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Analysis

BICOM Briefing: Iran nuclear deal

Last update: 16/7/2015, 12:00 BST.

For latest updates, more analysis and fact sheets on the Iranian nuclear issue click here.

Key points

  • Senior US former officials and lawmakers have joined Israel and Sunni Arab states in expressing deep concerns about the nuclear deal.
  • The deal, if implemented, will give Iran nuclear threshold status when restrictions are lifted after 10 to 15 years.
  • Other issues of concern are details related to clarifying past Iranian nuclear weapons research, the mechanism for inspecting suspect sites, and the scope and pace of sanctions relief.

What has been announced?

  • On Tuesday 14 July Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Zarif and EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini announced the agreement of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China) for resolving international concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme. The agreement places temporary restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment for 10-15 years, in return for which most sanctions will be lifted. After the initial 10-15 years, the main restrictions on enrichment are lifted, and Iran will enrich according to its own plans which will be submitted to the IAEA. Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor which could produce weapons grade Plutonium will be reconfigured. The deal includes enhanced monitoring and verification of Iran’s nuclear programme.
  • Negotiations ran well beyond their original deadline as the parties struggled to reach agreement on key details including: the pace and scope of sanctions relief; how suspected Iranian nuclear weapons research will be clarified by the IAEA; the scope and management of inspections; what R&D Iran will be allowed on centrifuges; what will happen to Iran’s existing enriched uranium stockpile; whether UN sanctions on Iran acquiring ballistic missiles will be lifted; and what mechanisms are in place to snap back sanctions in case of violations.
  • The outline of the agreement is a document of 18 pages, accompanied by detailed and complex annexes on Iran’s nuclear related commitments; sanctions; civil nuclear cooperation; the creation of a joint commission to oversee implementation; and an implementation plan.
  • In parallel, Iran has agreed to implement a roadmap with the IAEA for resolving long standing concerns about possible military dimensions of its nuclear programme.

What will happen next?

  • The details of the deal will now be subject to intense scrutiny, amid widely held concerns that the US and its P5+1 partners made considerable concessions to achieve an agreement.
  • The deal is subject to a US Congressional oversight under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (Corker-Menendez), which gives Congress 60 days to scrutinise the deal. If Congress disapproves of the deal, President Obama is expected to use his veto. A political struggle is then expected to muster the two-thirds majority of both houses needed to overturn the presidential veto. A 22 day period is outlined in legislation for this series of votes.
  • There will be several phases to implementation, including a new UN Security Council resolution to be adopted promptly which will supersede existing sanctions resolutions, and which will then be endorsed by the EU Council. Ninety days after the passing of the UN Security Council resolution, the agreement comes into effect. Subsequently, as the IAEA confirms Iran has complied with specified measures including dismantling part of its nuclear infrastructure, EU, UN, and US nuclear related sanctions will be lifted.
  • Iran has committed to abiding by its road map agreement with the IAEA by 15 October 2015, with IAEA Director Yukiya Amano to report on 15 December 2015.
  • Restrictions on conventional weapons sales will be lifted after five years and on ballistic missiles after eight years.

What are the main concerns with the deal? (For BICOM’s factsheet on the framework click here.)

  • Senior US former officials and lawmakers have joined Israel and Sunni Arab states in expressing deep concerns about the deal.
  • Henry Kissinger and George Schulze wrote in the Wall Street Journal in April: “Negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability.”
  • President Obama himself, admitted after the announcement of the framework in April: “[the] fear would be that in year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”
  • Writing in the Washington Post after the publication of the deal, Dennis Ross, former senior advisor to President Obama, wrote: “Because the Iranians are not required to dismantle their enrichment infrastructure, are allowed to continue at least limited research and development on their five advanced models of centrifuges and will be permitted to build as large an industrial nuclear program as they want after year 15, the deal, at that point, will legitimize the Islamic republic as a threshold nuclear state. The gap between threshold status and weapons capability will necessarily become small, and not difficult for the Iranians to bridge.”
  • BICOM Senior Visiting Fellow Brig. Gen. (res.) Michael Herzog outlined major concerns about the deal in the Guardian, writing: “First, the lifting of financial and trade sanctions is likely to empower Iran, both politically and economically, in pursuing its radical and sectarian agenda … Second, the legitimising of Iran’s nuclear threshold status threatens to spark nuclear proliferation across the region, with other states seeking the same status as Iran. Third, the financial windfall coming to Iran may spark a conventional arms race. Iran will invest more in its arms industry, and with sanctions on arms sales to be lifted within five to eight years, it can be expected to go on a major shopping spree, with Russia as a willing supplier. Gulf states will not stay left behind.”
  • Other key concerns relate to the mechanism for inspection, which will give Iran the possibility to delay an IAEA inspection demand by 24 days, and whether the IAEA road map will adequately satisfy concerns over Iran’s military nuclear research.
  • A cross party US group of experts and former officials backed a position statement on 24 June stating: “we fear that the current negotiations … may fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.” The statements signatories included: David Petraeus (director of the CIA, 2011-2012), General James Cartwright (vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2007-2011), Olli Heinonen (deputy director general of the IAEA, 2005-2010), Dennis Ross (special assistant to President Obama and NSC senior director for the central region, 2009-2011), Robert Einhorn (special advisor to the Secretary of State for nonproliferation, 2009-2013), James Jeffrey (U.S. ambassador to Iraq, 2010-2012), Gary Samore (coordinator for arms control and WMD under President Obama, 2009-2013).

How has Israel reacted to the deal?

  • The Israeli security cabinet met on 14 July and declared its unanimous opposition to the deal and that Israel would not be bound by it. Prime Minister Netanyahu also met with opposition leader Isaac Herzog who added his opposition to the agreement. Herzog said that he is planning to visit the United States as soon as possible in order to “do everything within our power to improve our security.” As US lawmakers begin to scrutinise the deal, Netanyahu has begun making the case against the agreement, including in US media interviews.
  • Netanyahu told President Obama in a phone call that that Israel is not opposed to any deal with Iran, but has articulated two main arguments against what has been agreed. The first is that Iran will be able to develop capabilities to build nuclear weapons after 10-15 years under the terms of the agreement, or earlier if Iran violates them. The second is that the agreement releases hundreds of billions of dollars which Iran can use for its terrorist and military goals in the region.
  • The concerns expressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu are shared by most opposition leaders in Israel, even whilst many challenge Netanyahu over his handling of the issue, including his confrontational approach to the White House.