The Iran Nuclear Deal – The Washington Post
Concerns about Iran’s intentions escalated in early April when the country pledged to upgrade its uranium enrichment to near weapon quality. The announcement came in response to the sabotage of a leading nuclear facility prior to talks in Austria to revive the 2015 deal. The attack was largely attributed to Israel, which opposed the deal on the grounds that it was not tough enough for Iran. Iran had already increased the stakes in mid-February by informing the International Atomic Energy Agency that it would stop the group’s observers from carrying out rapid inspections. Efforts to get the US and Iran back in compliance are made difficult by the fact that both sides insist the other comes first, creating a sequencing problem. Iran’s presidential elections in June are also a potential catch. The field is expected to be dominated by conservatives, whose influence has increased since the US abandoned the deal that relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani sold to the Iranians as a ticket to economic prosperity. Instead, the tougher US sanctions led to an economic decline. A die-hard successor to Rouhani may not be ready to reactivate the pact just as it is.
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Iranian statements and international contacts with Pakistani scientists prompted the US Central Intelligence Agency to warn in 1992 that the country on the Persian Gulf could develop a nuclear weapon. While reaffirming its commitment to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran wanted the country to have the “right” to enrich uranium, which was recognized before concessions. A breakthrough came after Iran elected Rouhani’s president in 2013. The 2015 deal he made recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes and allowed Iran to keep 5,000 centrifuges to separate the uranium-235 isotope, which is necessary to trigger a fissile chain reaction. However, Iran agreed that it would not refine the metal to greater than 3.7% enrichment for 15 years – the level required for nuclear power plant fuel – and its stock of enriched uranium to 300 kilograms or 3 % of the amount contained therein would limit in May 2015. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran has cleared its inventory of 20% enriched uranium, which can be used to make medical isotopes and power research reactors, but can also be purified into weapons-grade material in the short term can. The inspectors also confirmed that Iran destroyed a reactor that can produce plutonium. US officials under then-President Barack Obama estimated that the pact extended the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material to make a bomb from a few months to a year.
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Trump administration officials said the 2015 deal encouraged Iranian activities that are destabilizing the Middle East and did not adequately address Iran’s ballistic missile program. Some critics of the deal say Iran cannot be trusted to produce fissile material, be it for energy, medicine or bombs. Like other enriching countries like Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan and South Africa, the technology gives Iran the ability to track nuclear weapons in case it breaches its commitments. Proponents of the deal say Iran would never agree to give up on enrichment entirely, and decades of sanctions have not halted its nuclear program. Maintaining an enrichment capability was important for Iran for reasons of national pride and because it had previously been denied access to uranium on world markets. Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said that if Iran returned to complying with the deal, the US would seek a “longer and stronger” deal to address the issues he described as “deeply problematic”. However, the Iranians are strongly against talks aimed at expanding the scope of the deal before the original deal is upheld. They have said they will not get involved in missile talks because the weapons are one of the few effective deterrent measures they have in a region with many US bases and states armed with military technology far more advanced than theirs.
• Related QuickTakes on US-Iran tensions, Iran’s proximity to a nuclear bomb, and the Iranian proxy network.
• Text of the July 2015 agreement and a New York Times graphic on the outcome.
• Bloomberg released a timeline on the country’s history of deception.
• Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report of April 2013 estimating the costs and risks of the Iranian nuclear program.