Iranian Nuclear Crisis

Iranian Nuclear Crisis

Renewed threat of Israeli military strikes against Iran as a result of a breakdown in nuclear negotiations and/or clear evidence of intent to develop a nuclear weapons capability

The prospects for a significant reduction in tensions over Iran’s nuclear energy development program improved significantly with the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on July 14, 2015, by representatives from the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) powers and Iran. Though still to be approved by the U.S. Congress, the agreement limits Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for phased sanctions relief.

The nuclear deal follows more than a decade of diplomatic intervention initiated after then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami first acknowledged the existence of the Natanz nuclear fuel production facility on February 9, 2003. After the UN Security Council imposed gradual economic sanctions against Iran from 2006 to 2010, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signaled his desire in June 2013 to reach a mutually acceptable agreement that resolved the status of Iran’s nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities.

Over a period of twenty months, the United States led the group of six countries in negotiations with Iran and convened several rounds of bilateral talks to further the process. The deadline for the final agreement was extended three times over disagreements to lift the UN arms embargo and the language describing Iran’s nuclear activities. Once the agreement signed, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 2213, paving the way for the lifting of UN sanctions against Iran.

According to the agreement, Iran is obligated to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent for fifteen years and cut its number of centrifuges by two-thirds for the next decade. It will also convert its Fordow uranium enrichment site into a “nuclear, physics, and technology center” and grant access to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors within twenty-four days should there be any suspected violations of the agreement.

If Iran violates the terms of the nuclear agreement, President Barack Obama has said that sanctions will immediately “snap back” into place. But there are still obstacles to reassuring U.S. allies of Iran’s intent, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia. Further, while Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei voiced support for the deal, he emphasized that it does not signal an end to Iran’s hostility toward the United States and its allies.

The threat of renewed tensions stemming from a breakdown of the final agreement and even the possibility of military strikes cannot be discounted. After returning from recess in late summer, the U.S. Congress will review the terms of the agreement and vote on a resolution either approving or rejecting the deal in fall 2015. 

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