This sample essay will discuss the history of dealing with Iran in regards to nuclear weapons and power. On September 11th, 2015, the United States House of Representatives voted 269 to 162 to reject the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal following a yes vote in the U.S. Senate (Associated Press).
The nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran
On Tuesday, September 15th, “negotiators reached a historic accord” to limit Tehran’s nuclear ability in return for lifting international financial and oil sanctions the U.S. held on Iran. On Thursday, September 17th, Senate Republicans were unable to scuttle a deal which proposed an amendment allowing sanctions relief from the United States before US recognition of Israel and release of American captives held in Iran (Barrett).
The amendment failed to pass by a vote of 53-45, according to CNN. The amendment was worded purposefully to force Democrats supporting the US-Iran nuclear deal to choose between the deal and their “commitment to Israel and Americans held in Iran” (Barrett). The accord is a historic event in the history of the world, as it represents the democratic and safe halt of the creation of nuclear weapons, as well as a change of heart for Iran and the United States in the arms race. The more countries which eradicate the trappings of nuclear arms and their threat against civilization, the safer our world becomes.
Background on nuclear weapons
According to Broad and Peçanha, an atomic bomb is made from either uranium or plutonium, so the recent nuclear deal is aimed at preventing Iran’s “ability to put these two elements to use” in nuclear weapons, or to obtain them at all. Mined uranium must be placed into a centrifuge to separate U-235 from the rest of the uranium (referred to as the enrichment process), which only consists of about 1 percent of the mined element (Broad & Peçanha).
Another option is to irradiate uranium inside a nuclear reactor, which then transforms a portion of the uranium into plutonium (Broad & Peçanha). In order to understand precisely what Iran had been doing concerning uranium that worried the United States, it is necessary to know that most Western power reactors enrich uranium up to 5 percent; Iran had been processing it up to 20 percent, and bomb grade is 90 percent or above (Broad & Peçanha). With this action, Iran was demonstrating its commitment to the arms race and not to international diplomacy.
The terms of the agreement
Under the new agreement, Iran has agreed to transform its plant at Fordo from a nuclear uranium enrichment facility to a “center for scientific research” (Broad & Peçanha). Natanz, another uranium enrichment facility in that nation, will scale down its enrichment process instead of shutting down. The 10,000 centrifuges located at Natanz will be cut back to 5,000, and Iran will limit uranium enrichment to 3.7 percent. In addition, Iran will agree to remain below 300 kilograms or 660 pounds of low-enriched uranium stockpile for 15 years.
This low stockpile amount will be insufficient for a bomb-making campaign, at least over a period of one year (Broad & Peçanha). It is also of note that, when the deal was struck, Iran was in the process of constructing a nuclear reactor that would have produced Pu-239 at Arak with the possibility of fueling future bombs (Broad & Peçanha). Iran will “redesign and rebuild” the reactor at Arak so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium through making the reactor core inoperable. However, the core will stay in the country as a kind of reminder to the U.S. to keep their word.
A nuclear reactor’s spent fuel can also be a source for bombs, and so will be shipped out of the country (Broad and Peçanha do not say where). Iran has agreed to refrain from building additional heavy water reactors for the next 15 years.
Ineternational Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and Iran
In order to prevent “cheating and covert sites” which might create weapons-grade plutonium, Iran will provide the International Atomic Energy Agency more access and increased information about its nuclear program, along with investigation of suspicious sites or covert facilities at any location within Iran (Broad & Peçanha). The supply chain which supports Iran’s nuclear program will also be revealed to inspectors in order to assure the sites are used only to produce nuclear power (uranium mines and mills).
Finally, the centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities will be subject to “continuous surveillance” (Broad & Peçanha). The agreement is expected to go into effect gradually, being “phased in” according to President Obama (as cited in Broad & Peçanha). At the current rate, some inspections will remain in place for up to 25 years, while others will only be present for 15; arms sanctions may be lifted, and ballistic missiles sanctions may remain in effect for eight years (Broad & Peçanha).
One significant factor in the agreement is that it will prevent Iran from taking less than a year to construct one single weapon (Broad & Peçanha). This elongated process essentially ties Iran’s hands and prevents the creation of multiple nuclear weapons over the course of a twelve-month period.
Iranian reaction to the nuclear deal
The supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani differ greatly in their predictions of the effects the agreement will have on Iran. Both refer to the United States as the “Great Satan,” according to Erdbrink. Not a flattering title, perhaps, and Khamenei has stated that
“We will not negotiate with the Americans on any issue other than the nuclear case” and told students to “Prepare for the continuation of the fight against America” (Erdbrink).
Rouhani took a different tack, and one that seems more congenial with future U.S. – Iran relations; he stated that the agreement was
“a beginning for creating an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation with various countries” (Erdbrink).
A member of Rouhani’s camp, Saeed Laylaz is an economist. He stated that
“Our Great Satan without sanctions is just not the same anymore…perhaps we should use ‘lesser Satan now or something like that” (Erdbrink).
While “less Satan” is not precisely flattering, it is clearly an improvement over “Great Satan.” Society dictates the public opinions of political figures and others in Iran; however the demotion to a lesser evil in the eyes of Iranians is a welcome change for the United States as an international player.
Some ordinary citizens in Iran believe “change is inevitable,” and relations will continue to improve between the United States and Iran; however Khamenei’s stance does not indicate a change of heart toward the “Great Satan,” or toward Israel, due to the ancient rift between Islam and Judaism (Erdbrink). His prediction that Israel “would not exist in 25 years” drew fire from international critics, who claim that the resolution on nuclear weapons was simply a tactic to lift sanctions, not an effort at international cooperation for the sake of being a good neighbor (Erdbrink).
Khamenei refuses to discuss Iraq, Syria, and Yemen directly with any foreign country, and seems to be awaiting more encouraging actions from the United States (Erdbrink). The supreme leader supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and vocally refutes U.S. presence in that country, as well (Erdbrink). President Rouhani seeks to end “Iran’s international isolation,” allowing citizens a more “normal” life and the middle class to raise their expectations (Erdbrink).
According to Erdbrink, the Iranian people in general agree with Rouhani, and appear to favor an archaic justice system overhaul, as well as an increase in personal freedom. Following the nuclear agreement, Tehranians requested the reopening of the United States Embassy in Iran, and abolishment of the “Death to America” slogan that is popular; neither idea came to fruition, however (Erdbrink).
American reacton to the nuclear deal
The intense negotiations which began months ago concerning this Iranian nuclear agreement were initiated and carried out by the “P5+1,” or the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union. The Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) was established in November, 2013, and provided the framework for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA (White House).
The JCPOA was announced in Lausaunne, Switzerland, and will allow timely access to Iran’s nuclear program, tools to counter Iranian missile and arms activity, remaining sanctions, and sanctions relief (White House).
The White House website notes that this agreement will enable the P5+1 to increase bomb creation time from three months to one year; reduce Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles; reduce installed centrifuges; prevent the production of weapons-grade plutonium; and finally “track Iran’s nuclear activities with robust transparency and inspections” (White House).
As a safeguard, the JCPOA will allow the United States to immediately “snap sanctions back into place if Iran violates the deal” (White House). The JCPOA will also help support unilateral sanctions which regulate terrorism and human rights abuses in Iran (White House).
Kutsch noted that the agreement “represents the most significant diplomatic milestone” in the United States’ and Iran’s decade of dispute, and “could significantly alter geopolitics in the Middle East.” United States President Barack Obama noted that
“This deal is in line with a tradition of American leadership…[it] is not built on trust. It is built on verification” Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon “was hopeful that the deal could help stabilize the Middle East,” according to Kutsch.
Ban stated that the agreement might result in greater mutual understanding and cooperation, as well as peace and stability in the Middle East and elsewhere. The United Nations arms embargo will continue for up to five more years, but could end earlier than that if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) observes that Iran has ceased all work on nuclear weapons (Kutsch).
The agreement allows for IAEA access to Iranian military sites, as well, although “access is not guaranteed and the timing could be delayed”. For Barack Obama, the agreement is a triumph in an area of international negotiation where he has been stymied during his entire administration. This was accomplished through negotiations with the newly elected Rouhani in an effort to “end a crippling international sanctions regime” and to overcome “Tehran’s international pariah status,” Kutsch stated. Although Iran has pursued nuclear programs covertly, it has staunchly maintained that they were simply meant for “civilian nuclear energy purposes”.
Critics of the deal between the U.S. and Iran
Critics of the agreement have appeared on both sides of the political argument; in particular Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He addressed the U.S. Congress in March, calling the agreement a “bad mistake of historic proportions” and campaigned publicly against it. Saudi Arabia and its regional allies also oppose the agreement, which still has to travel through the U.S. Congress intact in order to go into effect.
A 60 day review of the deal by Congress has tied President Obama’s hands for the time being; only once Congress has approved the deal can the U.S. sanctions be lifted. The likelihood of the deal passing is very high, as Obama will exercise his veto to assure its success, and 67 Senatorial votes would be needed to override his veto (Kutsch).
A recent poll revealed that 59 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of Iran nuclear issues, and around 50 percent wish that Congress rejected the nuclear deal, according to Agiesta, the CNN Polling Director. Most Americans polled believe that Iran will “violate the terms of the agreement” (Agiesta). In all, 37 percent believe a violation is “extremely likely,” and 23 percent believe it is “very likely.”
A mere 10 percent believe Iran will not violate the deal. Republicans and independents have a higher rate of believe in Iran’s future violation than Democrats. In the case of a violation, most polled support military action in the vase of a violation, although 34 percent do not (Agiesta). Iran’s future as a legitimate and neighborly member of the global community hangs in the balance of this assumed violation; hopefully the country will prove its detractors wrong.
Agiesta, Jennifer. “Poll: Americans Skeptical Iran will Stick to Nuclear Deal.” CNN. Cable News Network, 2015. Web. 13 September 2015.
Al Jazeera America, LLC., 2015. Web 11 September 2015.
Barrett, Ted. “Senate Republicans’ Last Gasp on Iran Nuclear Deal Fails.” CNN. Turner Cable News Network, 2015. Web. 17 September 2015.
Broad, William J., & Peçanha, Sergio. “The Iran Nuclear Deal – A Simple Guide.” NYTimes. The New York Times Company, 2015. Web. 14 July 2015.
Erdbrink, Thomas. “Post-Deal Iran asks if U.S. is Still ‘Great Satan,’ or Something Less.” NYTimes. The New York Times Company, 2015. Web. 17 September 2015.
Kutsch, Tom. “Iran, world powers strike historic nuclear deal.” Aljazeera. Al Jazeera America, LLC., 2015. Web. 14 July 2015.
The Associated Press. “House goes on record against Iran nuclear deal.” Aljazeera.
White House. “The Historic Deal that Will Prevent Iran from Acquiring a Nuclear Weapon.” WhiteHouse. The White House, n.d. Web. N.d.