By: Patrick Foley
One of the biggest news stories of this month has been the progress made in developing an internationally acceptable framework for Iran’s nuclear program. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, Russia, the UK, France, and the United States) recently met with Germany and Iran in Vienna and finalized the first draft of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the 14th of July.
In the past two weeks, there have been hundreds of articles released around the world describing this deal to be everything from a permanent guard against a nuclear Iran, to the international community giving Iran permission to build nuclear weapons in the near future. In fact, this deal is first and foremost a step in an ongoing negotiation. Every representative went to Vienna with a list of demands and a list of clauses which could not possibly be accepted and what the Vienna meetings produced does not contain all of the demands of any one representative. Regardless of the perspective from which you as the individual judge this deal, there will be benefits and costs created by its passage. If you as the individual are asking whether the Iran deal is simply good or bad, whichever answer you receive will be incomplete. However, if you want a definitive answer as to whether or not the Iran deal is something you can support, it does not require you to gain a universal understanding of international politics or nuclear science, it just requires you to develop some standard by which you can judge the deal for yourself.
If the deal passes the United States Congress and Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly, Iran will eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce its number of centrifuges by about two-thirds for at least fifteen years. For the next fifteen years, Iran also agreed not to enrich uranium over 3.67% or build any new uranium-enriching facilities. Uranium-enrichment activities will be limited to a single facility using first-generation centrifuges for ten years. Other facilities will be converted to avoid proliferation risks. To monitor and verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. The agreement provides that in return for verifiable abiding by its commitments, Iran will receive relief from U.S., European Union, and United Nations Security Council nuclear-related sanctions.
Some of the most widely used standards being applied to this deal are the verifiability of compliance, the negotiation with a human-rights violator, and the extension of breakout time. Under the agreement, the inspectors will have access to Iran’s nuclear research and nuclear energy sites, but the inspectors will be required to give twenty-four days’ notice before they enter the country. Some critics of the deal also dislike the fact that Americans will only be able to examine the sites if they are IAEA employees and representatives, because the deal denies independent American inspections. Even critics of the deal cannot deny that inspections with 24 days’ notice are better than no conclusive inspections. It is also impossible to argue that in these negotiations, the P5 of the Security Council struck a deal with a government guilty of violating the rights of its people. In 2014, Human Rights Watch released a report condemning Iran for over 50 public executions, abusing political prisoners, discriminating against women and minorities, and limiting the freedoms of expression, assembly, and voting. Some argue that any deal with Iran while these violations continue is an indirect acceptance of this behavior. Iran’s breakout time is the time required to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon. Based on the most recent, most accurate reports, currently the breakout time is about three months and after the passage of this deal that time would extend to about a year. It is difficult to argue with a deal that multiplies Iran’s breakout time by four, but that is only if you as the individual subscribe to the breakout time standard.
Even if you do not agree with or support President Obama, you should take the advice he gave in his July 15th speech and analyze the agreement based on the agreement, not just on the general opinion given to you by the standards of others. Nuclear proliferation is one of the most important and potentially catastrophic issues of this century. Simultaneously, nuclear energy is seen as one of the most promising solutions to global warming. The way in which the world broadens access to nuclear energy while reducing nuclear stockpiles is a complex issue that we need to actively be discussing, not one we can just say “yes” or “no” to.