Iran Nuclear Deal (Part 3 of 3)

By Neva Wagner - 9/17/15

Welcome to the third and final post of my series on the Iran Deal.  If you are just now beginning this series, I would encourage you to first read the preceding posts; however, this post should be informative regardless of whether you have done so.  In this final post, I will discuss the terms of the agreement, a few response to the agreement, and finally what impact the Iran Deal will have. 

An interim agreement was formed in November 2013 upon Rouhani, a moderate, becoming president of Iran.  This agreement stipulated that Iran would roll-back its nuclear programs in exchange for reduced sanctions.  The agreement went into effect in November 2014 and remained in effect during the negotiations of the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany).  Although it took 13 rounds of negotiations and multiple deadlocks, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Deal) was signed in July 2015.

Terms of the Iran Deal

The Iran Deal is not an agreement that Iran cease all nuclear activity and perhaps that is what makes many people nervous; however, the terms do significantly decrease Iran’s nuclear capabilities.  The Iran Deal will last for 15 years so long as no party fails to fulfill the terms. 

As part of the agreement, Iran agreed to eliminate all of its medium enriched uranium and cut its low enriched uranium stockpile by 98%.  Additionally, Iran agreed to only enrich up to 3.76% and to build no new enriching or heavy water facilities.  (This is a major step away from nuclear weapons as even the most basic requires uranium to be enriched to 20%.)  Iran also agreed to limit its enrichment activity to a single facility using first generation equipment for 10 years and all other facilities will be converted to avoid proliferation.  Finally, Iran agreed to permit the IAEA to monitor its facilities. 

In exchange, the United States, European Union, and United Nations agree to lift all nuclear related sanctions.  Some of the sanctions have a specified rollout time requiring that Iran remain compliant for a certain number of years before they are lifted and other sanctions will life immediately.  The United States also agrees to not seek secondary sanctions.  (It is important to remember many American sanctions placed on Iran are not related to the nation’s nuclear activity, but other things such as human rights abuses, state sponsored terrorism, etc.  All of these will remain intact when the agreement is in effect.)

If Iran violates the terms of the agreement, all sanctions will snap back into place as per a snap back provision in the agreement. 

Select Responses to the Iran Deal

Iran’s response has been mixed.  President Rouhani celebrates the agreement and is hopeful it will bring a brighter economic future to Iran.  However, Ayatollah Khameini’s response has been more ominous.  He has made the demand that all sanctions must be lifted the day the agreement was signed.  Khameini also emphasized that this is the only dealing Iran will have with the United States.  According to CNN, he remarked that “Some people insist on disguising the Great Satan as the savior angel.  [However], the Iranian nation expelled this Satan [from the country]; we must not allow that which we expelled through the door, to return and gain influence [again] through the window.” 

Other Middle Eastern nations greeted the news of the agreement with concern.  Israel fears that Iran will become a threat to them in the near future regardless of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.  Thus, a rift has emerged between the United States and Israel, the mending of which must be a priority for the next presidential administration.  Saudia Arabia also fears the possible outcome believing this agreement will come at a cost for Saudi Arabia.  These fears are founded in a record of war between the nations, and without the buffer that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq once offered, conflict may again become a reality. 

Overall, the European Union and much of the United Nations have met the agreement with optimism hoping it will lead to a more cooperative future. 

The United States split in response to the agreement.  The Obama administration optimistic that while the deal will be beneficial for the 15 years it is in place as it will reduce Iran’s breakout time to well over a year, and Iran failing to adhere to the deal will simply snap the sanctions back into place.  However, the administration has suggested that concern should exist for when the agreement expires in 15 years.

Congress uneasy about the agreement, and passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.  This Act enables Congress to veto the agreement by September 17, 2015.  However, the GOP was unable to rally sufficient support to implement this veto by a small number of votes.  The executive has attempted to warn Congress that if we walk away from this deal we will do so alone, because our allies will keep the deal they agreed to. 

Potential Impact of the Deal & What the Future Could Look Like


Perhaps the simplest scenario is if Iran fails to comply from early on.  If Iran fails to comply, the sanctions will snap back into place.  If this occurs early on, Iran will lack the time necessary to recover economically and we can expect to see them return to the state they were before the Iran Deal. 

However, if Iran violates the agreement later on, it is possible that they will have financially recovered enough to use those resources to beef up a nuclear program and present an even greater threat than they did before the Deal.  Essentially, compliance for a time before a violation could function as a sort of staging period for Iran to prepare itself for a break out.  However, if Iran cannot buy enriched uranium of 20% or greater, Iran will still struggle to make a quick break out time though due to the low level enriched uranium supply. 


If Iran complies, we will likely see changes in a variety of arenas… 

  • Economic

Because Iran has 10% of the world’s oil reserves and 18% of the natural gas reserves, it is likely we will see a decrease in energy costs around the world as at least crude oil should drop in price.  Furthermore, Iran is an emerging market of 81 million consumers which will now be more accessible to international companies.  This could boost the global economy.  I believe that since many of the UN and EU’s sanctions were nuclear related this could help the struggling economies of Europe if companies in those nations can access Iranian consumers.

  • Scientific

While I do not agree, some believe that science may be advanced by this agreement.  Some experts and scientists hope that the Iran will open the converted nuclear facilities to Western cooperation allowing for joint exploration of nuclear fusion, astrophysics, and cancer research. 

  • Diplomatic

If there is any hope for a cooperative future, this nuclear deal was an essential step toward such an end.   For example, United Kingdom felt comfortable reopening its embassy in Iran in August 2015.  I believe it is fair to be optimistic on this front.  Iranian President Rouhani appears very willing to work with the West when it benefits his nation.  Also, Ayatollah Khameini is 76 years old, thus, his life expectancy is probably shorter than the terms of the Iran Deal.  When Khameini dies, it may open the way for a more West friendly ayatollah.  While this is not likely at this time, I believe as the Iranian people see the benefits of working with the West, the possibility of a more moderate ayatollah increases. 

  • Nuclear

The Iran Deal will slow Iran’s nuclear break out time to at least 12 months.  Additionally, they will have significantly less uranium and a reduced enrichment capability.  The 3.76% enriched uranium which Iran is permitted to retain is well beneath the 20% which is required to make nuclear weapons.  Thus, the threat posed by Iran is reduced at least for the period for which it remains compliant. 


Ultimately, who Iran will be in the future depends on whether it exists as a country or a cause.  If Iran chooses to be a cause, then conflict will likely grow and ultimately the Deal will fall through.  However, if it chooses the identity of a nation, there is hope for a diplomatic, cooperative future ushered in by the Iran Deal.  Based the impact of the sanctions, I believe that the Iranian people and president would prefer the latter.   


Iran Nuclear Deal (Part 2 of 3)

By Neva Wagner - 9/17/15

Welcome back to my three part series on the Iran Deal.  Here is a quick recap on what is included… In the first post, I provided some general background information on Iran and its relations with the United States.  In this post, I will be address Iran’s nuclear program, sanctions, and their effectiveness.  The final post in this series will look the terms of the agreement, various global responses, and the potential results of the agreement. 

Iran & the NPT

In 1968, a pre-revolution Iran ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).  The treaty calls for non-nuclear weapon states to not abstain from pursuing such weaponry by any means.  Similarly, it requires the nuclear powers (United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) to not assist in the development of or provide nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states.  However, the Treaty does encourage cooperation in the development and implementation of peaceful nuclear energy across all states even referring to the pursuit of nuclear energy as an inalienable right.  The NPT also establishes that the International Atomic Energy Agency will establish safeguards and review nations for compliance.  Non-nuclear countries are required to form an agreement with the IAEA to implement such measures.  Although the NPT grants nations the right to withdraw if extraordinary events related to the treaty have jeopardized the supreme interests of it country.  To date, only North Korea has exercised this option, and 191 nations have ratified the treaty. 

Despite Iran having “ratified” the NPT in ’68 and forming an agreement with the IAEA in ’74, the nation has pursued nuclear activities that have been deemed to violate the treaty.  However, I believe it is crucial to note that the Islamic Republic which came into being in 1979 was not the state which ratified this treaty.  Rather, the state which entered into this agreement was the overthrown monarchy.  Thus, this raises a question of whether we should consider this treaty ratified by Iran after a revolution has stripped the nation’s government and established a new identity. 

Iran’s Nuclear Activity

From early on, the Islamic Republic ambitious pursued a nuclear energy program and committed itself to fuel cycle technology.  This peaceful technology was not only permitted by the NPT but encouraged.  However, in 1985, Iran (as well as Syria & Libya) announced they were going to develop nuclear weapons as a means to counter the “Israeli nuclear threat.”  In the 1990’s the Clinton administration, began placing sanctions on firms suspected of enabling Iran’s nuclear arms program. 

Since 2001, the global community has grown more concerned about Iran’s nuclear activity.  In 2005, the IAEA declared Iran non-compliant.  This prompted the United Nations Security Council to release multiple resolutions demanding that Iran cease its nuclear activity and reaffirm its commitment to the NPT.  With each resolution the sanctions increased, however, the resolutions also began making increased offerings of a dialogue and suggestive of the possibility of negotiations. 

As of Spring 2015 (pre-Iran Deal), Iran had sufficient enriched uranium (20% or greater) to produce 8 to 10 hiroshima-quality bombs.  The break out time— the amount of time necessary to produce a nuclear weapon— was only 2-3 months.  Iran also had nearly 20,000 centrifuges. 


Some U.S. sanctions predate nuclear proliferation concerns.  In fact, a significant number of sanctions were in response to hostage situations, state sponsored terrorist, human rights issues, etc.  It is important to note that such sanctions are not impacted by the Iran Nuclear Deal.  However, sanctions which were in response to nuclear concerns are those which will be lifted by the agreement.  These sanctions include isolating Iran from the international financial system, restricting oil exports, placing trade embargos, freezing assets, blocking travel, and sanctioning any who help Iran develop or acquisition advanced weapons.

United Nations implemented sanctions following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report that Iran was non-compliant with safeguards.  Their sanctions began as embargos on materials and technology necessary for nuclear activity and missiles.  The UN also banned all non-humanitarian financial aid.  Finally, in 2010, it adopted the United States’ approach and targeted oil profits and the financial/banking industry. 

The European Union has also placed sanctions on Iran.  The EU’s approach has been almost identical to that of the United States in types of sanctions as well as quantity. 

Impact of Sanctions

The sanctions have crippled Iran’s financial stability.  Sanctions stripped from Iran nearly $160 billion in oil revenue and more than $100 billion in Iranian assets have been frozen.  This forced a significant 2 year recession from 2011 to 2013 when negotiations began.  Iran’s economy shrunk by 15-20% during this time and the value of the rial plummeted by 56%.  Inflation rose to 40% (compare to the United States where inflation is less than 2%).  Unemployment rates in Iran also skyrocketed to an unprecedented 20%. 


The impact of sanctions partially (if not primarily) drove the nation’s decision to negotiate.  In 2013, President Rouhani was elected by the Iranian people on a more moderate platform pledging to improve the economy.  Since his appointment, President Rouhani has been essential in establishing negotiations with the West and the eventual formation of the Iran Deal. 

However, the Iran Deal and the future are topics for my next post in this series when I will be addressing the terms of the deal, a selection of responses, and the possible outcome of the agreement.  I hope that the first two posts have served to wet your intellectual appetite for the main course of this series as it is one you won’t want to miss.


Iran Nuclear Deal (Part 1 of 3)

By Neva Wagner - 9/17/15

Unless you have avoided all new sources and general human contact for the last 7 months, chances are you have heard about the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” better known as the “Iran Deal.”  Whether it is a presidential hopeful campaigning over a deep-fried Twinkie at the state fair or your grandpa “informing” the family at dinner, the clamor of opinions relentlessly reaches us all.  In fact, we may even be one of the clanging voices. 

But how much do we really know about this agreement?  Most would likely answer not terribly much.  I believe this lack of knowledge stems from a lack of quick, easy to process information—after all, only a true internet master could boil down a 150+ page agreement and its implications into a clever Facebook meme.  Through this series of blog posts, I seek to provide a context for the Iran Deal, some basics regarding the agreement, and ultimately an analysis of what future impact this deal may have.  Today, I will focus on providing some context for the agreement through addressing Iran’s identity and tensions with the United States.  Then in a subsequent post, I will review Iran’s nuclear activity, sanctions, their effectiveness, and the prelude to negotiations.  Finally, I will conclude the series by explaining the agreement itself, the international community’s response to the agreement, and the possible impact of the agreement. 

Who Is Iran: A Brief History

In his recent book, Visions of World Order, Henry Kissinger wrote extensively on Iran’s national identity and vision of world order.  Iran’s first “united” identity was as a region of the Persian Empire.  As Persia conquered nations, it adopted the technology and culture of the conquered peoples— making it a center of human achievement.  According to Kissinger, this led to a confidence of cultural superiority.  This confidence would continue in Iran long after the Arab Conquest of Persia introduced Shia Islam to the region from 633 to 654 CE.

In 1921, Iran as we know it began to take shape.  This pre-Khomeini Revolution Iran was a monarchy ruled by a frequently heavy handed shah.  Despite this, it cooperated with the West, maintaining a cordial relationship, and even functioning as a de facto ally of the United States.  In fact, Iran actively participated in alliances and sought to pursue its interests through largely Westphalian statesmanship.  It was in 1968 under the leadership of Shah Reza Pahlavi that Iran originally ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).  Revolution struck Iran in 1977 beginning with demonstrations and escalating to an intensity which paralyzed the country. 

In 1979, Shah Pahlavi left Iran for exile; while Ayatollah Khomaini returned to claim the role of the revolution’s Supreme Leader and eventually the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic.  According to Kissinger, Khomeini viewed the state as a weapon in a broader religious struggle.  He nurtured the concept that all existing political institutions were illegitimate, because they were not based on divine law.  When Iran voted by a national referendum to become the Islamic Republic, Khomeini declared this “founding of a truly Islamic political system in Iran marked the first day of God’s government.”  Although, Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, his views are largely continued by Ayatollah Khameini. 

The Islamic Republic (Iran) views the government as conceived of the divine.  This makes any dissent blasphemy, so trials, executions, and repression of minority faiths is not uncommon.  Kissinger claims that modern Iran’s vision of world order is that of an “Iran of Jihad” which calls for both Sunni and Shia to come together to overthrow the existing order and bring about the global submission the correct religious doctrine – Islam. 

US/Iran Tensions

In 1981, a revolutionary group, angry that the deposed Shah had been allowed to enter the United States, forcibly seized the American embassy in Tehran.  The revolutionaries held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.  Eventually, Iran released the hostages, and the disintegration of U.S./Iran relations had begun. 

The 1980’s was littered with incidents.  The Iran-Contra affair involved the Reagan administration selling weapons to Iran and using the profits to fund an anti-communist organization in Nicaragua.  Operation Mantis involved the U.S. Navy attacking two Iranian oil platforms asserting it was a part of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988.  That same year, a U.S. Navy missile shot down a scheduled commercial in Iranian airspace killing 290 civilians.  The U.S. government never apologized for this attack, stating only that it regretted the loss of life. 

In more recent years, Iran appears to have been a supporter of terrorism.  The United States claims that the nation has connections to Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Iraq Insurgency, and even that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards actively engage in terrorist attacks.  There have also been multiple instances of American and Iranians going missing and both nations believing the other is responsible. 

Between 2011 and 2012, Iran threatened to seize control of the Strait of Hormuz restricting access to the Persian Gulf and choking the global oil trade.  Iran possesses the naval capability to attempt such a seizure with a fleet designed for such a purpose.  The United States responded to this threat by releasing a statement that the 5th Fleet can and would prevent such a blockade.  Since 2011, Iran has captured, shot down, or pursued various American drones that the U.S. claims were never in Iranian airspace. 


When you consider that there has been severe tension between the United States and Iran for over 30 years, the fact that war has been avoided is nothing short of remarkable.  These tensions have only been exacerbated by Iran’s nuclear program… or perhaps Iran’s nuclear program and fear of its capabilities has been the only thing that has prevented a war—a purely academic debate, but none the less one I encourage you to consider when I continue this series in my next post on Iran’s nuclear activity.