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In the pages of the Iran nuclear agreement

Caricature of SteveI have read the Iran nuclear treaty–all 159 pages of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as it is called.

The document was hammered out over months of often acrimonious negotiations among the signatories China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, United States and Iran. Also a party was the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy—the so-called EU/E3+3*

JCPOA contains sufficient safeguards to make supporters happy. But there are several points that will raise red flags among critics of the final accord.

STRENGTHS

JCPOA carefully lays out provisions that will prevent Iran from acquiring the means to manufacture nuclear weapons anytime from 8 to 25 years. The majority of proscriptions range between 10 and 15 years for construction and modernization of Iran’s nuclear power plants.

The safeguards include limiting Iran’s use of Uranium stockpiles, disposing of spent nuclear fuel, monitoring enrichment capacity, assisting centrifuge research and development, as well as guaranteeing access to Iran’s nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). (pp. 25-44).

Existing sanctions against Iran will be relaxed gradually. These include business involving finance, energy, transportation, precious metals and software. (pp. 57—60)

Even after the sanctions end, however, several U.S. entities still will be prohibited from doing business with Iran (p. 71)

Weaknesses

Despite detailed safeguards, the treaty still allows Iran research and development that could lead to nuclear weapons. But only if such technology is used for peaceful purposes and has IAEA approval. (p. 45)

Russia and Iran cooperate on a number of joint projects including nuclear development and nothing in JCPOA prevents future collaboration between the two.

Furthermore, the treaty places a cap on Iran’s Uranium enrichment activities. But Russia’s trade agreements with Iran including enriched Uranium are excluded.

Other nations of the Joint Committee are free to work with Iran on other civil nuclear or scientific cooperative projects. Because these projects can take several forms oversight appears weak. (p. 135)

Closer examination shows that IAEA access to Iran’s nuclear sites is potentially limited. The treaty states that Iran retains certain sovereign rights and the accord spells out conflict resolutions available to Tehran if it disputes IAEA activities. In the worst case, this includes walking away from the treaty itself. (p. 43, No. 78)

Finally, JCPOA contains such vague terms as “relevant,” “appropriate,” in accordance with “national laws” and “possibly other states (nations).” All may raise red flags for critics who will ask for greater clarity and specificity.

Conclusion

JCPOA is workable.   It’s  not the best possible deal but probably the most realistic one given the competing ideologies and interests of those working on it. China, Iran and Russia have agendas that often conflict with U.S. objectives.  Compromise was necessary and criticism inevitable.

It contains detailed proscriptions that limit Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions yet permit carefully-monitored nuclear development for peaceful purposes including medical research and treatment.

Yet, some provisions are vague, open to multiple interpretations, and other parties including some of the Joint Committee nations themselves (Russia) are not bound by JCPOA restrictions.

Tehran already has criticized some terms of the agreement, the United Nations Security Council has yet to approve the accord, and opponents abound in the U.S. Congress.

Months of debate lie ahead before we’ll see an actual Iran Nuclear agreement. Stay tuned.

* E3 means the European nations of France, Germany and UK. EU+3 means China, Russia and the US. They sometimes are referred to as P5+1, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.


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