranium enrichment, violating the Iran nuclear deal.
  • 2019 Sep Drones and cruise missiles launched from Iran struck Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facility.
  • 2019 Dec. 27 More than 30 rockets were launched at an Iraqi military base near Kirkuk, killing an American contractor and wounding four American and two Iraqi servicemen.
  • 2019 Dec. 29 American airstrikes killed 24 members of an Iranian-backed militia at bases in Iraq and Syria over the weekend.
  • 2019 Dec. 31 Pro-Iranian militia members marched on the U.S. Embassy, effectively imprisoning American diplomats inside for more than 24 hours and burning the embassy’s reception area.
  • 2020 Jan. 3 An American drone strike hit two cars carrying Mr. Suleimani and several officials with Iranian-backed militias as they were leaving the Baghdad International Airport.
  • 2020 Jan 5  Iranian announced it would no longer adhere to the restriction imposed by Iran Nuclear Deal.
  • 2020 Jan 8 Iran fired more than 20 ballistic missiles at military bases in Iraq where American troops are based.
  • 2020 Jan 8 Trump addresses nation after an Iranian attack on military bases
  • 2020 Mar 3 Iran Crosses a Key Threshold: It Again Has Sufficient Fuel for a Bomb
Online Timelines Through Mid-2019

In Hindsight

  • Let’s not ignore the serial foreign policy failures of this administration, August 2020, Jennifer Rubin WaPo
    • The administration withdrew from the deal, insisting that our allies would follow suit (they did not), that increased pressure on Iran would bring it to the negotiating table (it did not), and that we would continue to reap the benefits of the JCPOA, namely limits on Tehran’s nuclear weapons program (we did not).
    • At every stage in the “policy,” which was more a political impulse than a thought-out alternative policy, the administration refused to acknowledge that while the JCPOA had flaws (e.g., regarding missile testing), we could have addressed them within the framework of the deal and keep our allies on board. Instead, the ideological and personal insistence on ripping up “Obama’s deal” overrode common sense.
    • By any measure, we are in a worse position now than we were four years ago regarding Iran, which continues to fund terrorist groups and destabilize the region.
  • Iran Increases Uranium Enrichment at Key Nuclear Facility, Jan 2021, NYT
    • Iran announced on Monday that it had increased its uranium enrichment levels, bringing it closer to developing the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon within six months.
    • The resumption of enrichment to 20 percent was the latest in a series of escalations that have followed President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from a 2015 nuclear agreement that had limited Iran to enrichment levels of 4 to 5 percent.
  • ‘Maximum Pressure’ on Iran Has Failed, April 2021, NYT Editorial
    • In 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from that agreement, convinced that a new set of far more oppressive sanctions would cripple the country enough to humiliate it into accepting new terms more favorable to the United States.
    • But President Donald Trump’s gambit failed. The new sanctions have crippled the country. But they also prompted the Iranian government to restart nuclear work that it had given up. Other nations, including China, which worked closely with the United States and European powers to forge the nuclear deal with Iran, have grown weary of U.S. unilateralism and could resume doing business with Iran, one way or another.
  • Trump’s Iran Policy Has Become a Disaster for the U.S. and Israel, Dec 2021, Thomas Friedman  NYT
    • The judges have voted and the results are in: President Donald Trump’s decision to tear up the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 — a decision urged on by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — was one of the dumbest, most poorly thought out and counterproductive U.S. national security decisions of the post-Cold War era.
    • But don’t just take my word for it.
    • Moshe Ya’alon was the Israeli defense minister when the nuclear agreement was signed, and he strongly opposed it. But at a conference last week, he said, according to a summary by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, “as bad as that deal was, Trump’s decision to withdraw from it — with Netanyahu’s encouragement — was even worse.” Ya’alon called it “the main mistake of the last decade” in Iran policy.
  • Trump allowed Iran to go nuclear, but Biden will get the blame, July 2022, Max Boot WaPo
    • As he travels around the Middle East this week, President Biden is struggling with the fallout of what may turn out to be the single worst diplomatic blunder in U.S. history: President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Even though Iran was complying with the agreement, Trump called it “defective at its core” and warned that “if we do nothing … in just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.”