October 5, 2015 | Quoted by The Week Staff

The Iran Deal: A Brief Guide

What does the deal do?
It significantly inhibits Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions. Forged over 20 months of intense negotiations among Iran, the U.S., and five other world powers, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is designed to block four possible pathways to the bomb for 10 to 15 years. Iran must relinquish 97 percent of its enriched uranium stockpiles; remove two-thirds of its 20,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges; rebuild its heavy-water reactor so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium; and submit to ongoing, intrusive inspections. These measures are designed to increase Iran's “breakout time” to developing nuclear weapons from the current three months to at least a year. Republicans and Israel strongly opposed the deal, saying it does not guarantee that Iran won't cheat, and may only postpone the Islamic Republic's development of a nuclear weapon. But President Obama insisted that the choice was between a negotiated deal and war. “How can we in good conscience justify war,” he asked, “before we've tested a diplomatic agreement?”

When does the deal go into effect?
It will formally be adopted on Oct. 19, but “implementation day” won't be until the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirms that Iran has complied with all its obligations. Every stage of Iran's nuclear-fuel supply chain — uranium mines and mills, enrichment plants, centrifuge factories — will be monitored by up to 150 IAEA inspectors, 24/7 video surveillance, and high-tech sensors. If Iran does cheat, said Aaron Stein, a nuclear nonproliferation expert, “the likelihood of getting caught is near 100 percent.”

Can the inspectors go wherever they want?
No — and that's the key objection of the deal's critics. While inspectors will have unrestricted access to specified, existing nuclear facilities, they'll require Iranian permission to visit any other site — military or otherwise — they deem “suspicious.” If Iran refuses, it will have 24 days to convince first the IAEA and then a special Western-majority U.N. panel — comprising the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, the EU, Russia, China, and Iran itself — that its objections are valid. If five of the eight countries on that panel do not vote to support Iran, the U.N.'s sanctions will automatically “snap back” into place. Critics say this 24-day period gives the regime ample time to cover up evidence of any illicit activity. The deal's defenders argue that no nation would agree to “anytime, anywhere” inspections throughout its territory unless it had been conquered militarily.

Will the sanctions snap back?
The U.S. has majority support on the special panel, so Iran cannot be bailed out by its traditional backers, China and Russia. It is therefore likely that cheating will result in the reimposition of sanctions. But Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank, argues that the Obama administration, and perhaps following administrations, will only take that step if “massive” Iranian violations are discovered. “You're certainly not going to risk engaging in nuclear escalation over smaller violations,” Dubowitz says.


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