You Should Know

You Should Know

What's Next for the Iran Nuclear Deal?

By Lily Wojtowicz

President Trump announced on October 13 that he will not certify Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. Now Congress will take up the issue. Here’s what you should know about the deal and what might happen next.   
 

In 2015, Iran signed an agreement with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the United States, Russia, and China (E3+3) to scale back its nuclear program to address concerns about its potential to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran pledged to cease a number of activities necessary for developing a nuclear weapon, and the E3+3 agreed to gradually lift multilateral sanctions dating back to the 2000s. 

Although Trump claims Iran is violating the spirit of the agreement, Secretary of State Tillerson explained last month the administration’s issue is with the “sunset provisions,” which ease restrictions on Iran by 2030.

Before the agreement Iran possessed uranium enriched at 20 percent, now it’s limited to 3.67 percent. Uranium enriched to 20 percent can quickly be enriched to weapons grade, while all a power reactor needs is three to five percent.

Per the agreement, Iran is scaling back the number of centrifuges—necessary for uranium enrichment—it possesses. Further, Iran shipped most of its uranium stockpile—enriched to just under the levels necessary for weapons use—to Russia.

While Iran could rebuild its centrifuges and restart enriching uranium over five percent after 15 years, it will take time and is unlikely to do so without detection.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is responsible for verifying Iran’s compliance and reporting to the members of the agreement. Iran also ratified an “additional protocol” (AP), expanding the IAEA’s scope of access within the country.

After 15 years of monitoring the program, the IAEA will be difficult to fool, and under the AP, it can access not just the nuclear sites that Iran declares but any that will allow it to ensure Iran’s accounting of its program is correct and complete.

Trump may think he can get a better deal, but this is not just the product of negotiations between Iran and the United States under President Obama. Five other states were involved, and historically the United States alone hasn’t had much success coercing Iran.

In the 1990s, European objections to US attempts at sanctioning European corporations that traded with the Islamic Republic resulted in the United States making exemptions which rendered the sanctions ineffective.

Now that Trump has announced he will not certify Iran’s compliance, Congress has a 60-day window in which it can quickly place sanctions back on Iran.

Key Republican senators have indicated they would rather keep the deal in place, however Congress is split along partisan lines with Republicans opposed to the deal and Democrats in favor.

This partisan divide is reflected in the public as well, the 2017 Chicago Council Survey found that Democrats are 25 percent more likely to support the Iran deal than Republicans.

Trump has outlined a number of provisions he would like to see Congress pass that he thinks would strengthen the agreement.

If the United States withdraws from the agreement, its partners are unlikely to follow suit, putting it in the same position it was in in the 1990s: ineffectively trying to sanction Iran’s energy sector solo.

To learn more, join us on October 30 or read our report on US opinion of the agreement.


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©2017 Chicago Council on Global Affairs