Report: Parsing the Iran Deal

August 17, 2015

The final nuclear deal “provides well-defined limits on Iran’s nuclear program,” according to George Perkovich, Mark Hibbs, James Action, and Toby Dalton in a new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But it also carries several risks, including the possibility that Iran will ramp up its nuclear activities once the restrictions end. The following is an excerpt of the report, which assesses the pros and cons of the deal.

On July 14, 2015, Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) concluded a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concerning the future of Iran’s nuclear program. The deal, which is the outcome of more than two years of negotiations, includes limits on Iran’s nuclear program as well as provisions for verification, implementation, procurement, sanctions relief, and peaceful nuclear cooperation. It singles out specific nuclear sites in Iran for particular scrutiny and restrictions, including the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and the heavy-water reactor, with its supporting facilities, at Arak. Unsurprisingly, the deal is complex—the text and its five annexes stretch to over 100 pages.
Our aim here is to analyze the deal as impartially and objectively as possible solely from a nonproliferation perspective. It is not to offer a final conclusion about whether the deal is a good or bad one, but instead to help readers make up their own minds.
As in many complex negotiations, parties to the JCPOA traded compromises between seemingly unrelated areas. Accordingly, we look at the benefits and risks of the agreement as a whole, as well as the pros and cons of individual provisions. Throughout we identify key questions and issues that will need to be addressed in the months and years ahead if the deal is to be implemented successfully.

Overall Assessment
Potential Benefits
The agreement provides well-defined limits on Iran’s nuclear program lasting between ten and fifteen years. If implemented, these restrictions would measurably enhance confidence during the term of the agreement that Tehran will not seek nuclear weapons. This will help avoid much-worse alternatives, including Iran’s resumption of threatening nuclear activities and war.
The JCPOA provides the basis for transparency of procurement and for verification of nuclear activities to enable the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to determine that Iran’s nuclear program is wholly understood and is dedicated exclusively to peaceful uses.
The agreement demonstrates the viability of the rules-based nonproliferation regime created by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and including especially the IAEA safeguards system, notwithstanding the lacunae and imperfections of this regime. Indeed, the JCPOA buttresses the NPT. Whereas states may withdraw from the NPT and, in principle, then seek nuclear weapons, in the JCPOA Iran has committed not to ever seek nuclear weapons under any circumstances. And whereas the NPT does not include specific restrictions on activities that could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device, the JCPOA does.
The preface of the JCPOA establishes expectations that Iran’s peaceful nuclear program should evolve at a “reasonable pace,” “consistent with international non-proliferation norms. . . . [and] practical needs”—benchmarks that the Iranian program previously did not meet. It establishes a channel for open diplomatic engagement between the United States and Iran after thirty-seven years.
Potential Risks
Other states could be encouraged to follow the Iranian example of acquiring uranium enrichment and other dual-use capabilities that would significantly shorten the time required to produce a nuclear weapon.
One or more parties to the agreement may not implement provisions as required or perform to the satisfaction of other parties. Failures to perform may result in disputes that the parties will not resolve peacefully.
After the restrictions on its nuclear program end, Iran, like any party to the NPT, but endowed with capabilities advanced during the period the JCPOA was in force, may exercise its right to resume nuclear behavior that the international community finds provocative. This could potentially give it the capability to break its commitments and manufacture a small number of nuclear weapons in a relatively short period of time.

Click here for the full report