The Iran Nuclear Deal: What's Wrong With It And What Can We Do Now?

What's Wrong With It And What Can We Do Now?

In July 2015, the Iran nuclear deal was reached by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union (EU), and Iran. The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was supposed to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear program—but it did not.

Key Failings of the Iran Nuclear Deal:

  • The deal fails to guarantee the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program—rather, it gives Iran a clear pathway to nuclear weapons.

  • Iran accepts temporary nuclear restrictions in exchange for front-loaded, permanent benefits.

  • The deal emboldens and enriches an extremist anti-American terror state, thereby furthering Iran’s expansionist and destabilizing activities.

  1. The deal fails to guarantee the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program—rather, it gives Iran a clear pathway to nuclear weapons.

Sunset Clause

  • The deal provides Iran a clear pathway to nuclear weapons as restrictions on its uranium- enrichment and plutonium-processing capacities end (‘sunset’) between 2026 and 2031
  • Iran has made clear it will expand its nuclear program at that time to an industrial scale, including by introducing advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges. Doing so would potentially reduce Iran’s ‘breakout’ time (time to develop nuclear weapons) to mere weeks, if not days—“almost down to zero,” then-President Barack Obama said in 2015, soon after the deal was signed. Again, these developments would all be permitted under the JCPOA.
  • By 2031 (or sooner, in some cases)—Iran will be permitted to:
    • produce highly-enriched uranium;
    • stockpile unlimited amounts of uranium;
    • use advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium more quickly;
    • conduct unlimited research and development on uranium-enrichment centrifuges;
    • build and operate facilities to enrich uranium without restrictions;
    • enrich uranium, without restrictions, at its underground, hardened, previously secret Fordow nuclear facility;
    • reprocess spent fuel—which can be used for nuclear weapons—from heavy-water nuclear reactors; and
    • build new heavy-water reactors, which would annually produce enough plutonium to fuel several nuclear weapons.
  • The international community is therefore only ‘renting’ Iranian arms control for a time, after which Iran will have a virtually unrestricted, internationally validated, industrial-scale nuclear program. By giving political approval to that program, the JCPOA therefore makes military action the only option left to prevent a nuclear Iran.

Inspections, Verification and Potential Clandestine Parallel Program

The JCPOA does not require Iran to submit to “anytime, anywhere” IAEA inspections of facilities and military sites where nuclear activities are suspected to have occurred. Instead, Iran, a serial cheater on its nuclear and other international obligations, can delay inspections of such facilities for up to 24 days, giving Iran precious time to cover up evidence of covert nuclear activities.
  • Key questions also remain about Iran’s undeclared nuclear activities. The JCPOA prematurely and irresponsibly closed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) probe into Iran’s documented past nuclear-weaponization efforts or the Possible Military Dimensions (PMDs) of its nuclear program.
  • The extent of Iran’s nuclear weaponization and uranium-enrichment activities is unknown and may be ongoing as part of a parallel clandestine, nearly undetectable program occurring in remote facilities.
  • The IAEA did conclude that Iran was actively designing a nuclear weapon through at least 2009. However, Iran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA probe makes it impossible to verify if Tehran halted all such efforts.
  • Consequently, the international community has an incomplete picture of Iran’s nuclear program, making it impossible to establish a baseline to guide future inspections and verification.
  1. Iran accepts temporary nuclear restrictions in exchange for front-loaded, permanent benefits.
  • In exchange for temporary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran is receiving permanent benefits up-front.
  • United Nations (U.N.) sanctions and some EU sanctions have been lifted, enabling Iran to access previously frozen assets. Remaining EU sanctions will be lifted in 2023.
  • Until the U.S. withdrawal in May 2018, the U.S. had ceased applying nuclear-related sanctions against foreign companies for doing business in Iran. This sanctions-relief revitalized the Iranian economy and reduced the P5+1’s leverage to hold Iran accountable for its non-nuclear destabilizing behavior.
  • Since the deal was reached and prior to the U.S. withdrawal, Iran signed over $100 billion in contracts with foreign companies.
  • Under the JCPOA, U.N. sanctions on Iran’s ballistic-missile program expire in 2023, while U.N. restrictions on the transfer of conventional weapons to or from Iran terminated in 2020
  1. The deal emboldens and enriches an extremist anti-American terror state thereby furthering Iran's expansionist and destabilizing activities.

Regional Instability

  • The windfall of sanctions relief freed up hundreds of billions of dollars to finance Tehran’s many destabilizing activities.
  • Iran continues to be the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism, backing Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which have American blood on their hands.
  • Iran has escalated its support to Syria’s Assad dictatorship, which has killed hundreds of thousands during the Syrian civil war. Iran’s support has enabled Assad to reverse key setbacks and turn the tide of war in his favor.
  • Iran continues to sponsor violent extremist groups destabilizing Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain.
  • Iran continues to take Americans and other foreign nationals hostage.
  • The Iranian regime brutally represses its own people and violates the human rights of ethnic, national, and religious minorities with impunity.
  • Iran has test-launched multiple ballistic missiles since the JCPOA was reached. U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which implemented the deal, aided Iran’s ballistic- missile program by replacing previous resolution language that said Iran “shall not” engage in ballistic-missile activities with weaker language that merely “calls upon” Iran not to test any ballistic missiles “designed to be nuclear capable.”

Arms Race

  • The deal fails to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons in the long term and weakens restrictions on Iran’s ballistic-missile program and conventional-arms transfers. Consequently, Iran’s regional adversaries, like Saudi Arabia, may race to counter Iran by seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and enhancing their conventional-arms capabilities.
  • Former Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal warned as much in 2015: “I’ve always said whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same. So if Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that. The whole world will be an open door to go that route without any inhibition.” In 2021, Prince Turki repeated, while emphasizing that he is speaking in a personal capacity, “We should do whatever is necessary including acquiring the knowledge to develop a bomb in order to defend ourselves against a potential nuclear-armed Iran.” The chances of destabilizing regional competition and conflict have thereby increased.
  1. The U.S. and other responsible nations should increase pressure on Tehran in order to get a better deal.
  • No re-entry into the JCPOA along previous parameters.
  • Sanctions relief should not be provided in exchange for mere negotiations.
  • We must return to the principle of zero enrichment or reprocessing, or else we risk a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
  • We must insist on full inspections and verification.
  • We must resolve the PMD file.
  • Iran's unacceptable non-nuclear behavior must be addressed in parallel to the new agreement if it is to have a chance to succeed. 
  • Iran policy should once again be conducted in a bipartisan manner. 
  • Iran policy must be conducted in consultation with U.S. regional allies and partners most threatened by Tehran's malign behavior. 
  • All hostages should be released before any deal is concluded.