After months of intense deliberation, the Iran nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 partners (United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and Germany) culminated in a comprehensive nuclear deal in Lausanne, Switzerland, last July. In return for lifting sanctions (economic penalties that harm trade and the ability to make financial transactions), Iran will be significantly constrained in its nuclear program.
The details of the 159-page report are unbearably technical and are currently at the center of discourse in Washington. The debate over whether or not the Obama administration should uphold their end of the deal has adopted an increasingly bipartisan tone that has polarized both the American people and congressional officials.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the deal in a controversial speech before Congress last March in which he referred to it as “a grave danger” that threatened Israel’s “very survival.” Several Republican members of Congress also registered their opposition.
Why is this deal so divisive? Is it really as dangerous as the right-wing oracles suggest? After all, Iran has agreed to the most robust inspections regime ever negotiated. Despite opposition to the deal, the evidence is clear: The Iran deal is one of the United States’ very few successes in the Middle East and is an additional step toward making the world a safer place. Without the deal, Iran would be approximately three months away from developing their first nuclear weapon. With the deal, Iran commits to not pursuing nuclear weapons and additionally faces insurmountable obstacles if it seeks to break its commitment.
This deal not only decreases the probability of another cataclysmic war in the region, but also cuts off every pathway Iran has toward a nuclear weapon. American diplomats have managed to divert our trajectory from confrontation, to one of dialogue and possibilities that seemed unimaginable in the last three decades, an epoch defined by U.S.-Iranian hostility.
The historic agreement ensures that Iran’s nuclear program is severely restricted. This includes the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) expanded access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. “U.N. inspectors will be serving as the eyes of the international community on every one of Iran’s centrifuges,” Slate News reports. And as Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., wrote in an op-ed supporting the deal: “Iran’s nuclear program will be under lock, key and camera 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
One of the deal’s chief architects, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, said that “the deal is based on sound science. I spent 40 years on the nuclear physics faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and drew heavily on the nuclear expertise built up over decades in the Department of Energy’s national laboratories, including the Argonne National Laboratory.” His sentiments are backed not only by the authority of his expertise, but also by the facts.
Under the deal, Iran will lose 97% of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, the kind needed to make nuclear weapons. In fact, the deal limits Iran to 3.67% enrichment capacity. To put that in perspective, medical-research-grade uranium is enriched to 20%, and weapons grade-uranium is enriched to 90%. It will also give up 14,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges, the machines used to spin fissile material and enrich uranium. The deal also curtails Iranian production of plutonium, the other element that can be used to build a weapon of mass destruction, in addition to banning plutonium reactors for 15 years and stipulating that Iran must dismantle its current one, according to statistics provided by Politifact.
While specific restrictions lapse in 10, 15 or 25 years, the deal also binds Iran to permanent measures: committing to not pursue nuclear weapons and agreeing to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency when it decides to build a nuclear facility.
The robust restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear program and the nature of the negotiations ensure that it will not be able to manufacture weapons of mass destruction, thus setting a healthy precedent for peaceful resolutions to conflict in the region. In the words of Former Secretary of State Colin Powell : “It’s a pretty good deal.” Some would venture to say that it’s pretty Iran-clad.